We are honored to publish the story of a young lady who has suffered unimaginable mental agony as a result of her battles with OCD. Her struggles have left her highly empathetic and wise beyond her years.
She has asked us to publish this anonymously.
Powerful, painful-to-read, and eloquent, here is her testimony:
I am a member of the ‘Resistance.’ No, not that Resistance- I’m not that cool. But I’m a rebel against obsessive-compulsive disorder (a.k.a. O.C.D.) along with many other rebels of O.C.D.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder involving impractical, persistent fears (obsessions) and rituals (compulsions) done to try and eliminate one’s anxiety. O.C.D. could be described as a perpetual, stubborn restlessness of the mind. In essence, fighting O.C.D. means having to override perturbing doubt that produces inner turmoil.
O.C.D. is my enemy. I must resist O.C.D. or else it will destroy me. Sometimes it starts to smother the fight in me by presenting vile intrusive thoughts, powerful fear, and doubt on an hourly basis. I have to kindle the fight inside of me with techniques and measures which keep me pointed toward recovery. I use self-talk, journaling, music, my faith, ritual prevention (still a work in progress), thought-challenging, medication, and more to overcome the O.C.D. Frankly, though, it’s challenging, and I’m a novice in this rebellion. I confess: I cave in often, instead of pushing back.
In the past, when O.C.D. was at its strongest, I sought to protect it. I clung to it, even though it was killing me (literally)! It was like an abusive relationship. Nonetheless, overall, I am now fighting against it, rather than fighting to keep it.
When I was in high school, during spring break, the O.C.D. came to life. I was studying my biology textbook, but I kept having intrusive thoughts about a conversation which 2 students had, regarding a test they had taken which I had yet to take after spring break. I had a distinct memory of their conversation, which entailed an answer one student had put to one of the questions. And so, when I was studying the textbook, and encountered this topic, I got the intrusive thought that I was cheating. (By the way, intrusive thoughts are nonsensical by nature, so if my description of my intrusive thoughts is confusing, I’m sorry! They aren’t going to make much sense, because, well, they don’t)! Anyways… this intrusive thought seemed very real at the time. I was extremely disturbed, which prompted me to reread that part again and again until I read it without an intrusive thought. This incident was what disturbed the “sleeping giant” of O.C.D.
From then on, obsessions and compulsions related to the fear of cheating began to dominate my school career as well as my mind. It was mental torture. I would compulsively write honesty mantras on tests and assignments, such as “120% honestly,” or prayers such as “God, help me to be 120% honest.” (For reference, ‘120% honest’ signified going above and beyond the academic standards of honesty.) I would often have a troubled expression on my face during this time. My peers and friends thought I was either tired or sad, but my face contortions were a response to my intrusive thoughts/ an outward expression of the mental exertion I was expelling to try and divert these thoughts.
Most compulsions involved redoing things, such as erasing my homework, if I had a thought that I was cheating in some way. As a result, my time-efficiency suffered immensely. Frequently in honors geometry, I would stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning finishing my math homework, and sometimes, I still wouldn’t finish it. It was demoralizing.
Before too long, my dad recommended that I go to therapy, because he was worried. Going to these appointments, I felt flawed and ashamed; I felt like some weirdo. Nonetheless, I am grateful to my dad for being as persistent as he did, because this helped. (It also gave me a head start in learning to combat O.C.D.)
After trying out multiple counselors, I finally landed on one. The process of diagnosing me alone took several sessions because the O.C.D. assessment was so distressing, and because it provoked mental rituals related to perfectionism. Eventually, though, I was diagnosed. Internally, with respect to my peers, I felt like an outcast. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I started taking medication (I was opposed to this because it felt like cheating- it felt unjust to chemically improve brain-functioning.) O.C.D. was really stacking up everything against me.
I struggled heavily with this cheating anxiety for the rest of high school. I still struggle with it, even though I’m not in school, but this anxiety has tamed down. The summer before my senior year, though, obsessive-compulsive disorder invaded my entire life.
As if O.C.D. hadn’t had enough, this summer, O.C.D. began to correlate eating the same food as someone else as “cheating” because I was “copying” them. O.C.D. told me that I was stupid and needed social cues to know what was food for humans, and that using these social cues was cheating. O.C.D. was shredding my self-esteem, trying desperately to convince me that I was so worthless that I just might not be able to discern food items from non-food items. It was sick, but this particular obsession had such an incredible power over my psyche that within 8 ½ weeks of trying to battle these thoughts and feelings using highly ineffective mental rituals, I developed an eating disorder (O.C.D.-related.)
It was hell. I lost 20 pounds from malnourishment, and I was petite to begin with. My family felt utterly helpless as week by week I progressively lost more weight. I remember a conversation my medically-minded sister had with my dad about how long it would be before my condition became life-threatening. My family was going through hell with me.
And it was more complex than just an abstract extension of my anxiety around the fear of cheating. It evolved into an obsessive fear of eating something that was not food. This side-component was a result of not being able to prove how I knew food was food. This resulted in the doubt of my knowledge and determination of what could be classified as food. If I couldn’t come up with a definitive, precise criteria for classifying food devoid of any shape or form of doubt, then it made it stressful to cognitively re-classify something as food or not. Additionally, if I wasn’t as familiar with a certain type of food, or I didn’t know enough nutritional info about it, it was difficult to prove to the O.C.D. that it was food for sure. Because understanding of food is uncontrolled, experiential, and complex, it was taxing trying to squelch my obsessive fears.
During this phase, the cheating O.C.D. intensified all around. It oppressed me in unfathomable ways. The worst compulsion related to the cheating O.C.D. I ever endured was a ritual about breathing. My O.C.D. found the very LAST aspect of human existence that it could attack. It told me that I was somehow cheating in the way I was breathing. This intrusive thought is so far out there, I know, that it begins to break down even within O.C.D. logic.
Basically, it convinced me that breathing was an intellectual activity that required reasoning skills. Such reasoning skills O.C.D. contrived were: determining whether or not I should run out of a building due to a gas leak, deciding whether or not to hold my breath momentarily to prevent myself from breathing in air toxins, and judging whether or not I should be wearing a face mask. And noticing the breathing of other people, O.C.D. fathomed, would be a crime because I could end up copying their decisions regarding these potential crises of air contamination.
The compulsive ritual derived from this obsession entailed me holding my breath while I (mentally) went through all of the reasons why the air was safe to breathe. Roughly, the ritual went as follows: “I do not live in China [reference to smog]; the Holocaust is over, thank God [reference to gas chambers]; I don’t smell natural gas.”
The torturous part of this compulsion, though, was reciting all of this while holding my breath. I wouldn’t allow myself to take a breath until I had gone through this mental ritual [at least] once. I’m not going to explain the added anxiety this brought on. Thankfully, this obsession has largely passed now. I have thought-challenged around the fear of toxic gases by saying to myself, “Well, if there was a poisonous gas in the air, we’d have to find out prior to evacuating. I might as well breathe it all in and be the guinea pig. Then we will know if there’s a problem, and my family can save themselves. If it’s unsafe, I’d rather be the first one to pass out!” Now, this fear doesn’t seem as real as it used to.
On the other hand, obsessions and compulsions were occupying my mind and sabotaging my physical health at the time. Due to the eating disorder, I had a feeding tube, inserted through my nose and into my stomach. I really hated the feeding tube. O.C.D. attacked me and told me that this was the most unthinkable form of cheating- cheating at survival. O.C.D. told me that the feeding tube was “eating” for me- that it was doing my job for me. This notion that I had cheated survival caused me to feel not only anxiety but shame.
I think that this is one of the ironies of living with severe mental illness- often times, your very condition bars you from or works against treatment efforts. I was in-patient in a treatment facility for 3 ½ months at one point in time in the eating disorder unit. I was never transferred to the O.C.D. unit, which was the root of my eating disorder. The reason for this was that the residential program required you to be in good physical health. This is why it is important to be as pro-active as possible and aggressively combat issues that feed off of one another. It is best to tackle issues before everything is stacked against you. However, if you’re stuck in this Catch 22, you can only do the very best you can. Determination is important when tackling comorbidities, and endurance is key.
Tackling multiple facets of mental illness(s) at once can be overwhelming, though. Every problem needs to be dealt with, but sometimes, as in my case, one issue, such as malnourishment, ends up taking priority. Sometimes one’s energy becomes solely focused on something like alcoholism, for instance, before you have the ability to get to something else, like anxiety.
Self-compassion is crucial here; it’s important to have patience with yourself and hope during these times. What seems unreachable can come to pass. I believe that God and my faith have been pivotal in my healing. I remember when I realized that obsessive-compulsive disorder, though it revolved around morality, made it harder to honor God. As a Christian, my faith encourages me to eat in communion, in the company of others. My O.C.D. encouraged me to eat in isolation; (this was one of my compulsions.) My obsessive fear of cheating paralyzed me, and, as a result, I did not end up being the type of student I had desired to be all along.
That is the notorious deception of obsessive-compulsive disorder… it takes you to a place you don’t want to be.
The initial purpose and mission that an O.C.D. sufferer has is counteracted by the O.C.D. itself. O.C.D. works against the grain. As much as someone who compulsively cleans desires to protect their family, compulsive behavior in reality might become the only true threat to the well-being of the family. Nobody’s loved ones want to see them in distress, right? With O.C.D. and other mental illnesses, I think recognizing that what it’s telling us is not truth, no matter how real it feels, is essential.
Someone’s set of circumstances, I believe, can always be redeemed. That is truth. And our feelings don’t change the truth. Our brains can try to force-feed us lies all they want, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow them. We can be victorious!