An interview with Kerry Osborn on living with severe OCD and her new book "The Obsessive Outsider"
Thursday July 27, 2017 12PM ET
Regular font: Kerry Osborn
Italics: Lexie Robertson, Coping Cont'd
So first of all, thank you so much for wanting to be a part of this!
Yeah, we’re really interested to hear about your story. This doesn’t have to be so much as “an interview”, but instead more of a conversation, and that way you can just say anything you want to!
To start off, tell me a bit about yourself and your story.
-Absolutely. So I am the founder of “The Obsessive Outsiders”, which is a movement on breaking the stigma of OCD, but it’s also a tribute to my book, which is called “The Obsessive Outsider”, and it’s essentially a website that takes a “no BS approach, and kind of like I wrote in our emails that we had back and forth, a non-filtered, blunt way of talking about mental illness. It’s such a taboo subject and I’m really sick of it.
-I have spent 8 years in hell, with severe OCD, and I’m finally able to use my voice for all of the people that can’t. I couldn’t speak up about it for 8 years.
Tell me more about your story.
-In my Junior year of high school, I got into a bad car accident driving with one of my girlfriend’s home from school. The car blew up with both of us inside of it, but we were both able to get out. I was the only one not truly injured, but I mean I had really bad whiplash. Everyone else had to go to the hospital. The problem with car accidents though, is that everyone thinks that the injuries are just physical, a lot of people don’t realize that they can be psychological too. So that accident was in April 2008 and my mom said by the end of summer she had a different daughter.
-Everyone around me says that the accident was the catalyst to letting the OCD set in, even though I didn’t feel incredible trauma. Through reflecting and writing this book, I realized that I really and truly have had OCD tendencies my entire life. I was also right around the age where many people develop OCD. But again, I didn’t really know what OCD was. My parents put me in front of therapist after therapist basically saying “What’s wrong with her?” and I could’ve cared less. Finally, one of my therapists sat me down and said “I think you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”.
-Well, my main obsession was my hair; I had beautiful long hair and it kind of just starting falling out. It was really my only signature that I had at the time and OCD will attack the thing that’s most important to you. So my hair is falling out, and it’s not too long after the accident, and my OCD just latched onto that. It told me that if I performed certain compulsions, which were all random, that my hair would stop falling out. So I got caught up in this serious brain lock: “If I step on this crack, my hair will stop falling out”, “If I hop over this piece of gum on the sidewalk, my hair will stop falling out”, “If I don’t write down the letter E, my hair will stop falling out”. It’s so random. Magical thinking is the type of OCD that it is, with miscellaneous compulsions.
Did you know what was happening?
-I don’t think I realized how sick I was. I thought I was fine. I got into a university in Irvine, and I was like “I’m going”. My therapists didn’t think that I should go. But I did, and through disability services I got my own dorm room. But it was the worst possible thing for me.
-Yeah. My OCD festered, and grew and grew and grew. In my book, I go into what that room was like, and sometimes I worry about it being published because it’s so bad. It’s an absolutely unrecognizable side of me. I started hoarding as well.
So what did you do?
-Well, near me there was a place that specialized in OCD, called the Gateway Institute, and they had a 3-week intensive program. They told me that’s what I needed, because OCD isn’t really something where you can just go to therapy once a week, you have to prove to yourself that these compulsions are not going to change your reality. Stepping on a crack or not stepping on a crack wasn’t going to change my hair. I’m a smart girl, but this just wouldn’t connect. So, I went into this program and worked with my therapist for hours and hours each day and I came out better, actually questioning if the OCD was real. This was huge for me because OCD gives you control, so the last thing you want to do is give up the only control you feel you have. The last 8 years have been a huge training process. You can exercise control in other ways, it doesn’t have to be these bizarre obsessions and compulsions. So I went back to school and went back into this slump and sort of relapsed, but then things started getting a little better. I had to teach myself to re-socialize but I started meeting new people, making new friends.
I was talking to one of the members of Coping Cont’d, Sophie, who has OCD, and we were discussing the misrepresentation of people with OCD not just in pop culture, but also in real life. How does it make you feel personally, and how do you deal with it? Do you ever call people out?
-It’s so funny that you ask that, because it’s usually one of the main points I make to people. Now that I’ve found my voice again, I’m kind of angry at the world. I was bullied for so long that now I’m just like, “I’m coming for you!”. It’s kind of funny because I totally now have this blunt, “I don’t give a damn” mentality.
But you should!
-Now I’m very outright with people. I used to be so polite. Now my whole life is dedicated to “The Obsessive Outsiders” and my book. OCD is so far beyond its misunderstood stigma. There’s violent OCD, sexual OCD, scrupulosity, magical thinking, cleanliness, and the list goes on. I had to start defending OCD, it’s not just about me needing things lined up perfectly.
I feel like OCD is one of, if not the most, stigmatized mental illnesses.
-OCD is the most common self-diagnosed disorder. It’s so aggravating to me because it discredits me. It makes me look like everyone else, but I wish I were everyone else, that’s the difference.
I do think that it’s getting a little better. With websites like “The Obsessive Outsiders” and “Coping Cont’d”!
-Yes, and I’ve worked in Hollywood for the last two years and it’s gotten a lot better. They’re making it almost “trendy”. Celebrities, like Amanda Seyfried came forward and were like “I have OCD and I take Lexapro, and I’m going to be on it for the rest of my life”. Once celebrities start talking about it they put it in InStyle, and in Vogue, and people start talking about it more. I really do think that it’s getting better than it used to be.
For sure, so tell me a little more about your book.
-I started writing my book when I was in my Senior year of college, which was when I was at my healthiest. I started writing it to tell a comedic version of my story, but there’s actually a lot of powerful advice in there. I found that when you have it, you can give really good advice, even though you can’t take it yourself. You know what you should be doing to fight it. I decided to make the book a 2-part book. So many books on the market right now on OCD are written by Doctors and Psychologists. But they don’t have OCD themselves, which is totally fine. However, I do think that when people are struggling with OCD, or whichever mental illness for that matter, you kind of want to hear about it from someone who has firsthand experience. This book is a patient-to-patient memoir of inspiration on how to live a fully functioning life amidst severe OCD. The book is meant to be a source of inspiration: Hey guys, I’m standing up, and I’m telling you there is a fight in OCD. Even if you don’t perform your compulsions, your obsessions will not come true. They are just thoughts in passing. So that is what’s changed my life.
The book is called “The Obsessive Outsider” and kind of transitions into the website, “The Obsessive Outsiders”. It’s no longer about me, it’s about them.
That’s awesome. Are you finished writing the book?
-I’m finished with the fourth manuscript and I’m working on the final version now. It’s about time, it’s about time.
Well that’s incredible, you must be really proud.
-I am! I feel like I finally have a ground to stand on. Everyone has their thing. Mine is OCD, yours is Bipolar Disorder. So the question is, what can we do with it?
Kerry has battled with severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder since her diagnosis in 2008. Kerry now devotes her life to being an inspiration for other 'obsessive outsiders' to believe in and continue the rigorous fight against severe OCD. Kerry's first non-fiction book, The Obsessive Outsider, is due to be published in 2017. Kerry's book takes on a refreshing patient-to-patient approach the industry desperately needs. She has recently launched a subscription movement on breaking the stigma of OCD and inspiring others to find an approach to allow mental health to be a casual, non-taboo discussion on www.theobsessiveoutsiders.com.