I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious. As a kid, I worried about small things, big things, even existential things, for as long as I can remember. Two early examples, from when I was probably about 5-6 years old, that come to mind are:
1- When I realized that one day, the 1990s were going to end. I sobbed to my mom, wondering what was going to happen when we weren’t living in the 90s anymore.
2- I had a terrible thought that I didn’t love my dad as much as I loved my mom, and in my head, this was very, very wrong. I, again, sobbed about this to my poor mom, who did her best to comfort me as I then began to list off every person I didn’t think I loved enough in my life.
Growing up, my parents loved watching Law and Order, and other TV shows revolving around murder and other terrible crimes. I began to worry that something like what happened on these shows would happen to me, or worse, that I would somehow become the bad guy and be responsible for one of the awful things that always happened on those shows. Horror movies and books gave me similar worries. I saw The Omen at around 11 or 12, and worried that maybe I was a child of the devil.
My ankles wobbled. My quads ached. My mind raced. What’s the point of this, anyways? Why am I here? Why are any humans here on Earth? My mind bombarded me with these questions on a loop while I was out on a run on an overcast, fall day my senior year of college. These questions had been quietly nagging at me for a few weeks, but without any distractions on a run, they became shouting and unbearable. With each passing day, I found myself out on runs trapped with existential questions that seemed to only grow more important, and my world started to shrink. What had previously been an activity I could turn to for solace quickly turned into a prison for my intrusive thoughts to run wild.
At the time, neither I nor my therapist recognized these symptoms of repeated, obsessive, distressing thoughts or the ritualistic behaviors that followed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. After all, these are big, philosophical questions that everyone faces at some point in their lives, right? And being on the cusp of a major life transition, of entering my last year of college and starting to apply for jobs, it made sense to many around me that I would ask some of these questions and want to understand what my “purpose” is in life. However, the extent to which these questions controlled my life quickly eclipsed the range of what would be considered normal or healthy. Every time I’d hang out with my friends, I’d probe them on their religious beliefs. I’d call my parents multiple times a day and ask them for reassurance that my life mattered. I’d spend hours awake at night googling the “meaning of life” and I’d find myself deep into the weeds of existential arguments on online chat boards, trying to make sense of it all and find bulletproof, irrefutable, 100% certain answers. While some of these behaviors provided temporary relief, my brain was so adept at coming up with follow-up questions. For every “answer” that I provided my brain, it was able to generate ten more questions that would restart the cycle all over again.
I am far from home even though my surroundings seem vaguely familiar. How did I get here? Was I tempted like Eve in the Garden… possibly persuaded by a serpent to eat fruit off of the wrong tree? Or did I follow Alice down a rabbit hole searching for answers? I don’t remember making this choice. I don’t remember a clearly marked entrance, but somehow or another I am stuck here without a compass. My thoughts and feelings suddenly can’t be trusted. In OCD land you can’t distinguish up from down, right from left, or wrong from right. It’s all a trap… an endless maze.
Welcome to the mind fuck. I will be your tour guide for the remainder of your stay. I will whisper the most compelling things into your ear, get you to perform all sorts of tricks, and make you retrace your steps. I will be here every day to remind you to go back and do again because we all know it wasn’t right the first time or even the hundredth. Nothing in OCD land is ever enough.
I see a little girl sitting on her bed, writing in a journal that has stolen her freedom. She writes, “I will praise you and love you always.” To any reader it seems cute for a little girl to be so devoted, but she has written that same phrase at the end of every entry for months. Forgetting to write it means she has forgotten God and forgetting God means damnation. She is chained to that phrase.
After closing the journal she forces herself to stay awake for hours at night because she can’t seem to get the final prayer just right.
The next day she comes home from school and sits on her bed for hours instead of doing homework. Maybe enough time begging for forgiveness would prove that she is in fact saved. She failed to tell anyone about God that day, and wonders if she still knows him since she couldn’t muster up the courage.
…THIS is OCD?
This post is not a step-by-step guide to get rid of OCD. No, I’ve found that, just like life itself, there is no concrete solution. And that’s what scares us who suffer from this disease the most: the terrorizing fear of uncertainty. I hope this post sparks ideas for other sufferers on how to cope. Maybe someone will be able to relate to the many, many obsessions I have. Oh boy, is OCD diverse.
At this point, I have now wrestled with OCD for the past 22 months. It has caused me to be physically present yet mentally absent with friends and family, to miss out on getting a career right out of college, and to lose passion for my hobbies, amongst other things.
My life growing up was filled with comfort and certainty. Any trying situation was taken up with God, who gave me quick reassurance. I graduated high school with honors and went to a liberal-arts school in North Carolina. My first 3 years of school came with great friends, and a healthy balance of work and play. I lived a virtually care-free and fulfilling life throughout this time, experimenting and taking on different tasks with relative ease.
Even in the most emotionally traumatic moment of my life, obsessive thoughts flowed through my mind. Although, at the time, I just called them my “hypochondriac thoughts” or, more generally, “my anxieties.”
My OCD diagnosis was still four years away.
But on that day. That grief-stricken day. Those obsessive thoughts still clouded my brain.
I had just received a phone call from a sheriff’s deputy that would change my life. My parents had been in a terrible car accident. My dad had been airlifted to a nearby trauma center.
And my mom was dead.
Within minutes though, my body started to react to this news. I started sweating. I was suddenly so thirsty. My heart was pounding. And I felt like I was in a strange, dream-like state.
It was my 7th or 8th Christmas when my first intrusive thought came to my mind. I was in my grandparent’s living room with my mum and suddenly the thought popped into my head: “you want your mother to die”. I remember having my first panic attack and telling my mother what I just thought, to what she concluded it was just a silly thought, something everyone had sometimes. After that first contact with my dear life companion, I experienced a period where I had a lot of those thoughts, which caused me to freak out. I remember being at church and thinking: “Jesus is an asshole, God is an asshole”, and then feeling extremely guilty and asking for forgiveness. However, I just labelled those thoughts as silly thoughts, something that everybody had.
That period passed, and I experienced a normal life until I hit high school. At age 12, I started opening and closing the bathroom tap before going to sleep until it felt right, if I wouldn’t do that a member of my family would die. If I was writing and a letter wasn’t perfect, I would try to round it up until it was completely perfect (you can imagine how many times the letter would thicken until I felt it was right). If I didn’t do something perfect in an exam I would have to reproduce perfectly in my head what I wrote in order to convince myself that it was right and that my teacher would read it as the right answer. If I didn’t reproduce it without hesitating I would have to repeat it again or it would be automatically wrong and I wouldn’t have a good mark. This last one could include variations, doing it while getting up of a chair, where the movement should be perfect too, etc. If I didn’t complete the rituals successfully, a wave of anxiety swallowed me.
I hadn’t washed in 2 weeks, I couldn’t flick the switch back to ‘Off’ because I was too consumed trying to figure out when it switched ‘On’. Did it ever? Am I psychotic? Am I ill? What if I was always like this? Or am I just a horrible, disgusting person who’s a harm to others? I’ll lose my career. My friends and my family. I’ll be in the papers and I’ll never have a normal life.
What is normal? I don’t know but I’d rather be anything than this. I contemplated suicide because without a doubt, I would rather have taken my life than be anything that my mind was telling me I was. My stomach was churning, I was vomiting involuntarily over and over. I punished myself, I deserved it. I didn’t eat. I scratched compulsively at my skin.
This was the time in my life that OCD got the better of me. However – I feel it’s important to note that at this time, I was nearing qualification as a mental health nurse and I didn’t have a clue that this was anything to do with OCD. “I’m not arranging tins or counting numbers, I’m not washing my hands repeatedly?” The words I told myself as I sought answers for my state. Lack of education.
OCD has been a part of my life for many years. It has taken me 33 years to accept that it is a chronic illness and it is a part of me. I spent my early teens and 20’s feeling out of control. My body, and mind were completely riddled with anxiety symptoms. The only peace I got was when I numbed myself with alcohol and let loose on the weekend.
Finally, yoga found me when I made the move once again to Queensland. As I sit in the class the teacher said “you are not your thoughts” I felt this freed me. I realised that if I’m not my thoughts I can get on with my life no matter what is going on in my head. Even though yoga has been my saving grace, it also flared up my OCD to, I was convinced that yoga could heal the monster in my head. I felt peace in class but once I left the space in was bombarded with repetitive noise in my head.
My name is Alexandria and this is my story about disability and mental health.
I was first diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression when I was 13. My dad had recently left the home and I found myself feeling alone and miserable anytime my family members left me. I wanted to be with someone all the time. I found that the more I spent alone, the more I found myself crying and feeling helpless. Prior to this, I experimented sexually with other kids my age. Anything that happened was consensual, but it definitely was too young to be experiencing these types of things at such a young age. It wasn’t until my father left that my OCD kicked into high gear and my separation anxiety drove me down that dark road. These events were my two biggest triggers in my struggle with OCD.
Looking back and assessing my past, I have found that my OCD started at a much younger age than 13. I remember first having existential/death OCD surrounding my mother and some of my family members when I was in first grade. I was often left alone and found that I had to sit with my thoughts and this lead me down that rabbit hole. Mental health wasn’t something that I had been taught, nor were others my age.