Religious OCD

In The Midst

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.”

“Exercise… 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.

Straight As.

Honors.

Valedictorian.

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.

Prayers: ritualized.

And on…

and on…

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?

Why?

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.

“Breathe.”

“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 engage.

I endure.

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.

There is

“Pack for next month’s trip… now.”

hope

“Work on you essay… now.”

in the midst

“Exercise… now.”

of brokenness.

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8 Comments

  • Reply Summer Contreras May 3, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    This is a powerful, moving story, my brother, and I empathize with you. It is comforting to read of other Christians who battle this horrible disorder. Stay strong in the fight, and most importantly, stay strong in Jesus Christ. I love the verse from 2 Corinthians you quoted: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'” It is one of my favorite verses, perhaps my all time favorite. I have struggled with OCD, at least overtly, since I was 13, but I’ve only known I’ve had the disorder since I was 18. I am 23 now, almost 24, and only recently did it “click” that my perfectionism obsessions are related to my OCD. Before, I thought only my blasphemous and taboo thoughts were my OCD. But I have found that they are much more. Ordering obsessions, moral rightness/wrongness obsessions, mental checking compulsions…The list goes on for me, as I know it does for you.

    Be encouraged that God WILL and IS ALREADY using you. Today, He used your post to encourage me, a fellow sister in Christ and fellow OCD sufferer. It is exciting to think about how God will use our OCD stories. In mine, God used my taboo thoughts to lead me to Jesus Christ. I was 17 and formerly an agnostic. Then He used me to lead my mother to faith in Jesus, just 9 months before she died from stage 4 cancer. God can and does do amazing things! Soli Deo Gloria – glory be to God alone!

    • Reply Ben Mast December 2, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Thank you so much for that Summer. And thank you for sharing a bit about your own life… it is beautiful to see how God has used the devastating circumstances of our lives to draw us to Himself more than anything else. And all the while, a verse I cling to is Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
      I’ve added you to my list and will be praying for you!
      Two things I wanted to share! One is this book, which helped me immensely in recovery; it’s called Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?: A Psychiatrist Explores the Role of Faith in Treatment by Dr. Ian Osborn.
      And another is my blog! The address is http://www.tapestryofmemories.wordpress.com
      God bless you!
      – Ben Mast ?

  • Reply Kyle June 17, 2017 at 2:35 am

    YES.

    And I’m glad to hear that Luther’s writings have helped someone else in seminary with OCD. Luther believed that the gospel (something that is objectively true regardless of the strength of our belief) was something that we need daily. I have experienced the same in my life lately. I need more of Jesus until the Day when all things are made new. I’m grateful that He entered the mess of our brokenness to make a way for healing that is not dependent on us.

    I look forward to reading your books one day, Ben.

    • Stuart Ralph
      Reply Stuart Ralph June 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks Kyle

    • Reply Ben Mast December 2, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you Kyle!

      And exactly… that’s what I’ve been learning: that faith is not perfection, but an action of throwing myself upon Christ. I will be praying for you!

      Two things I wanted to share! One is this book, which helped me immensely in recovery; it’s called Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?: A Psychiatrist Explores the Role of Faith in Treatment by Dr. Ian Osborn. (And it includes an AMAZING chapter on Martin Luther… highly recommended!)
      And another is my blog! The address is http://www.tapestryofmemories.wordpress.com
      God bless you!
      – Ben Mast ?

  • Reply Cheyanne December 25, 2017 at 7:22 am

    I only recently found out about religious OCD or scrupulousity. I’m not officially diagnosed with OCD. I’ve had some real mental/emotional struggles growing up but OCD was the last disorder I would ever think I would have. This last year, however… overperforming in school became my life. Then it poured over into my faith and now I’m laying on my friend’s couch on Jesus’ birthday instead of being home because I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. I also don’t want to sleep because the intrusive sexual thoughts have become intrusive sexual nightmares. I mean I want to sleep because I don’t want to be awake, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to sleep soundly and when I won’t. I don’t want to go to church because of the paranoia of “What if these people can discern what is going on in my mind?” I stopped praying because I began to think God is mad at me with all the thoughts I have been having. I just want it to end, my life has become a nightmare these last couple months and I do not know what to do. Please pray for me…or something. I need help. I need it bad. I have no idea what to do at this point, things have never been this kind of bad.

    • Stuart Ralph
      Reply Stuart Ralph December 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Hi Cheyanne, sorry to hear you are having a tough time at the moment it does get better. I recommend going to speak to your doctor. CBT therapy for OCD is very effective. For more information chat with your doctor, a CBT therapist or the IOCDF charity. All the best.

      • Reply Ben Mast February 2, 2018 at 6:33 pm

        Hi Cheyenne,

        First of all, I want to just say how deeply sorry I am for all that you’re going through. It is painful and devastating and hard… and I am so, so sorry. I can definitely relate to what you wrote; a focus on overperforming in school and scrupulously pursuing perfection regarding my faith completely took over in my life too… especially in my late high-school years. I’m now in my third year of college, and God has brought a lot of healing and growth, though it still is difficult at times.

        It is so painful to feel like you’re at war with your own mind… especially when fears about salvation are involved. Ultimately, what I needed to recognize is that Christ knows the kind of mind I have been given… and that He understands that I will never be completely perfect. I love what is says in Psalm 103: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

        For so long, I lived in fear that I was damned because of blasphemous thoughts (including sexual ones) that I could not control… or even something as stupid as that I didn’t correctly cite my sources in some of my assignments for 2nd grade. But what I had to realize was that I was doing a greater wrong by allowing my life to be consumed by these things than if I were to just accept them… and live for Christ as best I can. It’s so uncomfortable to reach that point, but there are so many places in my life where I had to realize that Christ’s forgiveness is complete and total… and that some thoughts (particularly the sexually blasphemous ones) were thoughts I had no control over. The only thing I could control was my response to them: would I grow anxious and fearful (and thus make them come back even more often), or just recognize their presence and accept that they were there… that I cannot control whether they stay or go.

        And ultimately, it was super important to understand that it is not my good works that saves me… it is not even my proper belief! No, it’s only the grace of God!

        With all my heart I say don’t give up praying to Him! But pray to Him not put of ritual or fear, but rather in the knowledge that because of Christ – because of what He did for us in sacrificing His life and then conquering death, taking the penalty our fallenness deserves – we are loved children of God. We need not live in fear of His anger or wrath, for He sees us as children! (Go read Romans 8 right now if you haven’t… it is SOOOOO beautiful and peace-bringing.)

        I have written your name down and will be praying for you over the course of the next months. Please seek out a counselor if you haven’t already; again, I am so sorry for all you’re going through.

        Two things I wanted to share with you. One is a piece I wrote about peace in trusting Christ for our salvation:
        https://tapestryofmemories.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/how-can-i-know/

        And the other is just a link to my blog in general, which I hope is a big encouragement to you!
        https://tapestryofmemories.wordpress.com/

        Finally, if you ever need anyone to talk to about any of this, I would love to help. As someone who has both endured and overcome and yet still struggles in some ways, I would love to share some of what I’ve learned through going to counseling and reading books and listening to podcasts like this.

        Here’s a link to my facebook:
        https://www.facebook.com/benmast19

        Praying for you Cheyenne!

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