Coming out about OCD: How “Banana” inspired me to share my story

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When I came out at age 16, I found myself practically bathed in a warm, loving light by my friends and family. Back then I thought, Sweet, I’m out now and it was pretty painless and I never have to do it again! But now, in my thirties, I find myself having to come out all over again.

But this time it’s different. This time, I’m coming out about having OCD, and it’s far from painless. My sexuality carries with it no shame, but I can’t say the same about my OCD. And that’s why I’m telling you about it now.

I’ve had anxiety issues on and off since I was a teenager. Endless reflux that made eating and sleeping in my dorm room bunk a painful challenge. Panic attacks that would hit me while walking the streets of NYC in the aftermath of 9/11. Stage fright that nearly robbed me of my ability to perform. But my OCD is something that snuck up on me without warning, which is kind of what it does best.

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When I moved to New York a second time, it was to be with a girlfriend. I started work in the publishing industry, as fresh-faced and Midwestern as I could possibly be. My Michigan accent and generally affable demeanor plus my unabashed queerness, rubbed one of my co-workers the wrong way. Just being me ignited a year-long nightmarish work environment where I was bullied by this male co-worker to the point dry heaving in the bathroom from nerves. He hated the way I answered phones, would mumble insults under his breath in his cubicle, and of course, undermine me in meetings and social gatherings. During this time, my girlfriend unceremoniously broke up with me, which only left me more vulnerable. While I was admittedly relieved the relationship had ended, I was alone in the city with an apartment I couldn’t afford by myself, and a job that I dreaded going to. That’s when it started.

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Watching this week’s episode of Banana, written by and starring Charlie Covell (who like her character Amy, also deals with OCD) was like an absolute breath of fresh air. Here’s a lesbian character that is trying to lead an average life while being tugged in many directions by her OCD. I was really inspired by watching Amy go through her day, in a way I’ve gone though days myself, that I decided that I should be as brave and tell my story. If not to relieve the weight of it from my own shoulders, but perhaps someone else’s as well.

My OCD manifests itself in two ways: checking and repetitive thought. The checking is more inconvenient than anything else. Have you ever left the house and wondered if you left the iron on? It’s kind of like that, but the need to check if the iron is indeed on is so strong, it can cause me to turn around on the highway out of fear that my cats will be trapped in a blazing inferno. When Amy did exactly this in the opening of Banana, I laughed out loud partly because it tickled me, and partly out of sheer relief that I wasn’t alone in having experienced this. The character Amy has rituals, which I do not. I also do not organize my life by color or have problems with things that are out of place. And no, I do not excessively wash my hands or have contamination fears, but some people do and it’s very real for them.

Intrusive and repetitive thoughts are the real monsters in my life. When my anxiety flares up, it arrives like an unwanted house guest that I know will leave eventually but will do its best to wreak havoc on my life until it does. It drains me of my confidence in a way that’s hard for me to articulate. I go from being a woman in charge of my own destiny, to someone who second-guesses interactions with everyone from the mail man to my dearest friends. It’s also interfered with my love of performing. What’s difficult for people who do not have OCD to understand is how it works in our heads. My brain changes the narrative. It decides to rewrite and utterly fuck up the way things happened. It’s so real that on that on occasion, I will have to check in with my wife or one of the few people I have trusted with this (which is now you as well) to make sure that what the thing my brain insists happened, isn’t what I rationally know to be true.

I’m lucky that, for the most part, my fears aren’t life and death based. More like, did I say “fuck” on the phone with the mortgage specialist? Did I take off and put my shoes back on in that interview? I know they sound benign, and they are, except when they become consuming. Which they do.

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My OCD is manageable at this point in my life, mostly because I’m happily married and I love my job, which reduces my stress greatly. Sometimes it subsides almost completely. I don’t need medication to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future. That’s a decision I’ll make if the time comes. But what I want you to know is that OCD can be very isolating and many of us who are obsessive compulsive do our damnedest to keep it under wraps for fear of misunderstanding and judgment. What most people tell me when they find out about my OCD is that they never had a clue. Yeah, that’s kind of the point.

But now I also realize that this code of silence only makes the issue worse. I know that I am lucky enough to have a platform, and I hope that my coming out, and the very spot on portrayal of Amy’s type of OCD on Banana, can relive the burden on those of you who also deal with it. Also, if you have friends or loved ones with OCD or other anxiety disorders, just letting us know that we can talk to you about them, can make a huge difference. Oh and yeah, reassuring me that I did in fact turn the iron off would be helpful, too.

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