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.
I can recall the events leading up to that night so vividly, which says a lot because I can hardly remember what I had eaten for dinner last night. It was early February of 2006; the school week before mid-winter break had concluded. Yes, selective high schools in the Bay Area dedicated a whole week off to leisurely skiing with family in Tahoe. Marin County, being one of the wealthiest in the country, was definitely no exception to this. I’m from Novato, the farthest northern city in Marin, labeled the “poorest” by the general consensus. My idea of a fun filled getaway carving in and out of freshly fallen powdered snow, lounging around a fire listening to ambient music came in the form of a small zip lock dime bag. Inside the dime bag was the most crystal-dusted marijuana I had ever seen, and even to this day. On the back of the bag was a skull pattern on a black backdrop; something that I realize now was a sign that eerily foreshadowed how the night was about to play out. My friend Joey had bought this stuff off a guy we nicknamed Crabgrass. The week prior, Crabgrass sold us weed that did absolutely nothing to our young blossoming minds. Rightfully annoyed by this, we argued for either a refund or replacement. There was hardly any trust established between the slimy kid dealer and us, and so what we were getting could have possibly been laced; a nefarious joke played on two naïve boys looking to get high the first night of vacation.
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 scribbled the drawing above in the winter of 1984. I was 20 years old. Something was wrong. The connection between my mind and my body had suddenly slackened, and at times it seemed to disappear. It seemed like I was no longer me. I described my thought process as follows:
The pictures in my head won’t go away: blue plastic in the sun, neon lights in a garage, a soft lamp in a rainy window… all within the boundaries of a moment, connected by strings my memory can’t trace.
“The pictures,” I called them, and they travelled in streams flowing softly from nowhere. They were not mine, but I couldn’t ignore them. Worse, the pictures were not neutral. Each carried a wisp of feeling, an emotional imprint—a tiny leash bound to the edges of my mood. Often, that leash led me around campus for hours.
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.
My career was in ruins. My OCD spiked and I was deeply depressed. I spent hours a day on the internet, obsessively searching for philosophical and scientific reassurance that consciousness is not an illusion. My teeth were ground away—some to the root—by my counting ritual that unlocked my jaw hundreds of times a day, but only after I reached an illusory month, day, and year when my anxiety would magically cease.
The only peace I could find was in a fantasy.
Every time I ran–from a mile to a marathon-I imagined myself making an escape from a hostage situation in a foreign country, running hard to cross the border. I escaped from imprisonment after a violent hand to hand encounter with unspecified gangs of drug dealers and terrorists, sometimes in the Middle East, other times in Central America. Oftentimes I imagined that I escaped from several gangs and places during the same run.
As of writing this, I am about two weeks away from turning twenty-one years old. I am finishing my last semester at Michigan State University, from which I will graduate with two degrees: one in Comparative Cultures and Politics and one in Professional Writing. I will also have a minor in Spanish and graduate with 4.0 GPA, assuming I can finish this semester.
In addition to classes, I balance three jobs that help me pay for my education while getting professional experience. I have an incredible family, with two beautiful little sisters, loving parents, and the sweetest dog named Junie B. My boyfriend and I have been together for over five years, and our relationship is healthy, fun, and always mutually supportive.
I have to type the previous two paragraphs because they represent the surge of guilt that consistently accompanies my severe OCD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. I have not experienced trauma, nor have I ever been treated by my friends and family with anything but love. For this reason, I have difficulty justifying the seemingly ever-increasing instability of my mental health.
My story starts when I was four years old and starting kindergarten. For the first several months of the year, I vomited before leaving the house with my parents. At first it was because of nausea – yet it soon became an irresistible compulsion that led my parents to take me to the doctor.