I was so afraid of my own thoughts that I didn’t seek help for six years… six years of childhood I can’t get back.
It started when I was about 10. I was reading a book in which the character put a saddle on a horse, and this image came into my head of a spike being on the bottom of the saddle that would stab the horse. It wouldn’t go away; I had to keep picturing the needle being broken off of the saddle to cope.
In another of my favorite books, a child riding a boat reached his hand into the water to pet a dolphin. The frightening image of the dolphin’s skin rubbing off at the boy’s touch intruded itself into my mind. I fought that image by imagining the skin being replaced.
The intrusive thoughts escalated slowly, for several years. It was like a demon had taken up residence in my brain, speaking to me in a voice that was mine and yet not mine. Maybe one day you’ll abuse the children you babysit, it said. You just inadvertently gave your soul to the devil. You are disturbed and sick in such a way that no one will understand or help you.
I developed more compulsions to deal with these thoughts. The one I remember most clearly was surreptitiously blowing on my hand. If I felt my breath, it meant I hadn’t unintentionally sold my soul. I knew that this superstitious behavior made no sense, but it was the only way I had to cope. Trying to reason with these thoughts just got me stuck in a mental loop. I never told anyone what was happening; I had no idea how to talk about it.
Then, when I was fifteen, I went to a summer performing arts workshop away from home, and, horror of horrors, I enjoyed it. Since I enjoyed it and didn’t really miss my parents, something must be wrong with me, I thought. I must not really love them. How could I not love my parents? Maybe I’m a sociopath, incapable of normal human emotions. Maybe I subconsciously hate my family. Maybe I want to kill them.
These thoughts tormented me after I got home, until one day I had a full-blown panic attack. I called my mom at work, and she rushed home. I was so afraid of telling her about my intrusive thoughts, not only out of fear that she wouldn’t understand, but because the thought If you tell her, that means you will kill her suddenly appeared. But I was more afraid of what would happen if I didn’t tell her: that I might drown in fear, or that not getting help would lead to me really losing my mind and killing my family someday.
Thankfully, my mom had heard of obsessive thoughts before and recognized at once what was happening to me. She told me that other people suffer from these types of thoughts and that they don’t really want to do what the obsessions make them fear they will do. She found a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with OCD and depression and began treating me.
I was floored by the knowledge that I wasn’t alone, that there was a name for what was happening, that it was a known disorder, and that even saints had suffered from it. But it took a while for me to really start getting better. At first, the obsessions and compulsions intensified. Everything around me became a potential weapon that I was afraid I might use to murder my family. I felt the need to describe every obsession in perfectly accurate detail, afraid that if I left anything out no one would know what they needed to know to keep me from hurting someone. I was hardly functioning at all. The only things that kept me going were my faith (to which I clung desperately, as to a lifeline) and the love of people around me.
Eventually, with grace, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, prayer, and lots of support, I got better. I stopped having “classic” obsessions and compulsions. I was no longer constantly depressed. I still struggled with anxiety and depression off and on, and for years I didn’t realize just how related these symptoms were to my OCD. I agonized over whether or not I really loved and should stay with my boyfriend (now husband). I questioned my sexuality, as I had difficulty distinguishing what my actual desires were out of the myriad of thoughts and images that popped up in my head. When I was pregnant with my last child, I felt like I had a premonition of dying in childbirth (she’s now a toddler and I’m still here). Sometimes I’m afraid that, if we have another baby, it will die of SIDS. I have a great temptation to mentally torture myself when I make a mistake that hurt (or even could have hurt) someone else.
However, I never would have dreamed at 15 that I would have the life I have now at 30. I’m no longer on medication. I’ve changed my diet and am learning to take care of myself, which has helped tremendously. When anxieties present themselves, I’m learning to see them the same way I eventually learned to see the violent obsessions of my teen years – as irrelevant and random brain misfires. I have a husband who helps keep me grounded, and three beautiful children. Most of the time, I am happier than I have ever been at any other period of my life.
I remember a time when I wished I had cancer or some other terminal illness instead of OCD. Living with OCD is like living in Hell. You can feel as though your whole life is shrouded in blackness, and the weight of your thoughts is like the weight of a mountain. It’s like being caged in your own thoughts. But I want people to know that there is help and hope for people with OCD. Praise be to God, I’ve gone from hardly being able to read a book to an abundant life rich in joy. Have faith, be strong, and don’t give up.
If only I had known as a child what OCD was, perhaps I wouldn’t have concealed my symptoms for nearly six years. Please, if you’re reading this, help raise awareness of this disease. As long as it is the secret illness, there will be many people who suffer from it in secret.
Categories: The Wall