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.
Read Katie’s inspiring story of how she has suffered from OCD her whole life and is using her experiences to advocate for those suffering from mental illness.
Worries – that is what my family called the thoughts in my head.
In elementary school, I worried that if I didn’t touch objects in a particular order or offer complete honesty, catastrophe would ensue. I confessed the tiniest moral imperfections, receiving reassurance that I was a good person. But in third grade, I experienced my first true spiral after the death of my aunt to cancer, which I believed was my fault from accidentally kicking one of her medical devices on a road trip.
My thoughts began focusing on death and harm, as I believed that I was a dangerous individual, despite the evidence school citizenship awards provided to the contrary. Even after seeking therapy, I did not experience any relief, as I was simply an 8-year-old pretending to “get better” so that the practitioner would feel like he was skilled in his job.
Throughout middle and high school, I coped with my constantly changing obsessions by demanding perfection of myself in the classroom while simultaneously allowing abuse in romantic relationships under the internal assumption that I was flawed and immoral.
This theme continued into college, where I was competing as a student-athlete and leading honors societies in my Religious Studies and Human Services majors. And yet, I spent most of my time alone checking the oven, stove, and locks for hours on end to prevent a fire or the entrance of an intruder.
After completing this process, I would pray nothing catastrophic would happen, lay down in bed, and nervously repeat the process for hours.
Maintaining a Facade of Perfection
I was skilled at keeping my compulsions hidden to maintain the facade of perfection. And while my studies in human services alerted me that I might have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I chose to ignore my self-diagnosis. At the time, I was applying for a master’s degree in theology and completing psychological reviews for ordination. I was fearful that a diagnosis would end my career in ministry, so I lied on every psychological evaluation, which increased feelings of guilt and shame.
As I moved through my graduate degree and pursued ordination, my facade of outward academic perfection continued, but my inward sense of self-worth rapidly declined. I was living in an apartment on my own and spent some nights with little sleep due to my checking compulsions…along with additional door and parking-lot checks around the building.
I also began to worry that my school or church would burn down from candles, so I spent hours taking hyper-responsibility by walking back to school or driving back to church to make sure no hazards were present while simultaneously taking pictures on my phone to check later. I knew on some level this was completely illogical, but the compulsions offered temporary relief and a false feeling of certainty.
OCD Takes Hold
When I finally began my first role in ministry, my OCD exploded, latching onto everything significant to me. I spent each night obsessing that I had called someone a derogatory name, shouted obscenities, touched someone inappropriately, kicked a child on crutches, or written something nasty on a birthday card before blocking it out. I spent my nights ruminating to prepare for a call from the police and my days carefully taking pictures of actions to check later.
Eventually, I became utterly convinced that I had cheated on my spouse with an individual during a pastoral meeting and murdered a dear friend who passed in real life to suicide.
Both instances began with very small obsessions but grew in detail over months. The thousands of hours spent checking my memory, bank statements, phone records, step data on my phone/watch, emails, traffic patterns, and city cameras to find relief only exacerbated the obsessions.
Eventually, all of my ruminating and checking created a detailed pile of junk mail in my brain that seemed absolutely real. On the outside, I was a compassionate minister caring for thousands of people. On the inside, I was convinced I was secretly an adulterous murderer, almost confessing to the authorities on multiple occasions.
Feelings of joy during experiences with family and grief for losing a friend were replaced by irrational feelings of guilt, fear, and anxiety.
I only chose to continue living because I knew how much taking my life would hurt those I love…not because I actually felt like I deserved to be alive. And yet, OCD treatment (like ERP, ACT, and medication) and support networks saved my life, giving me the opportunity to begin to love and trust myself once again.
Yes, I wish I did not have OCD, but I am thankful for the opportunity to use my role as a religious leader to advocate for those experiencing mental illness. I truly believe that with evidence-based treatment, each individual diagnosed with OCD can live a compassionate, creative, and joyful life.