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 Jennifer’s story of OCD and how she climbed out of a downward spiral and came out on the other side.
As a child, I started with typical OCD, which consisted of washing my hands, checking if the hair dryer was unplugged or curling iron turned off before I left the house. My main OCD throughout my life has been not being able to touch family members or anything they have touched.
OCD prevented me from flying home for the weekends for holidays, birthdays, or visiting any family at all. I couldn’t hug my family. My parents had to visit me, but that came with its own struggles. They stayed in my house, so everything they touched was deemed contaminated. I would wash the couch where they sat every day, the remote controls, the door handles, and the floor that they walked on. Any clothes or shoes I wore around them had to be stored away in cabinets and drawers. I functioned this way for more than 25 years of my life. Over time, I couldn’t touch over 150 items in my house and couldn’t enter four rooms.
It Must Be My Fault
The last face-to-face conversation I had with my mom was about OCD. She was crying and telling me she wanted to hug me. She was hysterical and taking it personally. “Obviously, it’s something I did. I must be the worst parent ever. Are you ever going to come to Chicago to see us? It must be my fault.” I was crushed. I, too, wanted to hug her so badly. I felt guilty for having a mental illness and making my mom feel bad about herself. I responded, “Of course I want to hug you, but the urge and fear is too great.” Two weeks later, she unexpectedly died.
OCD has robbed me of so much of my life—but it didn’t end there. It almost took my life in August when it wrapped around food and medicine. I started judging what was going into my body and perceiving it as harmful. It became a quick downward spiral from there. Within four weeks, I couldn’t eat, drink, or take medicine. I lost 35 pounds, and I could feel my insides eating away. I was dying. I was in so much physical and mental pain. I was starving but too afraid to eat; thirsty, but could not drink. I was ruminating for hours on end. I literally was trapped in my own mind. I knew my thoughts didn’t make sense or seem logical, but when presented with the urges, the anxiety and fear is so powerful it overrides logic.
Finding Treatment for OCD
I found a treatment center for OCD in August. When I walked in the door, I couldn’t touch anyone, anything, sit anywhere, eat anything, drink anything, or take meds. It was an uphill battle.
The first day was hell. So was the second and third day and the next two months. You feel like there is no end to the fear and pain in sight. I was flooded, so my exposures were 24/7 every single day. I felt like I couldn’t continue with the constant anxiety. I was living my days either with anticipatory anxiety or anxiety. No breaks. With blind faith and a will to live, I kept going. The treatment team convinced me that ERP worked. I didn’t believe them, but what did I have to lose? My motto each day was, I’d rather go through hell fighting OCD then live in hell with it.
How did I get through the treatment? Commitment to the process and radical acceptance. Today, after over 700 hours of therapy, I wash my hands just as little as anyone else, wear clothes and shoes I couldn’t wear for years, and I live in the present moment. I now can walk anywhere in my house and touch anything I want to without OCD crippling me. I hug whoever I want. I will not let my OCD take over my family again. I can eat and drink anything without wondering if what I am putting into my body is harmful or controlling my body. I have regulated my body chemistry with the meds that I take.
Not only have I climbed out of the downward spiral I was in, I have become the person I am without OCD. I feel freer than I ever have before. I am not cured, but I consider myself a success story. I wish my mom was here to see it. I would have hugged her so tight and never let go.