Graduate Story #7
Lesbians Everywhere: A gay spiker confronts her pure-O theme about getting an answer to her sexual orientation question
This particular tale of OCD begins with a crush on a boy named Sam.
I was a very happy girl. I was about to graduate at the top of my high school class, spent bags of time with my friends, and was enjoying my crush, of course.
Sam, however, didn't like receiving my attention as much as I liked giving it. About four months after we met, I heard from a mutual friend that Sam was gay.
I was a bit depressed and slightly embarrassed. Sam hadn't turned out to be the love of my young life. Mostly, though, I felt relieved to know his true colors, and hoped that he (and I) would be happy with future boyfriends.
A few days later, I had a full-blown panic attack, feeling the kind of intense anxiety which usually alerts someone to disaster, an emergency or the edge of a cliff.
My body and brain sent signals that I was in dire straits. I was shaking, I could hear my heart beating, and I desperately wanted to hide under the covers and never come out again. One thought possessed me: perhaps my slight discomfort with the Sam fiasco stemmed from homosexual desires of my own.
I found out years later that this very horrible experience marked the beginning of my struggle with a kind of OCD that is sometimes referred to as the "purely obsessional," or pure-O, type of the condition.
Although I couldn't understand why, I worried desperately that I was gay. I had never had sexual feeling for women; even if I had, I thought that such feelings were normal. But denial or acceptance of sexual feelings was not the issue. It was the sense of urgency that accompanied the question, the burning need to know the absolute truth.
I looked at magazines to see if I had a physical reaction to photographs of attractive women. I measured my response to girls I saw in the halls of my high school. I confessed to my dad, then my mom - who were genuinely puzzled, and explained that whatever sexual choices I made were fine, but that they also couldn't understand the overnight shift in my "preferences".
I pored over my past relationships with guys and friendships with girls, looking for any proof. (I suddenly saw lesbians everywhere. I listened to the Indigo Girls, picking apart their lyrics; if I could relate to a love song, it confirmed my new identity; if I couldn’t, I was a closet case. I learned that a favorite author had been gay, and that reading her books in public was considered "a dead giveaway" by some in the gay community. Why did I like her books, my little voice asked, and why so much?) I told my best friend what was going on - or tried anyway - and she suggested I seek counseling.
I did, although I never told my secret in that particular batch of therapy sessions. I felt as though the therapist I had would just pronounce me a closet case and leave me to deal with the anxiety I felt myself. Rationally, I understood that my attraction to men remained; that although I could appreciate the beauty of women, I didn't really want to sleep with them; and that I spent an inordinate amount of time debating whether I was gay. I couldn't understand why the questions I had were accompanied by so much fear. I even knew that the same questions wouldn't have bothered me before OCD.
I thought I couldn't do anything. So I convinced everyone I had just gone through an adolescent phase, stopped therapy and packed my bags for Yale, still terrified.
True to the wax-and-wane, in-and-out pattern that I now know OCD can take, the obsessive sexual thoughts I experienced did actually become dramatically less invasive throughout my first two college years. I met another boy at the end of junior year--we'll call him Alex--who shared my love of stand-up and great restaurants--and fell utterly, totally, drastically in love, as did he.
OCD came back and bit me in the butt about eight months after our graduation. This time, the attack was far worse. I could literally feel my blood coursing through my veins during anxiety attacks. I did the same "checks" with girls in magazines and on the subway that I had done before. Many mornings, I couldn't get out of bed. I thought about how much I loved Alex, and heard an incredibly frightening voice inside me saying that I would have to give him up, tell him the news, and have relationships with women.
I found another psychoanalyst and this time spilled the beans after about seven sessions, although I was very scared of judgement. She said there was nothing I could do, and that my obsessions were largely untreatable. I felt completely lost.
I spent hours checking out websites on depression, gays, depressed gay people, depressed closeted people--everything fueled the fire and the voice that said "this is you, you are gay, you get no boys anymore, you get women, you have to learn to like them because somewhere inside you, you already do--you must, after all, otherwise you wouldn't spend so much time thinking about it…"
On a depression site, I saw a link to an OCD site. I thought OCD had something to do with people who washed their hands too much and used Kleenex to open doors, but figured the site was worth a quick look just the same.
I found 20 questions--if you answered yes to the majority you were "unofficially diagnosed" with OCD. I answered yes to eighteen. After surfing more OCD websites and reading some of the good books available about my illness, I learned about the "pure-O" and I thought I fit the description. My heart leapt at the mention of "obsessions of a sexual nature" as a frequent spike for the pure-O.
I also learned that people with OCD fare better with behavioral therapy than psychoanalysis, so I said my goodbyes and enlisted in the help of Dr. Steven Phillipson.
This guy has been my guide and a great support as I still learn to cope with day-to-day life and this condition. One of the most interesting and comforting things I learned is that an astounding number of people with OCD have the same spike that I had--fears of homosexuality--even though it is not always as well-documented as some of the other common spikes. Who knew?
We created a hierarchy of exposure exercises. An easier exposure? Rating women on their looks, sexiness and how much I feel attracted to them. Watching movies with lesbian relationships and sex scenes was tougher. Still harder was actually conjuring up fantasies of sexual acts with women. During exposures, my brain pestered me with questions and "what ifs" that I had to ignore. But they habituated my brain to my "gay" thoughts and gradually extinguished them-almost 100 percent.
I even "outed" myself to Alex. He was astounded, but proud of me, and went to talk with Steve, to better understand what I was dealing with.
I may have to take on another OCD bully later, but I'll be better equipped knowing how to use exposures. They'll help me face spikes till I don't even notice them anymore. I hope that the other gay spikers out there--I know you are there--step up to the plate and try behavioral therapy. In this PC era, it's tough to tell a therapist you are possessed by gay thoughts, though you're not actually gay-- and hope to be taken seriously. But the results of good therapy are really worthwhile. It will help you experience far better things in life than invasive, anxiety-producing obsessions.
I wish you the best in your attempts to manage and deal with OCD.