Beanery Online Literary Magazine

October 12, 2009

Living with OCD



as told to Carolyn C. Holland by Dmitri Beljan

      I was initially going to talk to you at a local café. However when you invited me to sit down, the place I was seated was not cleaned up from the previous guest. Although tolerable to sit there, I found myself uncomfortable and distracted by concerns about the dirty table. It took away from giving you my full attention.

     Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to worry about germs. For example, how many times have you ordered a baked potato at a particular fast food place and the waitress  who handled your money then squished the potatoes with her fingers and handed it to you? I found myself several times reminding food service personnel that you don’t handle food and money both. I don’t think that’s so bad.

     However if this behavior is carried to an extreme—e. g., asking her to clean the table twice—it could be considered a symptom of OCD.

     Thus began my interview with Dmitri.

     October 12-18, 2009, is National OCD Awareness Week. Dmitri is willing to share his story of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly called OCD. Below he tells of live with OCD.

     My genetic makeup predisposed me to OCD. This condition was aggravated by my very religious family and the paranoia of the 1950s Cold War.

     When I was a little boy the thoughts that are now called obsessive thoughts were not recognized by me as such, and with the influence of religion, I interpreted it to be that I was possessed by demons.

     This scared the hell out of me. I became more concerned about the afterlife than this life.

     My family was always hearing various evangelists (Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, etc.). At one tent meeting, preaching, books about devil and hell…me, I took it all so seriously. I went forward so many times that my bro Al called me “altar call Ray.” I thought I was never saved because I just never felt like I had the spiritual experience people talked about.

     I realize now I was “born right the first time,” as one bumper sticker proclaimed.

     With puberty came the teenage religious prohibitions against lustful thoughts, desires, and the motivations prompted by raging hormones. What was normal was incompatible with the religious teachings. This conflict resulted in compulsive washing of hands soiled by sinful activity. This compulsiveness is a symptom OCD..

     Compounding the situation was the rumor was that Christ was coming again, almost immediately. Thus I probably would not live beyond my teenage years. According to Oral Roberts, “It’s later than you think.” I believed everything. I expected to have only three Christmases, at most. “What was the sense of going to school and learning everything, because you will never grow up.”

     It was a horrible time of life.

     The religious influence was complicated by living in the cold war era. At the time of my puberty, there were air raid sirens, fear that the Russians would bomb us with “the big one.” I felt that if this happened, I would go to hell without becoming an adult. My youthful ignorance of psychology meant that I was uninformed that OCD existed in up to 2% of the population.

     There were other OCD symptoms I experienced. In addition to the compulsive handwashing, activities had to be done properly, correctly, and in the right order. One manifestation of this symptom was the necessity of picking glass off the sidewalk to prevent anyone from being harmed by it. It was my duty to pick up that glass. Another manifestation was preparing a glass of milk. To do so, I had to walk slowly and carefully to the table. Then I had to repeat the steps if I didn’t do them right the first time.

     I started to feel better when I left my home to go to college. I was away from the family and with people who questioned beliefs, rather than trying to force them on me. In college I learned that other ideas and beliefs existed, that everything didn’t have to be the way Oral Roberts said they were. My imagination was appreciated, and rote memorization was no longer part of the curriculum. I made the highest grade in the freshman class on a general core test.

     After college, I was drafted into the Army, a stint which lasted for six months. I married in my 20s, while in the Army.

     I did pretty good OCD-wise while married, but I was bothered by the idea of permanency, of settling down. When my wife wanted a child, I realized I didn’t. The proverbial wakeup call that I didn’t want to be married occurred when my wife wanted to buy a piece of furniture. I thought, “Oh, my god, I really am married.”

     After an honorable discharge from the Army, I worked as a child welfare caseworker, with Transitional Services in Pittsburgh, and with the Illinois Children and Youth Services.

      Another symptom that can be a part of OCD is an exaggerated idea of responsibility. This manifested itself in my life by fearing that I would contaminate people, or that they would contaminate me. This affected me in the workforce. Sometimes I didn’t go to work because I thought I was sick and would be responsible for contaminating everyone.

     Once at a restaurant I heard a woman threaten to hit her child. I felt responsible for protecting the child, and I yelled to the mother, at the top of my voice: “If you hit the kid, I will call the police.” I also said I would testify against her in court. Oddly, the restaurant manager, who happened to be her boyfriend, gave me a free hamburger the next time I was at his restaurant.

     Currently, if I see someone mistreating a child,I leave the room, fearing I will get overly upset. This is my OCD coping mechanism. I’ve become more concerned with taking care of myself than taking responsibility for the whole world.

     Although my bachelor degree is in the social sciences, “to tell the truth, I would rather have gone into science and engineering. Not only would I be making more money, but I would be dealing with technical problems rather than emotional problems.” It was challenging to counsel dysfunctional families when my own family was “a bunch of wackos.” When I was a little kid, I told my mother I figured out what was wrong with our family: “We are all crazy.”

     After leaving the social service field, I learned calculus. “I would stay up and work out calculus problems—it was something to do, and satisfying to come up with a clear answer.”
     My OCD is under control now. I’ve been on medication for about ten years, and I still go to the VA hospital for counseling. However, some symptoms persist. For example, recently I was anxious that the toilet was running, and had to return home to check on it.

     What’s bothering me now? I just washed my car, and trucks splashed dirt it.  I need to get home and wash it. My OCD symptoms are less severe now, as demonstrated by the fact that I haven’t left here to go home and wash car. But it will get washed when I arrive home.

Website for the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation:


Online Sites for Caretakers & Families of Brain Injury Victims



Can You Write Your Memoir in Six Words?

Her Gift


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