Stephanie, 27, Perth, Australia

OCD is my battlefield

stephanie-no-text

Life is a battlefield. My brain is my enemy. We battle each other for control of my thoughts every day. Together we can imagine an exhausting list of horrible situations, terrible things we would never do, and everyday things we should be afraid of. The only thing we can’t imagine is a life free from OCD.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have OCD. My earliest recognisable OCD symptoms date back to 1995 when I was seven, and getting urine tests because I was asking my teacher to go to the bathroom too much. My parents, teachers, and doctor weren’t to know I wasn’t actually using the toilet. I was just going to the bathroom to wash my hands under the faucet again and again. All the tests were clear, and my parents were assured they had a completely healthy child.

Over the next fourteen years I continued to have phases where I fell back into obsessively washing my hands and when I first heard of OCD I thought it was just a fancy name for washing my hands too many times. Although I thought I probably had the disorder I didn’t think it was too serious. I didn’t realise my other behaviours were all part of the disorder: flicking light switches on and off, avoiding the cracks in the pavement, inspecting my food before every bite, inspecting seats before I sat down, being overly protective of my possessions, and trying to avoid using public restrooms as much as possible.

In 2009, at 21 my mental health slowly declined and my rituals got progressively worse: I would walk a few steps forward and have to turn back and check if I’d stepped on anything harmful, I would only wear white socks which I would inspect for dirt when I took off my shoes. I would put clean clothes in the dirty washing pile to be re-washed. If the sole of someone’s shoe touched my skin I’d have to wash the area of contact. I would have to shower to decontaminate myself as soon as I got home even if I’d only been at a friend’s house, or ducked down the shops for five minutes. I constantly checked I’d turned off the bathroom tap, closed the fridge, locked the doors, and turned off lights and power points. To top it off, I was convinced I was toxic. I had germs which could hurt my loved ones and caused lots of tension in my family; putting their bathroom towels in the wash and their toothbrushes in the bin because I accidentally touched or brushed against them.

In 2010, after a series of stressful life events that pulled my world out from under me (one of which was losing my job), I found myself at my lowest point. I was 22 and completely consumed by OCD and depression. I gave up on my dreams. I rarely fell asleep before sunrise, I’d be awake again by noon, and I’d struggle to get out of bed. I couldn’t step outside without having to take another shower, even if I was only going to the letterbox. I couldn’t walk past an open door or window without having to wash my exposed skin, because fresh air was full of germs that were trying to kill me. I stayed at home, and when my family would drag me out, I’d stay in the car because I looked silly carrying out my compulsions. I’d wear slip on shoes with socks, I couldn’t bear to touch my shoelaces, but my whole foot had to be covered in public too. I was scared of hugs. I had graphic nightmares and violent intrusive thoughts. I was miserable. I was scared of everything. I was afraid to live, and I was afraid to die. The battle with my brain was too much for me to bear. I no longer had a job, or any purpose. I existed just to listen to my favourite band, Good Charlotte, on my iPod or stereo. There are days I only got out of bed to put my iPod on charge or change the CD in my stereo.

In early 2011, my family and the welfare department basically forced me into getting help; I couldn’t get unemployment benefits until I saw a doctor. I was finally diagnosed with OCD and depression; and my treatment began.

I’m now five years into my recovery. I look back and can’t believe all I have achieved since my initial diagnosis. I went to university just six months later and I now have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Professional Writing and Publishing, I’m working part time in the retail sector, I’m a volunteer arts writer with a local online youth magazine. I’m writing my first novel and hoping to achieve my dream of becoming a published novelist some day, and later this year I’m embarking on my first international holiday determined not to let my OCD get in the way of living my life to its fullest. I’ve wasted so much time avoiding things because of my OCD, and I refuse to let it hold me back anymore. Five years ago I was in my darkest place, and today I am the happiest I have ever been.

I’m not going to lie. There are still days I struggle with my OCD. I still have rituals I participate in daily. Some days are easier than others. There are days I isolate myself because my mind is racing with thoughts I can’t control. There are days I panic over silly insignificant things. In the past year I have accepted OCD will be my friend and nemesis for the rest of my life; and I am determined not to let my struggle, my experiences, be for nothing. I’m adding my voice to the chorus, and I’m telling the world I have OCD to help other sufferers feel less alone, to educate people about OCD, and help break down the stigma of mental illness.

Getting diagnosed 5 years ago was hard, but I wouldn’t exchange the life I have now for anything. I find beauty in the little things, the days I only check the door is locked once, the days I leave a power point on and everything is okay when I return; and the days I keep a smile on my face all day. On the bad days I remind myself how far I’ve come and take empowerment from the meaning of my name ‘Crowned Warrior’ or ‘Warrior crowned in victory’ for I know I am destined to win this war… and with love and support we all can.

Categories: The Wall

3 replies »

  1. Thank you for this. There are so many days I feel insane. I can’t tie shoelaces without using my sweatshirt sleeves. I use them to open doors, pick up groceries off shelves, touch pinpads, handle money. I use them as a shield to ward off panic attacks. If I breathe the air the wrong way, I feel contaminated. OCD is exhausting. I try so hard to act normal, but it’s so hard sometimes. This page is really helping me feel less alone. Less crazy. I’m so glad you’re doing well in your recovery. We must all soldier on.

    Like

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I identified with much of it and it gave me hope of one day silencing the bully in my mind.

    Like

    • We are so heartened to know that this story resonated with you and struck a chord of hope. That bully can be silenced. We are with you!

      Like

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