Student View

"What I Want You To Know About Living With OCD"

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is often misunderstood and—worse— joked about. But Harper Hanson, 17, hopes to change that. 

"OCD is an illness—not a joke."

People frequently use OCD as an adjective. They say things like “I’m so OCD” because they always keep their room neat or hate check: That’s not obsessive-compulsive disorder. I know because I have OCD, and it’s actually a debilitating illness, not a joke. Those comments used to make me want to hide my OCD. I was afraid of how people would react. I thought that my illness defined me—but now I know that’s not true. I’m also a 17-year-old high school senior. I’m a competitive trampolinist. I’m funny. I love to make art and read Harry Potter. And I also like to share my story so other kids with OCD will understand that they are not alone. 

What It Means to Have OCD

When I was little, I didn’t know I had obsessive- compulsive disorder, but I did know that every single night I’d wake up terrified that a stranger was in my house. I thought that if I bolted to my parents’ bedroom in under 10 seconds, we would all survive. I believed that I needed to say “good night” and “I love you” to them 10 times before going to sleep

in order to be safe. And I also thought I needed to count stairs, avoid sidewalk cracks, and count to 11 in my head over and over again. I believed I had to do these things to protect my family and myself.

In my mind, these rituals were preventing bad things from happening. In reality, they were a part of my illness. When I finally learned about OCD, I discovered that my experience was similar to the experience most people with OCD have.

There’s no one way to define OCD, but most of us with the illness do have the same two symptoms. 

The first is obsessions, which are unwanted thoughts or urges that make you anxious. For
me, that was thinking there was a stranger in my house. The second common symptom of OCD is compulsions. These are repetitive mental rituals or behaviors that people feel they must perform in order to combat their obsessions (like saying “good night” to my parents multiple times as a way to stay safe from that stranger).

So why do I think and act this way? That’s a great question. Nothing caused my OCD, exactly. The disorder is partially genetic—I’ve learned that my dad likely has OCD too—and partially due to the way my brain functions. It’s just who I am. 

Getting Help

For a long time, I was able to live with my OCD. It didn’t get in the way of going to school or hanging out with my friends, and because it was happening in my head, no one really knew what was going on—not even my parents. But the OCD became worse as I grew older. I started having thoughts about hurting myself and others, and that petrified me. I began picking at my skin too. I knew that I needed to get help.

First, my mom took me to the pediatrician. The doctor asked me all sorts of questions and determined that I definitely had anxiety. I saw a couple of other doctors after that, but it took some time before I was properly diagnosed with OCD. I learned that not all doctors are trained to recognize mental health conditions.

Now I see a therapist and a psychiatrist. With the help of my therapist, I purposefully confront the things that scare me. Doctors call these confrontations “exposures.” Bit by bit, I’m learning that I can feel anxiety about these things without reacting to that anxiety.

For example, one of my worst obsessions used to revolve around books: I thought that if I touched or read one, something awful would happen. My therapy started by having me simply be in the same room as a book, and I slowly worked my way up until I was able to happily pick up a novel and read it. This therapy treatment doesn’t get rid of my obsessive-compulsive disorder completely, and different obsessions still arise—but it definitely helps. 

My Future

As much as I wish that I didn’t have obsessive- compulsive disorder, my struggle has taught me that no one can make it through this world alone. For years, I was afraid I’d be judged if people knew what I was going through, so I remained silent. But when I finally told my friends about my OCD, they were amazingly understanding. Talking about it made it feel like a weight had been lifted. My parents, siblings, doctors, friends—even my cat, Wesley—all make me feel better in different ways. 

These days, I can’t stop talking! I want to use my voice to speak up for kids like me. I volunteer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health advocacy group, and I recently started sharing my story at schools. I want other kids with OCD to understand that they aren’t alone—and that getting help doesn’t make you weak. 

Back to top
videos (2)
videos (2)
Skills Sheets (7)
Skills Sheets (7)
Skills Sheets (7)
Skills Sheets (7)
Skills Sheets (7)
Skills Sheets (7)
Skills Sheets (7)
Quizzes (1)
Quizzes (1)