How I Deal with OCD and Anxiety as an Adult

Ashmi pathela

I grew up watching my sister Maya struggle with high anxiety and OCD. I see her pain, and at the same time, am awed by her strength. She opened up to me about how she deals with OCD and anxiety as an adult, and she wanted to share her story below.  

Tell us about you!

“Hi, I’m Maya. I am 24 years old. I have autism, high anxiety, and OCD. I’m trying to live my life to the fullest, on the bright side.”

“From the outside looking in, I’m just like everyone else. But on the inside, I’m dealing with constant cycles of suffering and recovering from OCD and high anxiety. If I’m just enjoying myself at work or with friends, others will have no idea – I look like someone completely normal who is just living her life.”

“The truth is, I have an illness. My anxiety and OCD disrupts my life. My experience with OCD is as if there’s a second person inside of me, with a nagging voice making irrational demands. At any point in time, I have voices of varying strength in my head that tell me persistently to plug and unplug my phone charger, open and close food bottles, turn the fan on and off. My mind starts racing and fixates on the loudest problem that gets in the way, and it feels like I’m suffocating. I get completely stuck and cannot think about anything else. I try not to listen to that voice, but sometimes it’s uncontrollable. Even when I stand there and turn the light switch on and off, on and off, sometimes it does nothing to ease the building anxiety and feeling of suffocation. This often triggers an anxiety attack and anger outburst. Afterward, I feel guilty about giving in to the OCD and making my parents so stressed and sad.”  

How do the anxiety and OCD impact your life?

“They cause interruptions to my daily routine, my job, social plans, and add stress to the life I want to live. On bad days, I cannot function normally and get fixated on the nagging OCD or anxiety about a social situation - and the entire day is wasted. For example, if I text a friend and don’t get a reply right away, I start fearing they’re ignoring me or angry at me. I get irrationally worried that I’ll lose the friendship and feel compelled to text them again – even though deep down I know there’s nothing wrong.”

“I’ve had about eight different jobs this past year. I’ve kept some for 3 or more months, and others have only lasted three days. Even when I’m doing well at a new job, anxiety builds up out of nowhere, without reason. I try to be confident and tell myself I can do this, but it ends up taking over. I’ve had to quit jobs I love because I start worrying that I’m not a great fit, or that the manager is upset at my work. These may not be real fears, but as I start worrying more, it becomes harder for me to go to work. I get nervous to go into work, worried that people will judge me because I’m slower and not the same level they are in their work. Sometimes when my anxiety is bad and I take too many sick days, I get fired, or the manager reduces my hours and I’m forced to quit.”

“I’ve learned to search for jobs that are a great environmental fit for me. A caring manager and coworkers, slower pace, and part-time hours that start later in the day can go a long way in making me happy at work. I’m a prep chef, so there are many local and family-owned restaurants that create a great environment. And luckily, I’ve found a few jobs where the manager actively hires and supports people with disabilities.”

What about your friends?

“I love the friends I have now and want to build stronger relationships with them. They remind me to think positively, and they don't judge me for my struggles.”

“I feel less confident meeting new people and making friends because I don’t want them to know I’m a different person inside. It makes me feel scared to let people in. When my OCD gets better in a way, I’ll want to start making new friends. I think my mindset will be different then, and I’ll feel like being more social.”  

“But right now, I’m worried new friends won’t understand me. They’ll think they have to deal with someone with extra needs, which is a burden. They’ll think I’m not outgoing or a fun person to be around. Sometimes, I accidentally drive friends away when I get too anxious and clingy – and I’m scared to keep repeating this pattern with new friends who don’t get me.”

How do you manage your OCD and anxiety?

“I tell myself it’s just anxiety, and I can handle it. I try to remember to not worry about unnecessary things, and that it’s not as bad as it seems - nothing is seriously wrong. I talk to friends throughout the day and do the things that make me happy when my mood is down: take care of my guinea pigs, sleep well, and watch funny YouTube videos.”

How has anxiety made you stronger?

“Anxiety has taught me that I’m a human being who can feel emotions deeply. I accept it. It’s not who I am. I’m smart, and I can handle it and not let it win.”

What do you want to tell other adults who deal with anxiety and OCD?

“You can do this. Try to stay calm and work your way up day by day. Know that you’re wasting your time dwelling on negative thoughts and unrealistic fears. Severe anxiety is not a permanent problem, and it can be controllable.”

“For me, I try to think about the future. What would your life look like if you didn’t have OCD or high anxiety? You just need to follow your heart and think about the way you want to live your life, even with anxiety.”  

What are your hopes for your future?

“In the future, I see myself having already overcome many of the pains of OCD and severe anxiety. I want to be like others who are working, living independently, having fun with a group of friends who want to be around me.”

“I try to think on the bright side. I believe that my time will happen. My good days will happen. It’s just taking a bit of time right now.”