When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Through therapy and medication, I was able to virtually get rid of my symptoms of OCD, although my anxiety still remained. By the time I was a teenager, I started saying “I used to have OCD.”
All of this changed when my Nana, who I had been extremely close with, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A few weeks after her diagnosis, I had a sudden breakdown when it really hit me that she was going to die. I thought, “What is the meaning of life?” I didn’t really have an answer, and because of this, I thought that maybe I thought life had no meaning. I further extrapolated this to a fear that I was suicidal. I cried for a while and my boyfriend helped calm me down. I worried about this occasionally for the next few weeks, but it didn’t really hit until I went to my Nana’s funeral. At this point, I decided to confide in my mom about my fears and she explained that while it was just me being anxious and dealing with my first significant loss, I should bring it up with my therapist. The next day when I went to therapy, my therapist said, “You used to deal with OCD, right? This sounds a lot like OCD.” A lesser-known (even to me) symptom of OCD is intrusive thoughts: thoughts that evoke anxiety and cause a person to engage in compulsions in order to relieve their anxiety. While I briefly felt better knowing that this was OCD and not suicidality, the feeling didn’t last long. I constantly wanted reassurance from others that I was okay and wasn’t going to hurt myself. I monitored my thoughts and repeated mantras in my head. I hid all of my pills in fear that I would suddenly want to use them to overdose. I was afraid to drive in case I suddenly drove off a cliff. I stayed off of Facebook and Twitter in fear that I would see something mentioning death and become triggered. For a while, I cried and had panic attacks every day. While I had the support of my mom, therapist, boyfriend, and a few close friends, this was something that was terrifying to me and took months to calm down about. The worst time for me was late October 2016 until about March 2017.
I felt isolated because mental health is so stigmatized. I continued to take a full load of classes, work part time, and do an internship. I didn’t tell my professors, bosses, or even my family other than my mom. I didn’t want to post about it on social media in fear that people would think I was crazy, and also because going public with it made it seem so real, like it was something that was actually happening to me, and that I could never take back. I didn’t post on social media as much as I usually would have, but in my posts, I left no indication of how much I was struggling. If I were to post about it now, I would probably make a long post similar to this story explaining everything. I think that telling everyone I know about this would be both terrifying and liberating at the same time. Terrifying because I would be putting myself out there to those who may be judgemental, and because I know it would break the hearts of so many who love me to know how much I struggled. But, at the same time, liberating to know that OCD is something from my past, and maybe even my future, that I do not have to be afraid to share. If anything, I would post to try to bring awareness to OCD, help other people who may be struggling, and get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health.
Luckily, I had tremendous support and a great deal of coping mechanisms to help me talk back to my intrusive thoughts, alleviate my anxiety, and change my thought patterns. While I am by no means completely recovered, it is a thought that passes by once or twice a day and is gone in an instant. I handled my intrusive thoughts by going to therapy, taking medication, meditating, eating well, sleeping well, going on walks, journaling, and talking to my mom, boyfriend, and friends. I am eternally grateful to everyone that has helped me and shown me that I am so much more capable than I think I am. To anyone who is going through a similar situation, know that you are not alone. OCD is common, and it is more than just washing your hands repeatedly. Know that you can get through this, that there are resources out there, and that treatment really works. Know that even if you don’t believe in yourself, I believe in you.