- Queer actor, comic and writer Olivia Levine shares her story of living with OCD.
I was 17 when I was officially diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), but I knew something was up long before that.
My whole life I’d known something was up. I mean, everyone knew.
The first sign of it was when I was around four or five. I developed these ticks – I had a sniff, a snort and an eye roll.
My mother was dating a comedian at the time, this tall, solid and very warm man named Michael.
And whenever he came over he’d say: ‘Hey Big O – gimme a sniff a snort and an eye roll! Okay great, now gimme a double eye roll, double sniff, snort. Fantastic, fantastic, and for the grand finale, eye roll, sniff, eye roll, sniff, snort, snort, snort. Ah there we go, what a talent!’
I liked that he made it funny – normal. Michael liked me in spite of these often-disruptive ticks. And my mom seemed outwardly amused as well, but behind closed doors, she worried.
The therapist couldn’t explain my strange behaviors
When I was eight, I started touching things repeatedly, saying certain words over and over again. I decided that some numbers were bad and some numbers were good, and that my parents would die if I landed on certain spots on the sidewalk.
Every time I saw a green car pass on the street I had to shout ‘green car, green car, green car’ three times.
I became afraid to use the word ‘delectable’ because one night I watched the JonBenét Ramsey movie on Lifetime and she said the word delectable in the scene before she was murdered. It became a dangerous word and thus banished from my lexicon.
My parents’ worry increased, so they sent me to a therapist. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to have any explanation for my strange behaviors, so I asked to stop going.
The first time I came out
It wasn’t until 10 years later, when I arrived at Barnard College in New York City, that I finally found a therapist who knew what was going on with me. Let me rewind a bit.
My dad said he knew I was gay by the time I was 12. In fact, apparently I had actually declared that I was gay when I was only three years old.
I was in a car with my dad, and I looked to the car to the left of us and saw two men kissing. I said to him ‘Daddy, why are the men kissing?’ And he said ‘Well, probably because they’re gay!’ and I said ‘I’m gay’.
He likely gave me a thumbs up and patted me on the back or something. He was down with whatever.
And so, it was decided early on. I was gay. You don’t have the best memory when you’re three though, so I guess I forgot shortly thereafter.
And when I arrived at Barnard College (one of the gayest schools in the country, by the way), I was, somehow, clueless. I just thought I just hadn’t found the right man yet.
‘But have you been with a girl?’
And that QUICKLY changed when I met Annie – lesbian extraordinaire.
She was the coolest gal I had ever met. Everybody, and I mean everyyyyyybody had a crush on Annie. And I was no exception.
I was pretty much immediately in love. Or infatuated or wanted her to be my mother or wanted to be her. I mean isn’t it always some combination of all of those things?
We started spending a lot of time together, and one day, I just decided to go for it. I told her I liked her, she told me she liked me too.
‘But have you been with a girl?’ she asked. ‘Do you know what you’re getting into?’
‘No,’ I replied. ‘But I know I want this. With you.’
We went back to her place and spent the night talking about our favorite things, showing each other pictures, sharing stories.
When it was time for me to leave, she walked me outside of her dorm to the elevator. We stood there smiling, and she gave me a slow, tender kiss. I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
But then the elevator dinged, and I thought someone was about to walk in on our kiss — my body reacted. I broke the kiss, said ‘Kay, bye’ and slipped into the…empty elevator. Nobody had been there to witness the moment after all.
‘I felt pathetic but I couldn’t stop’
Afterwards, she texted asking if I had gotten spooked. No! No, not at all!
Worried that she was worried, I started bombarding her with affectionate texts, texts explaining just how into it I was. Well – then, she got spooked. And she called the whole thing off.
I was DESTROYED. I spent hours crying in bed, refusing to eat. So I called her and when she didn’t answer, I called her best friends. When none of that worked, I started posting Photobooth pictures to her Facebook wall, to no avail.
I felt pathetic but I couldn’t stop. And I couldn’t focus in class – I would just jot down notes about her, possible scenarios between the two of us, hopes about our future.
I could barely speak, could barely socialize. I was moving through the world in a dream like state – stopping in the middle of streets to rethink our conversations a million times over.
The three letters I’d lived with all my life – OCD
So, I went to the counseling center, and from there was referred to a cognitive behavioral therapist.
And that’s when I was finally diagnosed with it – the three letters that had lived in and around me for almost my whole life, but had never been spoken directly to me. OCD.
Most people think OCD is just counting and hand washing, but it can be so much more than that.
It’s an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts, images and impulses (obsessions) that cause strong urges to engage in repetitive thoughts or behaviors, known as compulsions.
That’s what I had been doing with the Annie situation – obsessively calling her friends, for example, and then engaging in repetitive thought patterns to justify why that was necessary or important.
This would alleviate my anxiety, help me to regain control and certainty. Control and certainty are two things folks with OCD are ALWAYS seeking.
My OCD continues to be a real struggle for me even though I now have a better understanding of how it affects me.
It’s hard for me to be without control, without certainty. Hard to stop the cycles of obsessing and compulsing, even to this day. But with the help of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I have been able to manage my OCD and lesbian heartbreak a lot more easily.
To find out more about Olivia please visit her site here.
Olivia’s solo-show UNSTUCK is currently running at The Tank in mid-town Manhattan.