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OCD

A human mental health issue

My parents shunned any type of conversation about sex. In fact, I have never seen my parents kiss even and probably saw them awkwardly hug a handful of times in my life. I lived a very sheltered upbringing. In fact, I’d purposely take off my contacts in High School health class so I wouldn’t see the board or occupy myself in a book in the back of the classroom. I didn’t want to know anything about sex. As a Muslim, Pakistani American born and raised in Connecticut and a Hijaabi (I wore the head scarf out of peer pressure from the girls at the Mosque) at the time, I had no intention of engaging in sex because it was shunned. Even at the mosque, we were separated from the men and if I saw a boy, I would lower my gaze and he’d do the same. My only interaction with boys were my cousins. And in Islam, we are allowed to  marry our cousins. When I hit puberty, I started falling for my cousin. I looked forward to weekend family gatherings just so we could chat. I felt intense emotions for him that I can still remember feeling. A handshake was everything. Perhaps this is why sex has been the biggest taboo and the biggest part of my OCD in my life.

When two lesbians were invited to be guest speakers in my 10th grade health class, I got curious. As I listened to them talk about coming out, it hit me. I looked at the girl sitting in front of me. She had a tight shirt on and her small waist looked beautiful. I fixated on that waist and it was my very first trigger into my HOCD. From that moment, the entire world flipped upside down, like I was really in the upside down (Stranger Things reference). Every woman, even my own mother made me spike. A spike is a strain in my body, like in my stomach and vagina (I still don’t know what it really is). My favorite Bollywood actresses made me spike. A beautiful voice singing, siri, an operator, the Doctor’s secretary all made me spike. What was going on? I was surrounded by women everyday and it felt like hell. I couldn’t look at them. I was analyzing them. Do I like them? Do I want to be with them? So I wanted to avoid them, isolating myself and wanting to stay home and not even go out in the world.

Before this, I only ever imagined to be with my male cousin. I thought I was in love with him. And this whole time I felt so alone, unable to express any of this to anyone. It was so embarrassing. So, I called a gay hotline that I found online and asked them what was going on with me and they made it even worse. Their triggering words were ‘You just haven’t let yourself like a girl yet, just try it.’ I remember playing badminton with my sister and suddenly fell to the floor in a massive panic attack. I told her everything. She comforted me, telling me that even she thinks about women sometimes. These words gave me ease. It was my first compulsion. I don’t remember when it disappeared but it did. Probably because my OCD content shifted to ‘weight OCD.’ I then fixated on my body. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

My HOCD came back in full force at 19. It was like the devil. I started googling ‘gay Muslims’ to find out if this was even okay as a Muslim. I found Faisal Alam, a gay Muslim activist who founded an organization for gay Muslims. I started to talk to a gay muslim man on Faisal’s forum group, and he told me that I wasn’t actually gay. Again, a sigh of momentary relief. I finally found a therapist. I don’t even know how I had the money for it. He was in Connecticut. He was an old white man. My first thought was, ‘how is an old white man going to understand a young, South Asian Muslim girl?’ I was so nervous that he’d tell me I was a lesbian and my life and my dreams of a husband and kids would be shattered. He gave me reassurance instead. He told me being gay or straight was a choice and that reassurance helped for a bit. I would continue seeking reassurance from him and he kept giving it to me, unable to truly resolve my real problem, OCD.

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OCD

Recovery through faith and exposure

Another important thing to keep in mind is that if it feels like OCD, it IS OCD.

My name is Devin,

And I will never forget the day when it started and never relented. I was heading to class up at the university and had a strange, but distinct feeling of guilt for some reason. I thought to myself: “Ok… I don’t know why this is making me THIS bad, but whatever.” It persisted and persisted, and took all day to leave me.

As the years went on (that incident was about 7 yrs ago) I felt increasingly worse and worse about different things and never understood what was going on. In truth, it blindsided me and was a huge factor in me losing my faith at the time.

I had decided at the time that well if God was going to ‘make me’ feel this way, than forget Him. My loss of faith was more complicated than that, but this was a major factor in it. I constantly felt like if I wasn’t following each of the commandments right or perfectly, I was going to hell.

I would watch a show that had swear words or a questionable scene, and suddenly my mind would tell me I would be burning in an eternal pit of torment. I knew that maybe what I was watching wasn’t the best thing ever, but I didn’t understand why I was ‘made’ to feel so guilty about it!

To this day, I still feel horrible about doing things I shouldn’t, although now I know what’s going on in my mind, although it doesn’t make it any less horrible and tormenting. I am constantly checking Facebook posts to make sure I haven’t posted anything offensive, reviewing in my mind if I may have somehow offended someone. I am criticizing my wife when I feel like she does something I feel is dishonest and try to get her to repent of her ‘sins.’ After all, I want to save her too right?

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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.

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Symmetry OCD

A Mother’s Journey Helping Her Son Recover from OCD

The OCD Monster was still quietly slithering in the pathways of his brain, but the fight was now on.

Although I used to be a travel writer, I took my most frightening journey only recently, with my family, without ever leaving our small Quebec village.

After my father died in 2012, my son was so shattered that he transformed from a regular, bright, happy-go-lucky, soccer-loving ten-year-old into a near-stranger dominated by bizarre rules of magical thinking all designed to bring his grandpa back to life.

For such an even-keeled kid, my husband and I were alarmed that losing his grandpa would plunge our son into an existential crisis. Unable to grasp the finality of death, a tidal wave of grief was forever smashing him down and he couldn’t find his way to the surface. But as winter turned to spring, I started noticing his grief easing up a little. He was no longer crying into his pillow at night and had started laughing again. Except, now he was doing something else that I found peculiar.

One evening I was sitting beside him in our living room while he seemed to be unconsciously tapping each elbow onto the back of the couch. Four taps of the left elbow, four taps of the right. A few tapless minutes would pass and then he’d start the routine again. Over the coming weeks, what we called “making things even” became more complex, seemingly full of complicated rules. One day he started turning his head as far as it would go over his shoulder, then he’d turn his head to the other side over the other shoulder. But it didn’t stop there. He’d go back and twist his head twice on the first side, then twice again on the other side. It looked like an exercise for old people. “Do the kids in school notice you doing that?” I asked him one day while he was building a Downton Abbey-esque estate on Minecraft.

“Yeah, sometimes,” he said, not looking up from my iPad.

“Don’t they find it weird?”

He shrugged. “They just think I’m stretching my neck.”

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Harm OCD

Postpartum OCD and Faith

Let me be clear: I believe that OCD will probably always be a part of my life here on earth, but it will not be a part of my life in heaven.

OCD has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

As a kid, I was terrified of a burglar breaking in to our house or of a person close to me hurting me in some horrible way.  Both of these fears (as with most OCD obsessions) had absolutely zero ground to stand on.

My first bout of depression happened when I was 10 years old.  I remember thinking that I didn’t like myself much at all.  My mom, who has been a huge support to me through my journey, noticed that I was down and asked if I wanted to make sure that I was a Christian.  I did, and even though I’d said the sinner’s prayer as a preschooler, this was a significant part of my journey as a Christ-follower.

Compulsive checking became a major problem in middle school.  I was obsessed with the thought that maybe someone was hiding in my closet or under my bed.  Or maybe there was a bomb behind the bedroom door and it was up to me to make sure that everyone was safe.  What if I turned the light switch off with wet hands and that started an electrical fire?  Or maybe I’d sinned and hadn’t asked God for forgiveness.

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Contamination OCD

Exiting the Maze: A Spiritual Answer to Psychological Chaos

The lights were low, the band was playing, and people all around me were praying. My friends seemed to be experiencing God in powerful ways, but I sat in the pew, lost in confusion. I could not escape the mental torment that had become my reality. As I struggled through the endless twists and turns of delusional thinking, a friend of mine came and sat next to me. I shared my frustration with him: “I feel like I’m lost in a maze…a confusing maze of thoughts…and I cannot find the exit.” He responded in a reassuring voice: “Sometimes, Nathan, the only way out is up.”

*****

From early on, my childhood had been characterized by strong, stable Christian values. However, when I graduated from high school and went off to the University of Michigan, I began to fundamentally question everything about my beliefs. I had an endless stream of doubts, and as my spiritual foundation began to erode, I also found myself grappling increasingly with irrational, paralyzing fear.

As the zeal to “find the answers” was eventually replaced by disillusionment and despair, my thinking patterns and behaviors became increasingly obsessive. Before climbing into bed, I would turn off the light. Then I would turn it back on. Then off again. For some reason, I thought that I had to turn the light off the “right” way, and every time I got it wrong, I had to do it again. Other behaviors were equally strange. At times, I found myself jumping slightly off the ground whenever I had an immoral thought. I also began to cough or tense up my body repetitively as feelings of anxiety increased. Negative mental associations dominated my thinking, making daily tasks nearly impossible.

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Intrusive Thoughts, OCD, Religious OCD

Learning to live

There is a lot of advice I could tell people who have OCD, but the main two pieces of advice are; you are never alone and there is hope.

I merely existed until I was 16 years old. Life for me was a string of anxieties and avoidance, making it impossible to live the life I wanted. The worst bringer of these anxieties was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

At 15 years old, my general anxiety was declining and my depression had disappeared. I was becoming who I wanted to be in life. Then life brought me something new.

Intrusive thoughts and images of harm raced through my head constantly. In an attempt to escape, I would mentally repeat phrases until the thoughts went away. That didn’t last long. I turned to pinching myself and banging my head against a wall, yelling and screaming. Anything to get the horrible images out of my head.

I thought I had schizophrenia, if anything. That was the only solution I had to the voices in my head. No one told me OCD was about intrusive thoughts! No one told me OCD was anything more than a cleaning disorder. Not knowing what these thoughts were, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. I had so much guilt. I didn’t fear that I would act on the thoughts, but the guilt I had for thinking them was immense.

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