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 mother has struggled with Bipolar Disorder my entire life and this has greatly affected my mental health and upbringing. She often would lay in bed for hours on end, along with my father. Other times, my father would be drunk and they would fight. When my father left for the year that he and my mother separated, I started to hoard everything that loved ones had given me. This was everything from wrapping paper on presents to toys and trinkets. I felt that I was doing a mean and guilty thing if I were to throw anything away that my family or friends had given me. Guilt seemed to be all consuming.
My fixations consisted of intrusive thoughts and images revolving around pedophilia, homosexuality, existential life crises, and sexual obsessions, to name just a few. When I was 13, my OCD manifested in ways like hand washing, counting, touching, and blinking for certain numbered times, but one compulsion I had forgotten was my need to confess everything that I felt guilty about and to wipe my slate clean. When I was younger I had this need to confess everything that I felt guilty about, whether it be simple or detailed. My way of confessing was either through verbal or written communication with my mother and granny.
I remember obsessing over if I was a pedophile because I accidentally looked at a baby’s penis when changing his diaper. I questioned whether I was a lesbian or not because I was attracted to beautiful women, but deep down I knew I wasn’t. I questioned life itself and what the hell we as humans were doing in this world, something most of us probably do. All of these ruminations cycled throughout my brain on a constant loop. It was exhausting and relentless to the point where I wanted to sleep the majority of my days away rather than be awake and experience the cruel thoughts and obsessions. If I didn’t confess or perform any of my ritualizations, my anxiety would become so severe and physically debilitating that I’d have to stay home from school and never leave the sight of a family member. When I would perform my compulsions I would feel relief for a short while, then my brain would turn to another ‘problem’ to solve and the cycle would begin again.
The only way to curb the anxiety was to perform the compulsions that I felt I needed to complete. You may say, “Well, some of these obsessions are normal human thoughts, while others are completely taboo.” I would agree, but go further and counter by saying that sufferers of OCD can’t get out of these loops and constantly replay these thoughts and images over and over again in their heads. That is what sets them apart from other individuals who have intrusive thoughts, but do not obsess over them. These obsessions make us believe what our irrational thoughts are telling us and they get hungrier from there.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, my anxiety was so crippling that I began to cry constantly to the point of exhaustion. I remember the first time I confessed my guilt to my granny. The guilt I held was related to my obsessions around sexual thoughts and the early sexual experiences I had. I came to her as broken pieces ready to commit suicide because I couldn’t take another day living that way. I was in miserable and excruciating pain. I confessed to her some things related to the sexual thoughts and she immediately let my mother know what was going on and she took me to my aunt’s house to wait for my mom to get off of work. I remember that day like it was yesterday. My mom came to my aunt’s and was infuriated that I had been acting this way, constantly crying and being a complete mess. All the while, my mother was a complete mess as well. She took me to the local women and children’s hospital and we went from there. I received a therapy referral and would soon begin treatment for my issues. My mom was pissed and I think she was partly upset because she wasn’t sure if I had been molested by anyone. I can say for sure that has never happened to me and I understand why she was distressed. If you ask any parent of a child with a mental health disorder, you will learn that life is distressful and often the solution is unknown.
My journey to recovery seems fast in hindsight, but if I look deeper I see that I struggled at least two-three years after this initial onset of symptoms at 13. I began therapy and I was put on an SSRI. I remember the first medication I tried made me extremely suicidal. The next one I tried worked wonders and kept my symptoms at bay for years to come. I recovered so well that I truly forgot I had OCD. I thought that I’d be ready the next time it resurfaced, but boy was I dead wrong. I had no idea what to expect. I guess a part of me thought I was cured of the disease, but I now know that isn’t completely possible. I think at such a young age one doesn’t know what to do with that type of diagnosis. We forget a lot about ourselves in a matter of very limited time. I wish I would have remembered my issues into my adulthood, but life didn’t happen that way for me. I am now on the first adult relapse in the journey of OCD and I’m trying as best to educate myself, as well as others, and to never forget.
Today, I am knee deep in a relapse partly due to using marijuana at much higher doses and rates than anyone probably should be. I was smoking the highest concentrated forms of cannabis that is being produced, better known as dabs. I don’t think I quite realized how negatively the usage would impact my mental health. The year of 2018 was the first time I had consistently smoked almost daily, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was still living my life, working, and being a student in a Masters program. It wasn’t until the 2018 holiday break when my life took a turn for the worse. I started obsessing over everything my brain told me to. These obsessions revolved around my relationship and some family trauma that had been ongoing for years. I felt crazy and I mean that in every way possible. I started waking up and instantly crying like a baby, for no apparent reason other than my thoughts wouldn’t shut off. I felt helpless and hopeless. I was and still, am sometimes completely miserable. I couldn’t begin to understand what was happening to me. I remember at several times I questioned my sanity and whether I should check myself in somewhere.
Fast-forward roughly two months at the beginning of February 2019. A number of things happened that made me realize what exactly was going on with my mental health. For some reason, my mind told me to search for podcasts related to OCD and anxiety, which lead me to find The OCD Stories. My understanding of myself and my mental health greatly changed after I listened to the first episode. I couldn’t believe that I had been suffering from a disorder for so long without even knowing it. This may sound crazy, but I forgot I had OCD. You may ask how in the world that happened because having OCD doesn’t just disappear. I would agree with you on this, but I would also tell you that OCD is a sneaky bitch that will find a way into your brain without you even knowing it. I had in the back of my mind this idea that my OCD symptoms would become the hand washing, counting, and checking compulsions that I had done when I was younger, but this time around none of those appeared. I didn’t remember that confessing my obsessions was one of my biggest compulsions when I was first diagnosed and that has thus lead me to where I am today.
Today, my compulsions manifest in this form only: confessions. I didn’t realize when I started feeling the urge to confess things and so I started down that path of confessing everything that I felt was hurtful to my boyfriend and our relationship, whether it was or not. I continued to do this for the past few weeks up until I realized that it was part of my OCD and I had to break that habit. OCD sufferers struggle too often because of reassurance seeking behaviors that we typically do not associate with our mental health. We usually ask others for reassurance in a number of areas of life or we mentally reassure ourselves. Each day I learn something new about my disability and each day I grow somewhat stronger over this monster. I have successfully gone for roughly a week without confessing my guilt around anything, but the struggle is all too real.
I am seeing a new therapist soon and hoping that she can help me through this difficult journey. I have been educating myself and the loved ones around me so that we can all be better throughout this journey. I know that a disorder like this doesn’t just affect the person it has ahold of, it also affects family, friends, and relationships. This is my story, but it is still being written. I hope that by sharing my story with others we can all learn more about the human experience and hopefully it will help others who are struggling with similar issues.