Not long ago, I saw a Facebook quiz entitled “how OCD are you?” Many of my FB friends posted their results with reactions like “HAHA! SO not surprising!” I got upset at people making light of a serious mental illness, but I told myself to calm down because I don’t want to be one of those people who are offended by every little thing these days. THOSE people drive me nuts, and I certainly didn’t want to be one of them…so I went on with my life and never said a word. But I realized since then that some things are worth speaking up about. Some things are worth bringing to the light because nobody talks about them. Some things remain a mystery simply because nobody shares the truth or bothers to educate those who operate under constant misperceptions. So instead of being upset with the people who joke about OCD, I decided to write this piece in the hopes of educating them. OCD isn’t funny. It’s not a cute, quirky little thing that makes me a neat freak or causes what’s-his-face to carry hand sanitizer everywhere he goes. OCD is a prison for those who are afflicted, and I want to share a glimpse into my personal prison to show you how very serious this illness can be.
I was diagnosed with OCD shortly after my daughter was born, though my doctor believed I had struggled with the illness long before being diagnosed. I also suffered from postpartum depression at the time, and it was very difficult for me to cope with even the simplest everyday tasks. I was living in a new city where I knew no one, I had just been laid off from my job, and I was raising my first child while my then-husband worked 50+ hours a week and my entire family lived over 300 miles away. It was a desperate situation, but with the help of therapy, a regiment of mediation and the support of my family and friends, I was able to cope with life for the next several years. In 2013 I found my church and gave my life to the lord. Shortly thereafter, I felt a breakthrough in my mental state. Everything just felt better, and I learned to pray through anything and release my worries to God. I read Philippians 4:6-7 daily and eventually I was delivered. My anxiety and OCD behaviors and thoughts melted away. I was still meticulous and organized, but I had control over it. I was able to stop taking medication and function “normally.” I praised God for the miracle he worked in my life.
Fast forward to 2015. Earlier this year I began to notice that my thoughts and behaviors suddenly felt beyond my control. I found myself scrubbing the same tile on my kitchen floor for 25 minutes. I realized that I had wiped the same counter 8 times, yet I felt compelled to go back over it once more. I sat at my vanity applying mascara and was unable to leave until each eyelash was separated from the ones next to it. I wiped it off and started over four times. My thoughts were consumed with fears of people not loving me, taking advantage of me or betraying my trust. I convinced myself that the man I was seeing was a womanizer and a professional con artist who was simply trying to hurt and exploit me. I questioned the motives of my friends and family when they tried to do nice things for me. When my thoughts became obsessive, my behaviors would turn compulsive as a coping mechanism. The counter-wiping or eyelash-separating would begin because the behavior would help refocus my mind and give me the illusion of having some kind of control…but the minute I stopped wiping or separating, the thoughts would come back. As my illness worsened, I isolated myself for two reasons. First, I trusted no one and I considered the chances of betrayal to be slim if I spent more time alone. Second, I knew my OCD was back and didn’t want to burden anyone I loved. It’s really difficult to understand and cope with my own mental illness, so I constantly wonder how I can expect anyone else to understand it or want to deal with it. I made the mistake of isolating myself before and I said I would never do it again, yet there I was.
Another unfortunate manifestation of my OCD is an eating disorder. For someone who is paid to get on a stage and motivate others to live a healthy and active life, this is a very difficult thing for me to admit publicly. At first I would count obsessively. I tracked my macros daily and went to bed feeling like a complete failure if I missed my target. I would promise to make up for it the next day, and then I would restrict myself until I felt adequately “punished.” I would be extremely particular about the foods I would allow myself to eat and the times at which I could eat them. If something was considered “bad,”
I would eat it secretly so no one else would know and I wouldn’t feel the shame. I increased the frequency and intensity of my workouts to the point of injury, and then being sidelined just made me feel worse and caused the cycle repeat itself. I lost too much weight, then gained it all back (and then some) because I started to binge. Once again, my outward behavior gave the illusion of having supreme control and enviable willpower, but the reality is that I was completely out of control. I felt depressed, ashamed and lonely because I had intentionally pushed people away so they wouldn’t know what was happening. I hated myself and my “weakness” and would stop at nothing to hide it. I considered myself a fraud for encouraging others to be healthy when I was being anything but kind to my own body. I berated myself for having weak faith and said that if I truly trusted God, I wouldn’t even consider going back on my medication. Then one day I got in the car and every time I needed to hit the brake at a stop sign or red light, I wanted to slam my foot on the gas pedal. That’s the day I knew that I needed to get help before it was too late. I decided to confide in a very small group of people who were as reassuring, understanding and positive as I prayed that they would be. They encouraged me to get help and they didn’t judge me. They checked in and offered to keep me accountable. These people helped save my life.
I’m not “fixed” or even “normal.” You see, it’s not that simple with a mental illness. I am in recovery, and I know that my recovery will be an ongoing process that will require me to be honest and lean on my loved ones and stop hiding in shame. If there is anything you take away from my story, please let it be that. You cannot do it alone, nor should you have to. Recovery requires transparency, support, determination and planning. Every day before I even get up, I have to consciously think a positive thought such as “I will trust people today,” or “I will not be overwhelmed by my thoughts today.” I read specific scriptures that help me surrender this burden to God and enjoy the freedom that comes with doing so. Here are a couple of my favorites:
I hope that in sharing this very personal piece of my life, I have given a face to the disorder that is so often the subject of jokes, Facebook quizzes and Instagram memes. I hope I have helped you see that there is a difference between liking things neat and being unable to control your obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. Most of all, I hope that someone else who is struggling with OCD or any mental illness knows that he or she is not alone, is not crazy, is not weak, and WILL get through this. If I can help by listening, talking, trading stories or praying for you, I invite you to share as little or as much as you feel comfortable doing. My personal e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.