I always knew I was different. I was a sensitive child. Some of my first memories consist of coming home from school and thinking about my day and all of the things I had done badly, incorrectly, or the ways in which I had failed to be the daughter my parents would love. As a result, every day without fail I would get a huge knot in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. The only way I figured out to make it stop was to accost my father as he came in the door from work and to blurt out to him all the things I had done during the day that were wrong, and then to ask for his forgiveness. I was 5. The pattern lasted for years.
I remember being a pre-teen. My mind was full of thoughts, most of which I was sure would damn me to hell. I prayed. I repeated my prayer each night, in the same order, the same number of times. My prayer saved me. My prayer protected my family from imminent harm.
My mother got sick. She went to the hospital and I was a mess. All I could think of was to write down all the things that happened each day and to recite them back to my mother when I was allowed to talk to her in the evenings. I remember with clarity writing “my brother threw a dirty sock at me.” I knew my lists were trivial and that my mother didn’t know what to do with my confessions but the pattern continued.
I didn’t like my parents. My father was a strict disciplinarian. Each second of my life was controlled. I was a puppet in my parent’s puppet show. I longed for control and eventually found it by cutting. By my teen years the battle in my head was raging on. I could not voice the things in my head for fear of rejection or condemnation, so to make my mental pain subside I would find razor blades or anything sharp and would cut to make the pain physical. Physical pain was much more feasible to me.
I was a troubled teen. I was living in my head. I started counting things. I started not stepping on cracks. I thought these were just “things people did” but soon my behaviors progressed. I met my first boyfriend and he was the personification of everything that was not my father, everything that I wanted to get away from. I liked him for accepting me as I was. My parents did not know about my boyfriend. All of a sudden I found myself having the thought that my boyfriend was “good” and my Dad was “bad.” I could not bear the thought that the good would touch the bad because if that happened the good would become contaminated. I would come home from dates with my boyfriend and before I knew it I was washing my hands every time I touched something my Dad had touched. I lived in daily fear of cross-contamination. I started wiping things down. I started touching things a certain way, I started flicking light switches seven times. Seven became my number. I kept cutting to keep the pain away. I began ordering things, not only in my room, but in my head. I soon became surrounded by contamination and I would do everything in my power to keep my father out of my room…that was the only safe and “clean” place I had left. I tried to gain the control my parents never gave me.
It was time for College. My parents wanted me to go to America. I wanted to stay in Ireland. I ran away. They found me. I left everything and went to America. I knew something was still different about me. I still didn’t have a name for it. In college I studied English. I took my first Psychology class and was hooked. I changed my major and knew I had found what I loved. It was during my Abnormal Psychology class that we read a chapter of our textbook that talked about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Immediately a light bulb went off and I knew this was what I had struggled with for years to give a name. A rush of relief flowed over me, along with the realization that my life was going to be different than I had hoped.
I graduated with my Psychology degree. I met and married my husband and I started going to see a psychiatrist and therapist. I tried several different medications to stop the obsessions and compulsions and finally I found the one that worked for me. I tried many different therapists but did not find the one for me until 10 years later. There are not therapists that specialize in OCD for 500 miles of where I live, and I don’t live in a small town.
My obsessions ebbed and flowed. I struggled with relationship OCD, trying to break up with my fiancé before we got married. I experienced so many different types of OCD over the years that it was difficult to pin down where my OCD would hit me next. Harm OCD, health OCD, religiosity, homosexual OCD, pedophile OCD, checking, contamination, ruminations, intrusive thoughts, magical thinking, symmetry, orderliness, avoidance, I experienced them all.
OCD has stolen a lot from me but it has made me stronger than I could have ever imagined. OCD has made me resilient in ways I would have never perceived. I decided long ago that I would not let this disorder get the best of me. I would fight back; I would not let it win. I wanted to make sure that others like me would not go for such a long time without knowing what it was they were struggling with. I have always known my life had meaning. I have often said that if I could help one person feel less alone in what they are going through, then having this demon called OCD in my life would have been worth it.
Six years ago my husband approached me about sitting down and talking about my OCD. He wanted to record it, to make it a podcast and I adamantly refused. Six years later we are on Episode 130 of Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I could never have imagined the way in which our podcast would profoundly affect me. Before the podcast I knew a single person with OCD. Now I have an army of friends and supporters who I can turn to when the dark days come.
The podcast (iTunes-Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is my story and the stories of others. We are dedicated to spreading the message of what OCD REALLY is and how it affects so many people in so many profound ways. It is only by giving a voice to this disorder that people will become educated and understand why it is one of the top ten most debilitation mental disorders to live with. We don’t have to suffer in silence; we are not alone. I am no longer alone in my struggles and I have OCD to thank for that.
Podcast: iTunes-Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
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