Getting Real: Diving into the Mind of an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Sufferer and Survivor
Just a Girl, Just an Ordinary Girl
I was your normal child growing up. I played outside in the mud, got dirty, let my dog jump up and lick me, built forts in the woods, sold lemonade in the summer, rode my bike around town, etc… I was the epitome of normal, but looking back I now see some of the warning signs that I didn’t recognize then. As a child I always had very high anxiety, but it always pertained to the two same things. The first being the well-being of my mother. The second being fear of dying. Let me address the first fear now. My mother has always been my best friend even when I was little, but I have always worried that something terrible was going to happen to her. I was always afraid to leave the house at times when she was home alone fearing that some type of harm would come to her. I had nervous break downs at slumber parties and left in the middle of the night calling my mother to come and get me. Even as I got older I would have extreme attacks of anxiety and nervousness if my mother was out longer than I expected her to be. I would automatically assume the worse had happened and she was lying dead on the side of the road. My second fear….dying mostly hit me at bed time when I was little. I would lie in my dimly lit room, the only light being from a nightlight, and stare at my ceiling. Slowly I would close my eyes and I would be overcome with a deep amount of fear of what death was going to be like. My mind would keep running through how it would feel to be dead. It wasn’t the pain that worried me, it was the nothingness that worried me. What if God and Heaven weren’t real and really when you die it’s just done, finished, over… just like when you are sleeping. NOTHINGINGNESS……. I would be overcome with such fear and anxiety that I would beg to stay up. I would do anything to get out my bed and room so I could be distracted by the TV or some other trivial matter, however, being that I was young, I was always made to stay in bed. So I spent much of my childhood fretting over the possible death of my mother and death itself. However, other than these two things I was your normal everyday child. I never knew what my future held.
As time passed I began to handle my anxiety over my mother’s mortality a little better. As a young teenager I began going to slumber parties, even though I still dreaded them, I was able to get through the night and have fun. The worst part still being when all the activity ended and I was left with only the thoughts in my mind. However, I forced myself to stay at the parties because it would be embarrassing to have my mommy pick me up when I’m 13-15 years old. I still worried about my mother and made her promise to buckle up before going anywhere and I always wanted a time frame in which she would be back. My mom still chalked it up to the fact we were really close, which was true. She meant and still means everything to me.
At some point between the ages of 9 and 14 I became highly obsessed with the bible and religion. I began reading the bible nightly and listening to bible songs on replay like they were the latest pop songs. I would only do this in the privacy of my home though. I was a member of the Billy Graham kids club and received little bible activities to do. I would spend my time teaching my dad about god because he did not like going to church so of course I thought he was going to burn in hell and I feared for his eternal life. My father was a Christian but that wasn’t good enough for me. He needed to know all the lessons and be taught to follow god’s light. At one point I made my mom take me to the local sports stadium where Billy Graham was in town to give a sermon. I remember standing on the field and feeling as if I were filled with the glory of god. However, still at school and with my friends I was a normal kid. I didn’t complete any rituals and I was unaware that I may have an anxiety disorder because it wasn’t affecting my quality of life. That all changed in September 25, 1998.
A Dark Day in September
I went to bed the night of September 24 a pretty normal (other than my religion anxiety and mom anxiety), happy, and popular tenth grader. I went to school Friday morning on September 25 and reported to first period which was Public Speaking and within 40 minutes my whole life had changed. Unknown to me I had already been showing signs of OCD but it was not full blown yet. That was all about to change and you will be surprised by what caused it to show its ugly face. It wasn’t some horrific moment like being held at gun point or being in a car accident. No it was a normal day in first period Public Speaking until a red haired girl with glasses, wearing a camo green jacket and army boots stood up to give her introduction speech. It started out like everyone else’s speech stating her name which was Sarah and talking about normal everyday stuff but then she began talking about her religion. She didn’t believe in god and she stated that she practiced witchcraft. Sarah was a senior that year and I was a Sophmore and as soon as the words witchcraft came out of her mouth, a trigger went off in my mind. I was no longer in complete control of my mind. I was panicking. “ A witch.... what the hell? I thought those were only in movies. She doesn’t believe in god. She must worship the devil.” My skin was crawling and I suddenly felt filthy. I was so dirty. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as her. I watched as the clock slowly ticked by until the bell finally rang. Running out of class so I wouldn’t accidentally bump into her, I ran straight to my locker hyperventilating. Suddenly my safe happy school didn’t seem so safe and happy. No suddenly it was dirty and contaminated with her. She was everywhere in this school. She walked down the hallways. What if I walk down the same hallway and pick up some of her devil worshiping germs. If I pick up those germs I will be contaminated, then my clothes will be contaminated, and my house will be contaminated when I get home, and my family will be contaminated, and we will all burn in hell. I was spiraling out of control all over this girl’s simple speech. Yearning for the school day to end I couldn’t wait to get home and that is when the rituals started. I entered the house through my gameroom. I decided that this would be the room I would contaminate with my shoes. I will never enter this room again unless I am going to school because I may touch my shoes which are contaminated. I then went straight to the hamper and removed my clothes. The next stop was the bathroom, but how would I turn the light on? My hands are contaminated. This is when my bare foot came into play. My barefoot had been protected by two barriers a sock and a shoe. My foot is the cleanest part of my body now. Lifting my foot up I flipped the light switch and went directly to the shower being sure that no part of my body touched the walls, sinks, toilet, etc… until I was washed. Upon entering the shower a normal cleaning was no longer appropriate. No now I couldn’t use wash cloths because it would be contaminated with the filth from the day. I will have to use the bar of soap directly on my body. In my mind soap couldn’t be contaminated because it was antibacterial and surely that would kill any of her filth. I started with my arms, washing them each three times, then I washed my face three times, followed by the trunk of my body three times, then each leg would be washed three times. After finishing this I would then wash my hair with shampoo, followed by conditioner, but since my hair was still dirty I had to re-wash my body again. You are probably thinking just wash your hair first. WRONG. I couldn’t do that because then my clean hair would touch my dirty body and it would be re-contaminated. So I went through the ritual of washing each body part three times. I’m not sure where the number three came from. It just ended up being my magic number to do things. I washed myself in the same order for the next eight years… 3 times for each arm, 3 times for the face, 3 times for the trunk, 3 times for each leg, then shampoo, conditioner, repeat. However, if at any time I touched the sides of the shower or thought I might have only washed a body part twice I had to start over from the complete beginning. There were many times when I would be on the final time for washing my leg but suddenly have the fear that I only washed my arm twice and I would go back and re-do everything including shampooing and conditioning my hair. I often spent 45 minutes to an hour in the shower. The last half of the shower being in ice cold water. I could no longer get my own towels because if I got my towel before entering the shower it would be contaminated so my mother now was the designated towel getter for the next eight years. Upon returning to school the next day I was violently sick in the stomach. I was barely functioning. “Maybe if I drop the class everything will be okay again.” I stupidly thought. So that day I made up some crazy story to drop Public Speaking and to add a Study Hall instead. This provided me with some temporary relief. Finally I wouldn’t have to see her in class but now I found myself keeping my eyes open for her in the hallways. If I saw her in the hallways I would go the other direction, I couldn’t risk touching her. As I kept an eye out for her I realized that she was dating a boy that lived in my plan. He was also a senior so I didn’t really know him but he had a brother that was in my grade level. Well this new information changed the whole game. Now it wasn’t only her I was afraid of; I was also afraid of her trench coat wearing boyfriend who drove a blue station wagon and his brother who was in my grade. My world was crumbling and the contamination spread to all areas of my life. Due to my new found knowledge I now became scared of all blue station wagons. If I passed or saw a blue station wagon I had to instantly return home and complete my cleaning ritual. This made life very difficult for going out places with friends because at any time I may see a blue station wagon and I was not very good at hiding my anxiety yet. So instead I stopped going out with friends. Also, I began to know the exact time the boy would drive passed my house after I arrived home on the bus so I found myself running to my house so I would not see the dreaded station wagon. I lived in so much fear I stopped spending time in my yard. Anytime I would have to go somewhere I would run to the car and instantly close my eyes because if I don’t see the station wagon then it can’t hurt me. I KNOW SOUNDS RIDICULOUS and it did to me too, but the thoughts were too strong and my compulsions were getting worse. I barely touched anything in my house and I started making up excuses not to go to school. I created fake puke to place in the toilet in the mornings so I could talk my mother into letting me stay home. She took me to doctor after doctor for my stomach looking for what was wrong with me but they found nothing because I WAS MAKING IT UP so I could avoid school. During my Sophmore year I dropped from a mostly A student to barely passing with a possibility of being held back. I started going back to school when the school threatened legal action against my parents. I started skipping classes where I knew I would see “the witch” or her boyfriend, or his little brother. I hid in the locker rooms and no one ever bothered looking for me because I was absent so much. I started handing in homework via teacher’s mailboxes instead of going to class and somehow I got away with it. I stopped talking to my friends and spent most of the school day playing hide and seek with those whom I thought were contaminated. Towards the end of the year my OCD got worse if you can imagine. It was one of the few days I was at school when a rumor starting spreading that there was a bomb in the school, and guess who supposedly planted it…. THE WITCH’S BOYFRIEND!! So in my mind this just proved that they were indeed evil and I needed to stay away from their contaminated bodies! The boyfriend was expelled for a few days and his house was searched by the police but I don’t know if they ever found anything. Did I mention that this was after Columbine! I prayed and waited for the end of my school year. Barely passing with Ds and Cs I was glad to see the two main people that starred in my nightmares graduating and moving out of my school.
I hid the entire summer before my Junior year, in fact I told friends I went to Colorado, well the few friends I still had. I started Junior year with a fresh outlook. Yes, I was still washing and scrubbing my skin raw. I was still not touching anything in my house, in fact I had resorted to beginning to throw things away that were to contaminated even to wash. For example, I began throwing away contaminated shirts that I wore when the contaminated ones were still at my school, I threw away pants, socks, underwear, bras, folders, book bags, pencils, notebooks, etc… I was purging. I was wiping the slate clean. Remember “Cleanliness is next to Godliness and we must wash away our sins.” I guess I was just taking it literally by washing myself raw to the point where my skin was red, dry, cracked, and bleeding. But at least it was clean. I was better at school now that they were gone. I didn’t have to worry about running into them around a wall corner or bumping into them. The only person I had to really avoid was the witch’s boyfriend’s little brother who was in my class. I saw him as a second contaminate. Not as dangerous as the original two but still highly contaminated with evil germs. Ugh I know it sounds crazy. Please remember I knew I was doing crazy things and that my thoughts were illogical but I couldn’t stop them from repeating in my mind again and again.
Due to the fact that the two originals were gone, I was able to go through school with less anxiety. Hell I even enjoyed myself at times. I became popular again and started going out with my friends but I kept my rituals at home in place. I must keep my home as pure as possible. So it was still the same thing. Shoes off in the gameroom, straight to the hamper to strip down, light on with foot, shower, wash body three times each, hair, repeat, if I messed up or touched the sides of the shower repeat. Then I would walk around my house like it was filled with mines. If I accidentally touched a counter that I felt was contaminated, it was straight back to the shower for my rituals. If I got too close to the hamper, it was straight back to the shower. I now opened all doors with my feet in my home. I had gotten very good at using my foot to turn knobs, I also used my foot to turn on all lights in my home. I walked around my own home like it was covered in flesh eating bacteria. I kept my hands always folded tight to my chest, so I was sure not to touch them to anything. Junior year was a decent year. I wasn’t a hermit anymore. I started going out, but I still had anxiety attacks when I saw a red headed girl with glasses, or a boy with a trench coat, or someone named Sarah, or blue station wagons. I was so obsessed with looking for these two everywhere I went that I was constantly studying my surrounding at all times. I was always on high alert. Looking for red hair, looking at names tags that may say Sarah, looking for trench coats, or blue stations wagons and then instantly thinking everything was contaminated if I saw any of those things.
By this time my parents obviously thought I was losing it. I was taking 3-5 showers a day. I walked around the house like everything was made of porcelain, and I asked them weird questions all the time such as: “Did that girl’s name tag at the drive through window say Sarah?” , “Or was that car a navy blue station wagon or a light blue station wagon.” My mom diligently answered all of my silly reassuring questions. However, sometimes she became very frustrated but when she saw my reaction to not knowing she would always give in and reassure me once more.
Seniors Class of 2001
During my senior year the rituals died down a little because my focus switched to not eating. I was instead becoming anorexic. I still performed my rituals but with less vigor, because now I was focusing on calories and exercise. Now instead of witches and hell; it was if I didn’t do 500 sit ups daily something terrible is going to happen. My OCD had mutated to go with my new relationship with my first love. I quickly lost over 50 pounds in less than three months. My parents again worried but somehow I was able to talk my loving parents out of their idea that I may be anorexic. My mom did however force me to go see a gynecologist because I had informed her that my periods had stopped. My mom didn’t think I was pregnant because that wasn’t the type of person I was, she was worried that all of the weight loss was affecting my body and she was right. The doctor told me to gain weight and stop losing weight in this unhealthy way. She then asked me if I planned on having children. I had always wanted kids so this woke me up when she said I may be damaging my chances to achieve this in the future. So like that another trigger went off in my head and I decided I would start eating again. I focused on calories for many years after that doctor’s appointment but I never starved myself again. So my OCD again mutated back into its old self and I was back to being afraid of witches, blue stations wagons, hell, the devil, evil germs…. You get the picture. I stopped watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” because that would cause me to begin my shower ritual which was already taking up to 3-5 hours of my day. Anytime I heard the word hell, demon, devil, or witch on TV I instantly took a shower. I was back to where I was.
Growing up Crazy?
I ended up commuting to college because quite frankly I wouldn’t have functioned at all in a dorm room. I continued to complete my shower rituals and my purging rituals (throwing anything away that may have been touched by evil) but I started some new ones. My new ritual involved college assignments. I now had to start studying for a test five days prior to the test and I had to go over the material three times each until I had the material memorized. If I screwed up once I would go back over the material three more times until I memorized the material perfectly. I did this for five night prior to each and every test in college. I must say my OCD helped me maintain a perfect 4.0 throughout college, and gained me access to the honors program in college. I graduated magnum cum laude and ranked second in my class.
When I finally moved into my own house with my first love, yes the one from high school, I thought I would finally be in a safe non-contaminated brand new home but the rituals continued except they got worse. I was now making my fiancé take showers when I felt he was contaminated. I spent 95% of my time locked in the bedroom hoping that the remote wouldn’t fall on the ground because that would cause me to wipe it off with Clorox wipes and I would be forced to clean the entire bedroom plus complete my shower ritual. So now I was adding cleaning the entire house with Clorox wipes, and I added that nothing could touch the ground or it was filthy and everything that it may have touched needed washed, including me. I was losing hours in the day cleaning things that may have touched something that I believed was contaminated, my poor fiancé’s skin was now red and raw like mine. He was miserable and I was reaching my breaking point. At one point I was getting ready to go to work and I dropped my keys on the floor and I had to call of work because I had to figure out a way to clean the key, and anything it touched. Then I had to take a shower, and there was no way I was going to make it work on time. As our wedding date approached (yes he still wanted to marry me, crazy and all) I decided it was time to get help.
Dawning of A New Day
Where There is A Will There is A Way
I chose a therapist that was over an hour and half away because I still feared seeing Sarah or her trench coat wearing boyfriend in the area I lived, yes I was still afraid eight years later. I began seeing her and she was the first person other than my mother and my fiancé that I spoke to about all of the things going on in my mind. I knew what I thought was crazy. I had known it the whole time, but I needed to do the things I did in order to keep everyone and myself safe. I had to keep us pure and untainted. I was placed on 20mg of Prozac which eventually rose to 60mg. I also complete cognitive behavior therapy. Throughout the therapy I had to force myself to do things I didn’t want to do. Things that would cause me to being my cleaning rituals. I had become so bad that just a step outside caused the rituals, or a wrong step inside could cause a start to the cleaning rituals. I remember one of my first assignments… I was instructed to place a single finger on the outside of my car door and I was not allowed to take a shower or wash anything afterwards. Now you need to remember just simply touching something that I believe contaminated would set me off, and going outside of the house always caused the need for showering and washing. So this simple homework assignment was a big deal. You would have thought someone asked me to run through a burning fire in my bare feet with gasoline strapped to my back, all while dragging a 200 pound weight. Touching my car with my finger and not washing afterwards would be just as bad as getting stabbed. In fact at that moment I would have chosen the stabbing instead of the finger poking of the car. However, I did it and I didn’t’ wash. That night was terrible. I rocked in a little ball on my bed, just thinking about washing, but I didn’t. My next assignment was to place my whole hand on the car, the same anxiety and dread went through my body but I did it. Then I had to sit in my car without washing. This all escalated to going into a grocery store and coming home and not showering! I know…. I know…. it sounds like a simple task but to me you were asking me to go into enemy territory, unarmed, with a giant target on my back. However, I did it. I slowly continued working through my homework assignments while being paired with medication and started functioning again. Now in 2014 I can happily say I have my OCD under control. There are still times when I find my anxiety creeping back but now I have the tools to stop it. Before the anxiety gets too big, I face it and force myself to do whatever bothered me. NO MORE RITUALS!!!! In fact, I spent so much of my life hiding in the confines of my shower and house that I now take every opportunity to do things. I try to live my life to the fullest. I travel around the world, I have went bungee jumping, and sky diving. I find myself making up for eight years of my life that I lost sitting in a shower with a bar of soap.
So in closing, OCD is not an easy thing to deal with. In fact it’s the hardest thing I have gone through in my life. But for anyone out there that is suffering there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you are willing to get help. Make an appointment with a therapist and possibly be placed on some medication. It is nothing to be ashamed of. There are a lot of people like us out there, you just have to be brave enough to ask for help. Take back your life. It will be hard and you will have do a lot of things you don’t want to do but it is completely worth it. I’m living proof. We all deserve to truly live our lives!