The lights were low, the band was playing, and people all around me were praying. My friends seemed to be experiencing God in powerful ways, but I sat in the pew, lost in confusion. I could not escape the mental torment that had become my reality. As I struggled through the endless twists and turns of delusional thinking, a friend of mine came and sat next to me. I shared my frustration with him: “I feel like I’m lost in a maze…a confusing maze of thoughts…and I cannot find the exit.” He responded in a reassuring voice: “Sometimes, Nathan, the only way out is up.”
From early on, my childhood had been characterized by strong, stable Christian values. However, when I graduated from high school and went off to the University of Michigan, I began to fundamentally question everything about my beliefs. I had an endless stream of doubts, and as my spiritual foundation began to erode, I also found myself grappling increasingly with irrational, paralyzing fear.
As the zeal to “find the answers” was eventually replaced by disillusionment and despair, my thinking patterns and behaviors became increasingly obsessive. Before climbing into bed, I would turn off the light. Then I would turn it back on. Then off again. For some reason, I thought that I had to turn the light off the “right” way, and every time I got it wrong, I had to do it again. Other behaviors were equally strange. At times, I found myself jumping slightly off the ground whenever I had an immoral thought. I also began to cough or tense up my body repetitively as feelings of anxiety increased. Negative mental associations dominated my thinking, making daily tasks nearly impossible.
All I can say to anyone who has OCD is you can overcome it no matter what it tells you
I was diagnosed with OCD threes ago when I was 19. I was receiving Cognitive Behavior Therapy for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I wasn’t shocked that I had it because I had known to myself for years that I had it from my own research.
It all started when I was five years old. I started school and due to issues at home. I felt scared about being away from my mum. I was standing in the playground worrying about back at home and a thought came into my head saying, “If I fill my pockets up with lots of leaves mum will be okay” So I did. I felt a relief from the anxiety and carried on. I would also have to run into the class room every morning and draw my mum a picture of anything and give it to her. I thought if she walked home with this photo she would be okay. I was asked why there were leaves in my pockets and why I had to draw and I just told them I liked them. I didn’t understand to say that I was doing it to save someone’s life.
Growing older it got a lot worse. I would have to perform rituals to make the thoughts not happen. I would have to keep the back door locked at all times. I had to make sure my bed sheets didn’t get un-tucked and would wake up non-stop all night and some nights I wouldn’t sleep I would just lie there still so they wouldn’t move. I grew slightly out of these obsessions but new and stronger ones formed.
it is possible to gain your life back
my name is Melanie, I’m 23 years old and a Master of Arts student in “Ancient Cultures”, “Old Testament” and “Near Eastern Archaeology” with a lot of interest in the New Testament, Afterlife myths of the Antiquity and languages (I know 17) and I suffer from OCD and Emetophobia.
The first symptoms of OCD started at the age of eight. I went to the cinema with my aunt and cousins, we ate popcorn, sweets and MacDonald’s food. During the night I woke up and had to throw up, which was obvious, I had overeaten. Suddenly I became all careful, every evening I asked my mother whether I ate too much or in a false order, it was important to me to not mix up different types of bread, soft drinks and more. When I was invited at childern’s birthday parties I refused to eat sweets shortly before dinner. I hated to throw up and I set myself a goal: This should not happen again. I was also haunted by brutal thoughts which I considered to be bad and blasphemic, but this is a part of my OCD struggles which I’d like to keep private.
I was recently interviewed for a BBC Horizon documentary on OCD and I was asked if I would get rid of my OCD if I could. I think my answer surprised a few people..
Up until the age of 19 I was a very happy, easygoing, confident individual. On reflection I was possibly a bit selfish and didn’t think about other people as much as I should have done. This all changed suddenly towards the end of my first year at university. I noticed that I became very concerned with making sure my lights were off in my bedroom and sometimes would make excuses from social activities so that I could go home and check they were off.
At the start of the summer holidays I returned home to spend time with my Mum. She went on holiday for two weeks and I would normally have been fine staying in the house on my own and working part time. However, by the time she returned from her holiday I was in the grips of OCD and a couple of days later my diagnosis was confirmed.
In the two weeks that my Mum was away I had become convinced that I was HIV positive. I was showering for hours at a time, constantly washing my hands and arms, frequently changing my clothes throughout the day and was hardly eating. What I did eat I couldn’t make or touch because I was afraid that I would contaminate it. My ultimate fear was that I would infect and thus kill my friends and family.
This was the breakthrough moment. For the first time I felt at ease, a man walking out of prison, wondering what was next.
I spent years suffering in silence. How could something so big be so easy to hide? Was it the guilt, the shame or merely not knowing the true extent of what was going on? Was it the fear of being labeled, or was it thinking that this was a natural part of “growing up”? What ever it was, obsessive-compulsive disorder has had a profound impact on my life, muffling my school grades, discontinuing my social life and even forcing me to drop out of university.
One of the ways in which my OCD manifests itself is through the fear of being contaminated by germs, where actions such as touching an item belonging to someone else, would lead to obsessive thoughts of myself coming to harm.
OCD has been such a big player in my life. It has taken much. As I recover, I realise it has also given me much. This is my story!
Ah man, where do I start. I’ve had OCD since I was 7 years old (or at least, in hindsight that is my earliest memory). I remember being on holiday in Florida. There were two key instances on this trip that stuck out to me. The first was the night we landed my Dad wasn’t well. So he stayed in the hotel, while my brother, Mother and I went out to get some food. I remember being at the restaurant and feeling anxious about my Dad being bitten by a tarantula. My visions would go in all weird directions, like him dying from the bite or us coming back to the room to find him in that state. I just remember going over and over these scenarios in my head – involuntarily. These visions stayed in my mind, and I remained anxious until I saw my Dad. Of course, my dad did not get bitten by a tarantula. The second instance I can remember is being by the swimming pool. I was petrified to go in. Why? Because I was certain there were ‘sharks’ in the pool. And as soon as I went in I would be attacked. Deep down, I knew this was rubbish. But something in the back of my mind told me ‘what if’. I would jump in and swim across a corner going diagonally. I was swimming about 2 metres, I would then propel myself out of the water and away from the edge, making sure no sharks could reach me. My family and everyone around me found this hilarious. For me however, being in that water shot my anxiety levels up. In hindsight, I see the funny side.