Battling Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Winning

“You must really love that song,’ my mother says, and for a moment my heart stops. Both of us are plainly aware she need not be more specific than that. I attempt to read her body language out of the corner of my eye. Does she know? There’s no way, right?…What I definitely do not do is glance back and say, ‘Funny story about that song, while you’ve clearly noticed I’ve listened to it every single weeknight this entire school year, would you believe I only ever press play at exactly 8:38 p.m.?” R. Monahan, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Excerpt: How I Finally Kicked My O.C.D. by Rich Monahan, The New York Times

“And check this out, once that cable box hits 9:52 p.m., I will casually retire to my bedroom to initiate the final sequence of what has recently ballooned into a nearly 90-minute nightly routine of humiliating compulsions: I’ll touch the same four CDs laid out on my dresser in ‘order’; turn the stereo on and off; move to the entertainment center; touch the ‘Twisted Metal’ video game case; turn on the TV; boot up the PlayStation…then touch nothing else until it’s lights out at 9:58 p.m. And that’s not even the craziest part; the craziest part is that I do these things because I believe they will somehow increase my social standing among other ninth graders… and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my mind.’

Image- Steemit

It started in seventh grade, when two childhood friends aged out of hanging out with me. Already depressed and on the verge of friendlessness, I was desperate to preserve life as it had been. Well,  my brain misfired, ‘Last time you all hung out together, you wore that one pair of Hanes tighty  whities. Put those on.’ I did. Then I wore them again the next day, and the next, for 30 days straight.

Soon, it snowballed into an impossible amount of rituals, all infused with a bizarre sense of causality: ‘If I do X, Y and Z today, then tomorrow my classmates will like me…’


On the good days, obsessive-compulsive disorder can just feel like a bunch of extra chores. On the bad days, when nothing is ‘working,’ you are trapped in a living nightmare, helplessly enslaved to an oppressive and delusional belief system that has swallowed nearly every moment of your waking life.  On the bright side: I always knew exactly where my keys were. 

I tried not to examine the bigger implications of it all, though I was aware enough to know I should be absolutely ashamed. So I told no one. By the end of high school, I had friends, won superlatives and no one knew a thing about me. Mission accomplished.

But college threw an unexpected curve ball: I finally had a girlfriend. ‘Is that the same Power Bar that’s always there?’ she asks a few weeks into our relationship, staring at the twisted energy bar sitting in the cup holder of my Corolla’s center console. ‘Oh, that? No, that’d be really funny, but no, I just bought it,’ I grin… It is of course the same Power Bar I have kept in my car for months, though to be fair, only on Fridays and Saturdays when I have a show, as during the week I store it in my underwear drawer. Her brow furrows…She buys me a book about O.C.D. I never read it. When we’re among friends I’m a delight — sane and gregarious. When we’re alone, I shrink bitterly…Michelle suggests painting, I refuse. She asks for closet space, I say sorry, we cannot move Grandma’s oxygen tanks. I cannot risk any fluctuation in my recent streak of positive outcomes…Michelle dumps me a final time…I tell everyone everything. ‘So wait, what was the shaving-with-no-pants-on one about?’ my friend Nate asked.’

‘So people would like me.’ In sharing with friends and family the weirdest things about me, I expect humiliation, or at least some solid recoils in horror. Instead, they mull it over, ask a couple of questions, then tell me the weirdest things about themselves…Over time, I even become a trusted resource for friends newly tackling their own mental health… I have not had a single compulsion since.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.

Advanced K-W-L chart.Intervention for Reading


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. After 9:00 I will casually retire to my bedroom.
  2. I initiate the final sequence of my ritual.
  3. Having OCD can be humiliating.
  4. By was seventh grade I was already depressed.
  5. My brain seemed to have  misfired.
  6. Soon, it snowballed into an impossible amount of rituals.
  7. On the good days, obsessive-compulsive disorder can just feel like a bunch of extra chores.
  8. Some days I felt trapped in a living nightmare.
  9. I tried not to examine the bigger implications of it all.
  10. My friends simply mull it over and ask a few questions.

vocabulary Chart: Freeology


Reading Comprehension


Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

I spent a ___lying, secretly ___the objects in my bedroom in order to keep ___around. But opening up enough to tell them so___ us closer than ever. I have not had a single ___since.

WORD LIST: brought, compulsion, rearranging, friends, decade,

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

I mastered/missed the art of deflect/deflection, expertly turning every response/repose into a joke/jokes and steering every convert/conversation into being about the other person. By the end of high school, I had friends/fiends, won superlatives and no one knew a thing about me. Mission accomplished.

III. Post Reading Activities

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

  1. According to the author what signs of OCD did he show?
  2. What are some of the reasons he gave for his behavior?
  3. How did the author finally kick his OCD?
  4. Do you know someone who has OCD? If yes describe their behavior.
  5. What would you do if you suspected someone you knew might have OCD?
  6. Look for additional information about OCD on the web (e.g., self-help books, available therapy etc.)


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.