Jillian, 31, Illinois, USA

Everything I do and think affects my loved ones.

jillian-no-textMy OCD started around age 7. I had some symptoms, but after seeing the movie Outbreak the symptoms got much worse. I would count and tap. If I was interrupted I had to start over, which was frustrating and time-consuming because I had to count or tap 7 rounds 7 times. I had to blink and swallow rhythmically to the point of headaches and sore throats. I repeatedly checked doors, locks, light switches, sinks, outlets, and random objects’ locations. Washed my hands until they bled. Often used very hot water or straight rubbing alcohol. Later on the washings included straight bleach, Dawn soap, and other chemicals, all over my body instead of just hands. I wouldn’t sleep much because I was going around the house unplugging everything, checking the door locks every 15 minutes, checking my stuffed animals were all in bed and accounted for, checking on my family members to make sure they were OK and breathing (standing over them and touching their chests). I could not point my fingers or toes at anyone in the house who were asleep in their rooms. So I laid with my hands in tight fists and my feet curled under. My mind was bombarded by horrific thoughts and images all night long. I have nightmares all the time. I had trouble focusing when others talked to me and trouble in school because my mind was constantly occupied by my counting or sayings or images. I still have trouble with focusing. I couldn’t write letters that were enclosed like a, o, q, p, d and b, because I thought someone would suffocate, so I had to draw a tiny line sticking out of each enclosed letter. My teachers were baffled and my grades dropped. I was consumed by my fear of germs and illness, terrified I would contract a disease. I couldn’t even hear the word AIDS without going into a frenzy.

I had a hard time going anywhere public, being around strangers, touching anything, or being touched. When it was really bad I was actually afraid to be around my own family (which was torture and heartbreaking). I would cover my face with my shirt when others talked to me, or hold my breath. I hated restaurants because in my mind the silverware and food were all contaminated or possibly poisoned. I was convinced that everything I did had a negative impact on my loved ones. If I scratched the couch with my fingernail on accident I had to pat the spot rhythmically or my family member would get ill or hurt. If I slept next to someone I had to match my breathing with their breathing.

Later I had issues driving. I was convinced I was going to run over a person or an animal and not realize it, so I often drove in circles checking parking lots. I sometimes got all the way home and would go all the way back to a store to just check the lot again. I was also worried about dropping things. Everywhere I went – stores, friends’ houses, family members’ houses, school – I would constantly retrace steps and go back and check the floor to see if I dropped something. I would leave and return to the house to check the floor again, sometimes 5, 6, 7 times. I worried I would write names wrong on letters or cards, or spell my own name wrong (still do). I couldn’t seal envelopes because I had to keep checking over and over that I wrote the correct name. I was afraid constantly that I would write or say something terrible to someone and not realize it or be able to control it. I had repetitive thoughts and images, often disturbing. I had thoughts that I was bad and that my family would be punished because I was bad. I had issues with shoes, floors, and certain surfaces because they were crawling with germs in my mind.

I have a major issue with mail. Mail is not only filthy in my mind but I have an immense fear of contamination or anthrax. I go through phases of using hand sanitizer (even on my face, arms and legs), Lysol, wearing rubber gloves and constantly changing them, changing my clothes 3, 4 , 5 times a day, showering 3 or 4 times a day, and crying at night or in the shower. I had issues with my clean clothes. They had to be placed on my dresser and couldn’t touch anything. I get cold sores and some family members do also. When I have one or anyone else does, it turns my entire world upside down. I can’t wash my face in the shower, can’t touch my face, don’t want anything touching my pillows after I slept on them, and had issues with being around others and their belongings without washing myself constantly. There have been too many symptoms that come, go, and stay, too many to count or list.

I still have a lot of these symptoms today but they have evolved and changed. My OCD has always been what I refer to as “rotating”. One month, it’s handwashing and checking. The next month it’s a fear of dirty shoes and counting. It seems like once I conquer the symptom of the month, a new one takes its place. And I’m often catching myself doing completely new things that I’ve never encountered before. I have learned to open things with my feet. I often use my feet, elbows, or knees to do things instead of my hands. I still have so many symptoms from my past but have way better control over them. When I repetitively blink my eyes and my husband says I flutter my eyes at him, I just smile. When I stare at my son at night and watch over him it fills my heart. When I touch my husband to feel him breathing while he sleeps I don’t feel angry, I just accept it. I have spikes and times it isn’t as intense. When I’m stressed or anxious it flares up. I battle constantly with the OCD voice in my head, the little gremlin on my shoulder. I often think or say aloud “stop it stop it!” I hate the horrific images I see repetitively. I get so upset and think I don’t want to think like this, these are not my thoughts, I don’t ever want to see something like that. I am very superstitious and I don’t like it when anyone says something bad will happen. I fear it will come true and always tell people to “take it back!” I comfort myself by saying that was not my thought, that was the OCD. I remind myself that I’m OK, I’m not crazy, and I’m not alone.

My OCD causes me to be late for everything. Or sometimes not show up at all.  Causes stress and bouts of depression.  It causes me to be awkward and have social anxiety. Causes lack of sleep, meltdowns, and arguments. Nightmares.  At times makes me anti social and closed off. Makes me over analyse everything. Makes me paranoid that everyone is mad at me, doesn’t like me, is judging me. All of these I view as challenges to overcome.  But it also makes me a more cautious, careful, and observant person. I have to remember it’s not always a negative thing. And my family still loves me no matter what 🙂

I have learned many ways to cope as an adult. As a child I tried my best to hide everything. I was terrified I was insane and would be locked away. My family worried and pleaded with me and cried. They did not know OCD existed and I had no idea it was a disorder that others had. I saw something on the news one evening about exposure therapy for children with OCD and it was like the sky opened and a bright warm light shined over me. It was then I realized it had a name, I wasn’t alone, and there was treatment. I tried therapy and medication on and off. As a teenager I still found many didn’t fully understand what OCD was. Family tried their best to be understanding and patient. My choice to be on medication was accepted by some and questioned by others. As an adult I have self-coped. I have done reverse therapy and exposure therapy on myself. I talk more openly about it. I try my best to have a good sense of humor about it. I embrace it as much as I can. I have had immense support, patience, and love from my family, my husband, friends and coworkers. My parents and my husband always do their best to do things a certain way to make life easier for me. Friends and coworkers lovingly open doors for me because they “just know”.

The best advice I have is to embrace who you are. OCD doesn’t define you even though it is a part of you. You and your OCD can live together in harmony. Get help. Join support groups, go to online forums, talk to family, talk to your doctor. Read books and research. Try different treatments. Most importantly, remember you are the boss and you are in control. I know it doesn’t feel that way and at the time it’s nearly impossible to stop a symptom. But try to stop for just 30 seconds, then try to stop for 1 min, then 5 min. After each time you’ll see nothing bad happened. Try to turn each symptom into a positive thing instead of negative. Reward yourself for little victories. Empower yourself. And do not feel bad when you give in to a symptom. Just start over with positive thinking. You are not alone!!


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