I am nowhere near completely recovered, and new compulsions arise as I treat the old ones, but I am certainly closer each day to being OCD-free.
It all started when I was three years old and my family was going on a three-day road trip. My older sister was eating a brownie, drinking apple juice, and reading all while the car was moving. So, she threw up. I had no idea that a person could do that, and I didn’t know if she would live. That was the first time I remember having a panic attack, and from that point onward I have been terrified of vomiting or having anyone vomit near me.
When I was younger, my main compulsion was to control what I and my family ate. I couldn’t eat chocolate at all, and my family could only have one dessert item each day. No one could eat more than one snack between lunch and dinner, and if anyone tried to break that rule, I would forcibly steal the food from their hands and put it in the garbage. I could not (and still struggle with) eating in any restaurant that is too dirty or dark, and I cannot go through a revolving door, drink a whole glass of water (especially after 8:00 pm), ride a roller coaster, or use a public restroom without anxiety and intrusive thoughts about vomiting.
As I got older, I became more aware of my surroundings, and I was introduced to the concept of alcohol. The idea of not having complete control over my executive function completely petrified me from the start, and as I had more experience being around drunk people, I decided that I would never drink alcohol. That, coupled with the reality that drinking too much often makes you throw up, caused a new obsession to surface for me. This obsession is with coming into contact with alcohol, getting drunk or addicted, having to interact with a drunk person, driving drunk myself, and being in the car with a drunk driver.
This obsession has introduced new compulsions as well as keeping the old ones around. I cannot be in the same room as alcohol, touch a bottle of alcohol, be in the grocery aisle where alcohol is sold, get a shot (for fear of absorbing the rubbing alcohol and getting drunk or addicted), ride with a driver who has been (or who I think may have possibly been) anywhere near alcohol, or learn to drive myself (for fear of giving myself the power to drive drunk) without having lots of anxiety and intrusive thoughts about alcohol. Also, I tap certain things with my feet as I walk in order to prevent myself from coming into contact with alcohol lest I become addicted. This particular obsession-compulsion combo has seriously inhibited my ability to trust people because it causes me to have trouble trusting anyone who I have ever seen drink an alcoholic drink, even if only a sip.
These obsessions and compulsions have at times been so unbearable that they have caused me to struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. When I hit my lowest point, I tried to take my own life because I felt like I couldn’t stand to handle OCD anymore. Now, I am incredibly grateful to be alive: both so I can live my life to the fullest and so that I can encourage others in their fights with OCD and other mental illnesses.
Despite these low points, I have been extremely fortunate throughout my recovery. I have had a therapist who knows about OCD and Exposure Therapy since I was 8 years old, and that has been an immense blessing in my recovery process. Being in therapy at a young age helped me learn to be open about my struggles and my story without much fear of being judged.
Also, I was fortunate to discover early on that I am not the only one going through this. When my therapist officially diagnosed me with OCD, I did some research on YouTube, and I found a documentary that completely changed my life: Extreme OCD Camp by the BBC. I saw myself in the OCD sufferers who were profiled, and for the first time, I felt completely understood. I realized that there is a name for what I was going through, and there are other people who are also going through it. Admittedly, I still watch that documentary when I feel alone in my struggle.
Another big part of my OCD recovery story is my Catholic faith. I was raised in the faith, but I did not believe any of it until I was in 9th grade. Before that year, I had decided that God could not exist if He allowed me and others to struggle and suffer so much. But, after taking a class about the Old Testament with an amazing teacher, I could see God’s presence in my life and in the lives of others. My faith has given me the strength I have needed to fight OCD. Getting to know God’s grace and love is an escape from OCD for me, and I hope to give that to others. So, I plan to study theology in college, and I hope to make my career out of working in ministry, whether that be at a high school, a college, or as a spiritual director or counselor.
I am nowhere near completely recovered, and new compulsions arise as I treat the old ones, but I am certainly closer each day to being OCD-free. I even hope to get my driver’s permit this summer, which would be an enormous victory over OCD. I hope that my story encourages others and helps them see that there is a purpose in getting through that really hard exposure. I know that this is cliche, but if one single person is helped by my story, my struggle would be completely worth it. We will keep trudging on together.