Psyche logo

My OCD Stole My Writing From Me

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

By emPublished about a month ago 15 min read
My OCD Stole My Writing From Me
Photo by on Unsplash

I am a writer.

More so than I am a human. My mom didn’t give birth to me, she just popped round to the local library and printed me out. It was never a point of me discovering, or becoming, or wanting to be a writer, the same way I never chose to be 5 foot 6, or allergic to penicillin, or a human being. I just am. That’s me. And I wouldn’t change it for this world or any other.

I am a writer. So you can imagine how crappy it was during those times when I could not write.

And I don’t mean couldn’t because I was busy washing the car with dad. I don’t mean couldn’t because my fingers were cramped or my laptop was broken or I simply didn’t have the time. I don’t mean I couldn’t write because I was 6 months old with the as-of-yet under-developed capacity for language.

I mean I couldn’t. My brain would not let me write. I was forbidden.

I am a Writer with Severe OCD

Or, now at least, I am a writer with subdued severe OCD. Manageable OCD. We’ll call it lowercase ocd because now it’s a softer, easier, more abstract illness lingering in the back of my mind. A phantom of what was.

But it never used to be like that. It used to be debilitating. I felt like I was an astronaut locked inside a space suit, except all the oxygen was outside and I was stuffed in there, suffocating, choking, whilst this malicious voice whispered into my ear. This suit, though masked as protective outerwear, was not designed to protect me. It existed to close me off, cage me away from the rest of the world, and if I stayed inside long enough then everybody I loved and cared about would be okay.

But if I didn’t, bad things would happen. And they’d be my fault.

(Worst thing was, I wasn’t even on the moon. Do you know how ridiculous it feels to parade around, metaphorically dressed as a dodgy astronaut whilst doing a big shop in Aldi?)

I wrote about what my OCD entailed a little while back, but essentially it’s not what you think. I’m not obsessed with hygiene (in the distance, you can hear the manic laughter of my friends seeping over the horizon in confirmation). I had obsessive thoughts that led to compulsions. Thoughts that would tell me bad things would happen to good people if I placed too much pressure on my left foot, if I said the word “think” out loud, if I wore different socks, if I didn’t press my hip against the shower door, if I didn’t hold the door handle only with my right hand, if I didn’t tie my laces one shoe, then the other, then the first one again and hold until — wait, wait, wait for it, pull a little tighter with the left hand, extend your fourth finger, don’t put too much pressure on your butt-cheek, oh no your knee knocked your bedside table better get up and touch it with the other one — okay, release. If I painted my nails purple, if I didn’t methodically touch and arrange all the mugs, if I didn’t tap my eyeliner pen in a complex sequence across a long period of time until that brief and fleeting window in which it “felt right” enough to be able to stop — then people would die.

I had a lot of intrusive, incorrect, irrational thoughts. I was literally disorder. Chaos. Emptropy. But I won’t go into the lows and lows of my OCD. This isn’t about how it affected my regular life. This is how it invaded my literary life. And by invade I mean, wiped out completely.

As a writer, my OCD killed me.

How OCD Took My Words from Me

I’ve had OCD in unconventional forms since I was 7, but it manifested tangibly (and tortuously) when I was 17 — the year I got diagnosed. Before then, it never tainted my writing. I was freely able and frequently did write any ol’ crap that I fancied.

  • When I was five, I wrote stuff. Mostly illegible. Chocolate stains on everything.
  • When I was nine, I wrote love stories about a dolphin I swam with in Disneyland.
  • When I was twelve, I wrote plays for me and my friends to perform about magic bracelets. I was always the main character.
  • When I was thirteen, I wrote about a couple trapped in a lift with only seven minutes to save the world.
  • When I was fourteen, I promised my nan the night before she died that I’d follow my heart and write a book. You know. That book. The one we all have inside of us.
  • When I was fourteen plus the two hours six minute run time of the Twilight move, I wrote eight (thousand) letters to Robert Pattinson.
  • When I was seventeen, I lost the ability to write.

Now, there is obviously never an ideal time for this to happen. But at 17, in the midst of my A-Level studies, during the time when I’d finally decided to finish the book I’d promised my nan all those years prior, that’s when it struck. That’s when my OCD seeped into my fingertips. Big sigh.

Imagine you have an A4 piece of paper. The Default Page™, for most of us here in England, at least. Where do you begin? Typically the top left corner on the first line, possibly the second if you’re leaving room for the date. Then with each additional word, your pen glides from the left side of the page right across to the end of the right side, then down to the next line. And so on. Until the page is filled. Standard practise right?

I’m sat in Physics with nine other students. All the essential belongings are spread out around me: my notebook, my pencil case, my bag at my feet (a bag full of every item I’ve accumulated from school — every wrapper, every scrap piece of paper, every dried up pen, every sticky note, every chewed piece of gum, every single thing I might have placed in there, now unable to be removed. It was gross). Everything I need. My teacher is doing that thing teachers do, you know, teaching. Scribbling equations on the board whilst he tells us all about the properties of quarks. We’re at the stage of the lesson where he pauses a moment, giving us a chance to write down his notes. I pick up my pen.

And I hesitate.

I can’t… I just can’t… I can’t write from there.

For whatever reason, the very sight of that first line was excruciatingly daunting. Looking at it, I could see my grandad’s house blowing up. If I put my pen right at the beginning of that first line, that’s what would happen. So I began a couple inches across. And then a little further over to the right. And then another line down. Then another. And one more down, a tiny bit over, like my pen was descending down a two dimensional staircase and straight into the pits of hell. Before long, I was beginning my notes slap bang in the centre of the page, only ever able to fill the bottom right quadrant.

That was the easy part. At first, it was subtle. Until it wasn’t.

“It’s mock exam day!” my English Literature teacher announces. Turns out the collective groan of a classroom sounds a lot like a planetary sized desk being dragged across a wooden floor. “You know what that means. An hour of solid essay writing.” For them. Not for me.

He walks around the classroom handing out our papers and within minutes, we’ve begun. I don’t even remember reading the question. I’m too busy sweating over the trivial task of writing the date.

Looking around, everybody is in the zone — albeit unwillingly — scribbling away about quotes and dialogues and contexts that haven’t even surfaced in my mind yet, because my brain is swamped with the deadly task of putting pen to paper. I am paralysed.

That time round was different. Worse. I’d struggled through the increasing pain of not being able to write on certain parts of the page. I’d find that I couldn’t write “:” without tapping each dot in a certain sequence. At the corner of every page I had to write a little PTO (please turn over) with a corresponding arrow that had to be perfectly symmetrical and coloured in before I could, in fact, turn over. That usually took two solid minutes at least. And all these little yet lacerating additions accumulated, bit by bit, letter by letter, until I arrived here in my English lesson.

Twenty three minutes it took me to finally settle on a part of the page I could put ink to. A part that wouldn’t kill off everybody I’ve ever cared for. But then I encountered something completely new.

I write the date: February. Or at least, I try to. but I have to begin with the “y”, and write the word backwards. Not like yraurbeF. But I have to judge the right amount of room in order to fit the word in then begin with the “y”, and write from right to left. Spelling the word from end to beginning. I worry people can see my hand trembling. I worry they can hear my soul screaming.

It’s too hard, it’s too hard, it’s too too too too too too —

Three quarters of the lesson is over and all I’ve managed to do is write the date, backwards and unevenly spaced, with shaky handwriting and a slightly tear stained page. But nobody noticed. I slip my empty essay into the pile on my teacher’s desk and flee with the rest of my classmates, pretending as though it never happened.

Until it happened again. And again. And again. Bleeding into every inch of my school work, my homework, my heart.

Until I stopped writing altogether.

An Obsessive Compulsive Purgatory

To me, during this chapter of my life, writing meant killing. If I tried to defy my compulsions, if I tried to ignore the obsessive thoughts wreaking havoc in my brain, I was essentially an executioner, ending the lives of those I loved — at my own hand. Literally.

I knew it was irrational. That’s one of the most uncomfortable aspects of OCD — the conscious awareness that these thoughts are just that: thoughts. We don’t have to act on the impulses to tie our laces eight times before we leave the house. We don’t have to believe that if we don’t stack the forks to the left of the knives then our uncle’s car will implode. We don’t have to give this mental intruder any time of day — but we do because its power is so potent that it overrides the rational side of our functional brain.

As well as every other aspect of my life, writing was one of those things that it infiltrated. Not just in literal pen to paper format. It seeped into my typing, my messaging, even verbal communication. There were words I could not say (and if I did, I had to repeat them sixteen times in my head afterwards). I could no longer type in full sentences, instead compromising for replacements like “u r” instead of “you are.” Certain adjectives were forbidden. Random, seemingly inconsequential words now erased from my vocabulary. Even reading, if I ever encountered the word “die” or “death” or even “dynamite” (simply because it had the same sound), I had to close my eyes, press the book against my cheek and count. Just count. Count until I was told I could stop.

I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I could barely breathe.

And that broke my heart. Because writing, to me, is existing. Without it I was merely an abstract idea, unreleased and soon to be forgotten. With each word I could no longer write, I was slipping off the page. I was fading away. And I honestly thought that that was it. Soon, I’d be gone.

How I Got my Words Back

Overcoming any mental illness is not easy — and most of us know that. “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.” And of those people, it will likely take up a sizeable portion of their lives.

But that doesn’t mean those lives become unlivable.

If anything, it simply adds a new layer, gives existence a new edge, includes a sharper prescription on the lens in which you see the world around you. Whilst some aspects inevitably grow darker, whilst we might often feel lost to the shadows, there are those moments, those windows of light that allow us to see life just that bit clearer, sharper, in high definition.

For so long — years in fact — I fought back my OCD. I wrote it off until I could literally write no more. I battled it, but in silence, after hours, behind closed doors and broken walls and torn up pages. I refused to accept that this thing inside me even existed because that would be admitting that this was me now. Right?

Wrong. My OCD, your mental health, every scar that life gives us — is not us. It’s a part of us, sure, but the same way the eyeliner across my eyelids is a part of me, it can be wiped away the very moment I decide to remove it. Sometimes we just need a little hand finding the face wipes.

So, I confessed to my parents. I told my teachers. I got diagnosed by doctors. I went to therapy. Slowly, but surely, in tiny increments, some soft, some sharp, I started to regain control of my mind. And with each inch of control, with every crumb of self-empowerment, on the previously torn and blank pages of my life — words began to appear.

I realised that actually, they’d never left. My OCD had just hid them from me. So instead, I got rid of my OCD.

The Value of What You Love is Not in the Having

It’s in the knowing.

I might not always be around my dad, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love him incessantly with each and every moment of my life. I might not always have confidence, but I know the value of believing in myself. I might not always have control, but I know how important it is to take charge of my life. I might not have Robert Pattinson, but I know that we’re getting hitched some time in June (he, however, is yet to know this).

You don’t have to have a slice of walnut cake there in your palms to know how much you love the taste of it. You don’t need to have the keys to your house in your pocket to know you have a home. You don’t need to have the thing in order to love the thing, you know?

I lost my words — briefly, of course — but at the time, I thought I’d never get them back. I thought I was destined to live a life on mute. And I’d never valued my voice more.

So when I finally pressed my Paperchase pencil to the top line, right at the very beginning on the first page of my freshly bought journal, I almost cried. I wrote words that were once lost to the past. I wrote in order, I wrote freely, I wrote without any morbid thought trying to possess my fingertips. I wrote so much that here I am, seven years later and I haven’t stopped once. I am a writer, still writing, and I cherish every single letter that I get to write — even those dastardly three.

My OCD and Writerly Me

I still have OCD. I always will. The same way I still have my Year 10 blazer, worn down and tatty and confined to the loft. It’s stored away in the back corners of my brain and the only time I shall ever seek it out is when I want to remind myself of how far I’ve come — like a raggedy blazer that I’ve peeled off and never have to wear again. A symbol of a chapter of my life that I will always be thankful for, but will never return to.

But now? Today? Right here? I write.

Every day I write. I write in my journal, I write emails to myself, I write on Medium, on varying book projects, on Twitter, to my friends and my family and to several different brands of biscuits (some of whom reply. The others are probably signing harassment forms). I write poems and short stories and non-fiction and shopping lists and loving messages and puns about breeds of dogs if they were a cheese. I write about characters who peel off their own skin and roast battles scripted around my mom and articles about rejection and flash-fiction detailing the moon. I write and I read and I read about writing and then, again, I write.

I write because I love it — I’ve always loved it, even when I no longer had it — and most importantly: I write because I can.

Never stop doing what you love. For anybody. For anything. For any reason. Because you never know how long you will have it. It’s value might last a lifetime, but we won’t.

So. We better live a life worth writing about whilst we can.


About the Creator


I’m a writer, a storyteller, a lunatic. I imagine in a parallel universe I might be a caricaturist or a botanist or somewhere asleep on the moon — but here, I am a writer, turning moments into multiverses and making homes out of them.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  4. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  5. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

Add your insights

Comments (20)

Sign in to comment
  • Jacob Damian9 days ago

    She really write very well, and I thank her greatly for sharing her story it was amazing

  • Grace 27 days ago

    Phenomenal. I feel so much of this. Thank you for loving words and sharing yours with us.

  • Kristen Balyeat28 days ago

    Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story and for your vulnerability! I’m so happy you’re writing again, because you are amazing at it! Brilliant job and I’m really looking forward to reading more! 💫

  • j.d. davisabout a month ago

    I wish that I could write like this. I can't piece together thoughts consistently enough to deliver this kind of earnest angst. Be proud of yourself.

  • Joe Youngabout a month ago

    A fascinating and beautifully written piece. I suffer from OCD, and have written about it, although mine is a less eloquent piece than yours, and I can relate to the niggling little rituals that must be attended to. One of my big issues was that I counted things, which triggered my triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number thirteen. I couldn't open a tin on thirteen turns of the opener, which was the usual number required, so I'd put a few small turns in to take it to sixteen or so. When slicing mushrooms, I coudn't stop on twelve or thirteen knife strokes (twelve cuts means thirteen pieces). I'm still affected by some aspects of it, but it tends not to impinge on my life these days. People sometimes rib me about my OCD, but as you have shown, it can be a debilitating condition. Still, we are all richer for you having overcome your OCD-induced aversion to writing. Long may your pen flourish.

  • Darby S. Fisherabout a month ago

    Fantastic writing. I'm so glad you can enjoy your love again. Thank you for sharing.

  • Krysta Dawnabout a month ago

    Thank you so much for writing this. I'm in a similar struggle with what I call my mental health cocktail of depression, anxiety, and OCD. Which came first? Who knows, but they really do take away things you love. It's nice to hear stories from others who struggle to do what seems simple because of an overwhelming compulsion. I can't tell you how tired I get of doing things repeatedly just because my mind tells me do it or something bad will happen. I'm so happy for you that it's not as bad as it used to be.

  • Poppy the Poetabout a month ago

    This is amazingly written and inspiring. Please keep sharing your story and experiences of OCD, more people need to hear about it. Glad you’re doing better now. And I hope you write or have written that book!!

  • Stéphane Dreyfusabout a month ago

    A deep and heartfelt explanation of your condition. Thank you so much for sharing: I have learned a great deal.

  • Donna Bolchabout a month ago

    so great that you have hope to all of us who suffer from it.really well written.

  • David Jamesonabout a month ago

    Wow, what a great piece of work! As someone who has battled OCD for most of my life, it really resonated.

  • Donna Reneeabout a month ago

    ❤️. I loved this… I’ve experienced much of what you describe and I’m so glad that you are able to write again!!

  • This sounds so familiar, not in all the particulars, but familiar nonetheless. I began seeing a therapist six & a half years ago for severe depression. That diagnosis was easy. But autism & OCD get tested the same way & the only way to get a definitive diagnosis on those is to do a whole battery of tests & spend a fortune. One day in our session, I said to him that I knew he couldn't give an official diagnosis on those things but that it still helped me make sense of how I experienced things. His response? "Oh, you're definitely OCD." For me what it's meant is that every 2-5 years I simply crash. It's not just that I can't write. I can't function much at all on any level. Getting the spoon from the food on my plate to my mouth is a chore. One of my ongoing issues is a variation on how you believed someone would die. My belief is that if I'm involved with it, we will not succeed with it. I'm not supposed to succeed. I'm not supposed to be remembered. I'm not supposed to be. But that's way too much about me. (I'm also a bit of a narcissist.) Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with us. Obviously, it struck quite a chord with me. (And, of course, it helps that your writing is excellent.)

  • Creativ Mindfulabout a month ago

    Really Nice Work!!!

  • Taha Khanabout a month ago

    Amazing story!! Very well written and congrats on top stories ♥️♥️

  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    "popped to the library and printed me out" ❤

  • Chloe Gilholyabout a month ago

    I’m glad you got to write again congrats on top story.

  • Heather Lunsfordabout a month ago

    You are not just a writer. You are a very brave writer who just helped the rest of us understand your struggles. And just maybe helped us get through some of our struggles. Thank you

  • Babs Iversonabout a month ago

    Amazing story!¡ 💖💕

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.