OCD: A Lifelong Struggle

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of unwanted and intrusive thoughts. These thoughts trigger distressing feelings and causes the person to feel driven to engage in repetitive behavior, compulsions.

After 22 years of struggling with OCD, Mike has finally found a light at the end of the tunnel. Read his story below.

OCD Symptoms Began In Middle School

At the end of my sixth-grade year, I was anxiously awaiting my introduction to Junior High. I was leaving a one floor grade school and needed to get accustomed to the 6-story middle school where all local elementary schools converged. This would mean meeting people I’d never met, experiencing different walks of life and engaging in my required studies.

After starting seventh grade, as I was walking down the hallways and noticed what appeared to be gang graffiti drawn on and etched into lockers, I noticed some rougher individuals who claimed to be in gangs who were expressing gang hand signals and sporting their respective gang colors.

Noticing this, which was foreign to me, generated a great deal of increasing fear which was exaggerated by hormonal changes. As time grew on, I became more and more afraid of these claimed “gang members” in my school. I walked softly around them, tried to avoid them and began to obsess about how they were possibly going to do me harm.

To compound matters further, I soon began to believe that imminent harm was going to come to me. The fear was so incredibly real, although no one had threatened me or attempted to approach me. Before long I was terrified at the possibility that I could have said something that could have offended them, made an inadvertent gesture that may have ruffled their feathers, or thought that they could possibly read my thoughts.

This led to crying spells, insatiable reassurance seeking, distraction from my studies, vain attempts to explain what was happening, leaving school early to seek safety at home just to be greeted by more intrusive and distressing thoughts which would not subside.

OCD Diagnosis

I knew something was happening, but I had no idea what that something was.

This was not something that my peers had to struggle with. No one could put the pieces together. This led to my admission to a children’s hospital for a week-long stay fitted with a battery of diagnostic tests and consultation with psychiatrists.

During that week, a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was made. I wasn’t shocked and my parents weren’t either. My grandfather had OCD as did his mother, but their manifestations of the disorder differed so much from mine. They had more classic contamination OCD, and contamination concerns were nowhere on my spectrum of concerns.

So many other patients don’t come to such a direct diagnosis. It normally takes a fair amount of time for a correct diagnosis to be made. I was fortunate and blessed to have an abrupt diagnosis to make sense out of what was happening.

During the course after my discharge from the hospital I was tried on several different medications to mostly no avail. I spent time going from therapist to therapist, taking different medications and still maintained my compulsive behaviors.

During my mid to late adolescence the disorder did its usual waxing and waning with large spans of being asymptomatic, until I reached my later twenties when the disorder grew much more entrenched and increased in severity. Jobs became increasingly difficult and the disorder forced me to change career paths and quit jobs.

ERP Breakthrough

It wasn’t until I was 35 years old that I had to make a critical choice to take my life back no matter the cost. I sought out Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and committed to treatment which changed everything. My ERP therapist spoke with my psychiatrist who made positive medication changes to work in conjunction with ERP. I never imagined being free after 22 years of losing to this disorder.