Why My OCD Went Undiagnosed for 25 Years
Up to 25% of people experience obsessions and compulsions, but most don’t qualify for an OCD diagnosis. Researchers say that needs to change.
In early 2012, my mental health eroded. I was going through a break up, had a cancer scare, and was unexpectedly laid off from a job I loved. The resulting depression wasn’t a surprise (I’d been on an antidepressant off and on for most of my adult life), but the skin picking was. Suddenly I had an unavoidable urge to scratch and pinch the center of my neck where it meets my collarbone.
Even after the depression subsided, I kept at it. So much so that three years later, a colleague asked what had happened to my neck. Embarrassed, I made a joke about it being from stress and then quickly changed the subject. But the interaction cemented what I already suspected: This behavior was not normal.
Worse, the skin picking wasn’t my only “tic;” it was just the newest and most obvious. I also air-typed random words — moving my fingers as if using a keyboard — and had to scratch the exact center of my palms, sternum, and belly button until they felt just right multiple times a day, every day. As far back as middle school, I can remember needing to repeatedly check that my alarm clock was set correctly. I began to worry that I might have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental health condition characterized by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that an individual feels the urge to repeat over and over.
In 2015, I finally mustered the courage to broach the subject with a psychiatrist during an unrelated appointment. She asked if I was spending more than an hour a day performing these tics and whether they significantly impaired my day-to-day life. I told her no, and that I was stressed and burned out, sure, but who in New York City wasn’t? By most measures I was doing okay: I was healthy, holding down a high-profile job, and had recently gotten married.
My symptoms were too mild to be classified as OCD, she explained, but increasing the dosage of my antidepressant might help (it didn’t). And that was it. She never mentioned my symptoms again — during that appointment or any subsequent…