I think the biggest piece of advice I have received over and over again by my therapist is that to beat the doubt disease you have to trust and have faith.
First I would just like to say thank you to Stuart and The OCD Stories website/podcast for helping me feel less alone during some very hard times. I have had OCD my whole life but it wasn’t until this past year that it has really incapacitated me. My earliest memories of OCD are from my childhood where I can remember feeling extremely guilty for small things that most other little kids probably wouldn’t even think of. I would have some thought like “maybe I love my mom more than my dad” for example and then I would spend hours dwelling on it and crying and confessing to my parents and begging them to forgive me. Another example is that sometimes when I was walking through the grocery store with my family I would see the cover of a swimsuit magazine or a pretty girl and I would feel interested in it (which is obviously very normal for a kid who is curious about the opposite sex) but that simple feeling of being interested in pretty girls would produce so much guilt and disgust inside of me that I would spend days on end thinking about what a terrible person I was and how I was going to go to hell. I come from a big Irish-Italian family so we went to Catholic church a lot when I was a kid and it was something that was important to my family so I bought into the whole idea of guilt whole-heartedly and it caused me a lot of anguish even though the things I was guilty and ashamed of were very normal. But I had no idea. I simply thought I was evil and that I had to go to confession every time I did something I considered bad. Despite these early feelings of extreme guilt and shame, I was still a pretty happy kid and it didn’t keep me from becoming a popular kid who was a very good athlete.
As I went on to become a varsity captain in baseball and basketball in high school it seemed like those early feelings of guilt and shame about weird, small things subsided a bit but what I didn’t realize was that my OCD had just transferred to a different theme. I got a girlfriend my Sophomore year in high school and we stayed together for three years. While there were good times with her, I was in pain for a lot of the relationship and often for very small reasons. I would see her talk to one of my friends and then get a thought like “what if she likes my friend” or “is she cheating on me” or “we’re not right for each other” and I would dwell on these thoughts for days and we would fight all of the time because of my doubtful thoughts. The relationship caused me so much pain because for some reason I could never trust her because of my thoughts and it looked like I was just an insecure guy but what nobody (including me) realized was that I was suffering from OCD.
After high school as a newly single guy, I went off to college to play baseball. During this year I felt amazing. I was in a new place with new friends and I was a college athlete which was always one of my biggest goals. Going into my Sophomore year in college I was still feeling pretty good but I was not getting much playing time in baseball and I started to get too involved with the party scene and I was binge drinking on the weekends and smoking pot every day, multiple times a day. I don’t know exactly how it happened but the combination of becoming less and less happy playing baseball and the constant intake of substances started to make me feel depressed. I felt disconnected from my family which has always been the most important thing in my life and I as spending way too much time alone. I went through this same sort of mild depression for about six months and then this past year, my junior year in college, my OCD returned in a vicious, freight-train manner. I was at home with my family and I suddenly had a sexual image of my mom pop into my head and after that the wheels came off. I would fight the thought and try to push it out of my head in all sorts of ways but it always seemed to return. I went back to school to finish my last semester of Junior year and without giving any details I told my parents that I felt like I needed to see someone. So I started to see a social worker and we would talk about my unhappiness and I would give her vague descriptions of these thoughts that were usually sexual about my family members but I was still never diagnosed with OCD and didn’t feel all that much better.
As I struggled to do my work in school I reached my worst point about a month before my semester ended. The thoughts were screaming at me every second of the day and I had to go home. As I drove home in the Northwest rain I remember thinking “this weather is a perfect description of my mind” and after thinking that, the rain increased and it was getting harder and harder so see. Then, about an hour away from my house I hydroplaned pretty badly and I almost got hit by a semi-truck and while it pains me to write this as I have never told anybody about it I remember having the thought “fuck I wish that truck would’ve just put me out of my misery.” But it didn’t so I went home and missed a whole week of school in the most important month of the semester and I was getting almost no sleep. The most disturbing part of all of this was that I didn’t know what was happening to me I simply thought I was going crazy. Then things got worse when I thought that wasn’t possible. Almost as soon as I got home and saw my parents I had the thought “what if I killed my mom?” and right after, I started hysterically crying because I felt like it was a real threat. After that life was not the same. Every second of the day I was going over every little piece of information in my head that could reassure me that I wouldn’t hurt my mom. That seemed to make things worse because even having 1% of doubt in my head that I would do it would kill me and eat away at me. Life became torture. I describe it as living your worst nightmare when you are in the midst of an OCD crisis. While I was at home I picked up a book I found in our book case called The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle. I’m sure many of you have read it or heard of it and if you haven’t I reccomend it. That was my first moment of light. I felt like every word he was writing was advice for me and it truly impacted me in a great way. But, I made the mistake of thinking that after reading the book I had it all figured out and that I would never have a problem again. So, I went back to school and finished all my work and the thoughts seemed to dissipate a little bit but they were still there, just not as intense.
My last weekend at school was the first time I really realized I needed help. All of my friends and I went to Whistler, Canada to party and celebrate ending the semester and I drank like I had never drank before. I rationalized it in my head that I was celebrating a hard year and I was blowing off some steam. So without realizing it, I self-medicated and I drank and drank and blacked out the last night we were there and woke up with a vicious hangover. That next day was the worst day of my life. Now that the party was over and I was sober and heading home the thoughts started screaming at me again. This time with new, distorted twists. “YOU ARE A MURDERER” “YOU’RE GOING TO KILL YOUR FAMILY” “YOU’RE GOING TO TURN INTO A PEDOPHILE” “MAYBE YOU’VE ALREADY MOLESTED SOMEONE AND JUST PUSHED IT BACK AND DON’T REMEMBER IT” “YOU’RE GOING TO STAB YOUR MOM” “YOU’RE GOING TO STRANGLE YOUR DOG.” These thoughts went on and on throughout the day and as I was already not feeling well from being hungover I felt like I really couldn’t take it. So I went outside while at my friends house who was letting me sleep over and I decided I was going to find a way to kill myself. I thought about it for about twenty minutes and then I thought of my family and what it would do to them if they had to come identify my body after committing suicide. So I decided on calling 911 and telling them that I had barely slept in two weeks and that I wanted to kill myself. I spent the night in the hospital and my parents came to pick me up and about a week later I was finally diagnosed with OCD after reading an article by an ex NHL player who struggled with OCD and had a very similar story to mine. As I’m sure many of you know, sometimes it is hard to realize what is going on when you don’t have physical compulsions and everything is going on in your head but I hope as awareness spreads, people won’t have to go through what I did and they can be diagnosed earlier. Actually, if I hadn’t read that article and told my parents I think this is what I have, I really don’t know if I’d be here right now. I will leave the article at the bottom so people can read it if they want to.
Since I was diagnosed with OCD things haven’t been perfect but at least now I can put a name to what I have been going through and I am on the road to recovery. I think the biggest piece of advice I have received over and over again by my therapist is that to beat the doubt disease you have to trust and have faith. While I know from experience that it is easier said than done, the only way I have been able to find any peace in all of this is to trust people who have gone through similar struggles, to trust therapists who are trained in OCD, to trust books that were written specifically for recovering from anxiety and OCD, and most of all to trust who you really are. The hardest part of my OCD was that it attacked what I value most which is my family. Anybody who has OCD will tell you that it challenges who you are at your very core and it always has a new trick, distortion, or thought that can try to take away from that but deep down we all know how stupid and false these thoughts are. While you are in the midst of it, it feels almost impossible to trust because you are convinced you are the worst person in the world, at least that’s how I felt, but as I’ve gone through therapy and started ERP I realize that the more I can trust what other people tell me and the more I can step out of my stubborn ways, the less I self-destruct and the happier I am. The one quote I held onto through my hardest time was “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Because I know that in my darkest days, I really felt like I couldn’t do this anymore, I couldn’t survive one more day. But, no feeling lasts forever and the people who love you need you to keep fighting and stay strong so if you’re going through one of those days where you really can’t take it anymore- keep going!! It doesn’t feel like it but you can make it through this. I am not fully recovered yet and I still have really hard days but its only been about three months of being diagnosed and starting therapy and I am starting to see the light and I hope all of you are on your way to happier more peaceful life too. I’ll leave some of my favorite reading materials and articles at the bottom of this page for anyone who wants to check them out.