There is hope in the midst of brokenness
I try to resist, but the longer I last without giving in, the stronger the urge gets. As it has been throughout my life, my mind is relentless, perpetually bombarding me with thoughts, ideas, obsessions: darkness.
I try to let go but…
“Pack for next month’s trip… now”
“Work on your essay… now.”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder has been a reality for me as long as I can remember; every moment of every day filled with intrusion after intrusion, accusing me, threatening me, forcing fathomless anxiety upon my hopeless frame.
Waging war is one thing when the enemy is visible, defined, external. But when the enemy is inside?
One’s own mind is a formidable foe.
A feathery thought to the average person bears a weight of bricks in my mind. The only way to rid myself of the pressing anxiety it brings is to give in and do whatever it urges me to.
Resistance seems futile.
OCD first manifested in earnest in regards to self-image. As I began the turbulent years of high-school, mental whispers of inadequacy about my weight became more and more frequent.
“Face people head-on; don’t let them see your elephantine profile.”
“If you eat that chocolate bar, you’ll never be married.”
“Do you think any girl could love you?”
I give in to the whispers, losing seventy pounds in the span of six months. Counting calories takes over. My parents try to intervene, telling me to simply stop my destructive habits. But they don’t see the battle being waged within, just the outer workings of it.
I train myself to follow the strictest of routines, the only way I know to overcome the mental turmoil that is slowly suffocating me.
Breakfast: ⅔ cup oatmeal, five raisins, cup of milk (watered-down), slice of whole wheat bread, half-teaspoon of jam.
Snack: twenty-five almonds.
Lunch: hard-boiled egg, apple.
Snack: ten M&M’s.
And so on…
When I deviate, I purge. Foods are chewed, spit back out onto my fork, and chewed again. I even ruminate on my food like a cow, involuntarily regurgitating bites of my meal to enjoy them once more. Through bulimic purging I had trained my esophagus to act like that of a wild animal.
Is that all I am? An animal? A mass of bones and flesh whose course has been determined by the experiences of life and mere genetics?
My emaciated frame cries out for sustenance, for relief from the hell it is being subjected to. Seeing my washboard ribs, friends ask if I have cancer, comparing me to Holocaust survivors.
When I stand up, I get lightheaded.
When I comb my hair, it falls out.
My body begins to smell as it consumes itself.
The darkness closes in.
“There’s homework that needs to be done… now.”
The first month of the semester is turmoil as I try to complete every assignment for the year as fast as humanly possible. I isolate myself, considering any distraction from my work to be the enemy. I long for peace, for rest, for relief from my involuntary diligence. When I finally do achieve my goal, I breathe in a momentary breath of fresh air, but then my supply is promptly cut off. With one task complete, ten more appear in its place.
“My name is Legion… for we are many.”
I’m unable to stop my disciplined routine, unable to flip the mental switch off of frenzy. Instead, I adhere to my routine just as strictly.
From the outside looking in, everything appears perfect. But what people assume to be a stalwart work ethic is in reality a mental doggedness that forces anxiety upon me until I relent.
Their compliments on my grades only reinforce my mind’s claim:
“OCD is the only reason you’re good at anything.”
“What a blessing.”
What a curse.
The darkness grows ever stronger.
OCD continues its ruthless takeover; precise routine becomes an obsession.
Deodorant swipes: five.
Hours of sleep: precisely eight.
Brushes on each tooth surface: nineteen.
Mouthwash swishes: fifty-five.
Ounces of water to drink: 120.
and on …
Finally, the darkness deals its strongest blow yet, attacking my faith. The very faith I turned to for relief from my deepest anguish is twisted to become my greatest source of pain.
Scrupulosity makes my burden Bunyanesque.
“If Jesus was willing to die for you, the least you can do is pursue perfection.”
I find sinful undertones in anything and everything I have ever done; I desperately seek to make right the tiniest of wrongs.
Guilt is outweighed only in intensity by controlling anxiety, anxiety that will not release its iron grip until I give in and do what it compels me to. This only adds fuel to the already raging fire within. Every morning I wake up with dread.
Hopelessness becomes the new normal.
Even blasphemous thoughts about Christ begin to invade. At my wit’s end, I think about counselling.
“But going to counselling is accepting defeat.”
“If people find out, the image you’ve worked years to craft will be shattered.”
“Your own family will think you’re crazy.”
For a time, stigma keeps me from getting the help I so desperately need; my parents refuse to believe my problem is more than just a passing stage.
Yet, I go.
Small victories encourage me.
But still, I feel defeated.
I cling to Christ, believing that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
But the darkness is so relentless.
Why can’t I be normal?
Why can’t I sit through a movie without having thought after thought after thought after thought after thought recklessly invade my mind, seizing my attention.
Why can’t I revel in the presence of family members and friends I haven’t seen for ages without being brutishly reminded again and again about an assignment that’s due in two months.
Why can’t I live with spontaneity nor establish meaningful relationships, having my mental impulses choose for me instead a life of rigid routine.
Why can’t I live a life of eternal significance instead of helplessly seeing time evaporate as I organize, obsess, organize, obsess, organize, obsess.
“Set out next week’s clothes… now.”
“Arrange that pile of books alphabetically… now.”
“Make sure your credit card is in your wallet… now.”
What purpose could you possibly have in this God?
I yearn for friendship, for companionship, for relief from this gnawing feeling that I’m not fulfilling the call of God upon my life by living in isolation. Known by so many, known by so few. Those closest to me are hurt by my pursuit of assigned reading rather than them.
I yearn for a life that matters, for a routine that emphasizes Christ and not weight management and homework.
I yearn for the light.
I try to live one day at a time, carrying on with this existence of unyielding turmoil.
“Act as if everything is okay.”
“Keep your struggles to yourself.”
I do, but the relentless thoughts remain.
“Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Make every thought obedient to Christ? I struggle to understand what that looks like when thoughts are seemingly outside my control, when every action is ordered by a mental dictator.
But I fight.
I cling to the promise that “the one who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world.”
Two words of Martin Luther break through the cracks of my darkened obsessive-compulsive world, casting a rare beam of light onto my path: “Faith alone.” I grow more dependent on Jesus Christ than ever before, leaving the miniscule sins of my past and my present unresolved, yet forgiven.
But I don’t pretend to have this all figured out.
I can’t wrap this struggle up with a pretty little bow.
Yet God is using this thorn in my flesh to encourage others, to chase away pride, to instill compassion in me.
He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
He injects my darkened mind with a longing for the Holy City that needs no light, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”
It isn’t all for naught.
“Pack for next month’s trip… now.”
“Work on you essay… now.”
in the midst