Experiencing OCD is like being stuck in a washing machine and not knowing how to end the cycle. You’ll keep doing the same thing over and over without knowing how to stop yourself from doing it. You might be wondering at this point, how is that possible? Just intend to end the task and stop your limbs from moving, right? Believe me when I say I wish it were so.
When I had to begin the washing ritual or prayer, some of the places where my OCD manifested itself, my intent was pretty clear to me: just stand, say the supplication and start. Once I stood and said the supplication, a thought would race through my mind and frantically whisper “What if you said that incorrectly?” Immediately following that thought would come the gushing anxiety, pinching my muscles and contracting my chest. “Yeah, what if I really said it wrong? What if my prayer is not accepted?” Before I would know, I would be starting the whole thing over again, all because of the possibility of a doubt being true. Reach step 1 and the cycle starts again.
And those form the essence of OCD: doubts and anxiety. You get a doubt, you feel overwhelming anxiety and in an attempt to subside the anxiety, you repeat, which gives you the most of fleeting of reassurances before the doubt comes afresh (or another doubt for that matter) and you hasten to repeat again. The fact that you can't see a stop button to push is what makes OCD so debilitating. Time is passing, your muscles are screaming, your brain is reeling but you don’t know how not to give in.
Once, I was in an airplane when the time for prayer was in and I had to do the washing ritual. I got stuck in that cycle and was trying to pull out of it as always. Of course, it’s time consuming and I couldn’t blame the air hostess for impatiently knocking on the door for me to get out. But dealing with urgency upped my anxiety. I was being pulled by two forces in opposite directions: the need to get done quickly and the need to follow my doubt. Like when pulling cloth, it tore and frayed me. Like when pressuring glass, my insides were cracking with humiliation.
If there is anything to take away from that story, it’s this: be patient and compassionate with those who suffer from mental illnesses, because they feel profound pain from things others can’t see. Just because something can’t be seen doesn’t mean it’s not there.