I was fourteen-years-old was when I first realized that my brain didn’t work like everyone else’s. My first moment of realization occurred when I woke up one night convinced that I was dying. It wasn’t long until I was waking up every night worried that I was dying. One night I would think I had popped a lung. The next night I thought I was having a heart attack. I spent multiple nights in the ER. I wore a heart monitor to school. Doctors repeatedly told me that my heart was fine, but I didn’t believe them.
These obsessions grew to affect other areas of my life. If I heard anything relating to death, I would have a full-on panic attack. I had to carry a small brown paper bag around with me in case I started hyperventilating. As things got worse, I started having compulsions. “Turn the TV on and off 3 times. If you don’t, your mom will die.”, my brain would tell me. I stopped going in the kitchen because I had convinced myself that I would pick up the kitchen knife and stab someone. I believed that if I didn’t behave in a certain way, terrible things would come true. I had lost all control over my thoughts and actions.
Most people think having OCD means you’re a little “neat” or like things orderly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. OCD is a debilitating disorder that can manifest itself in thousands of different ways. In my case, I was constantly worried I was going to do something to hurt a loved one. Many people compare OCD to having “thought hiccups” because they replay irrational, intrusive thoughts over and over again in their brain. Most people are able to dismiss these thoughts and recognize them as being irrational. But people with OCD see these thoughts as being reality and our brains will continue to tell us lies to convince us that the irrational thoughts are true.
Recognizing that I had a common mental illness was half of the battle. Once I realized that I wasn’t alone and that there were other people out there like me, a huge weight was lifted of my shoulder. I learned that having a mental illness is common and not something to be ashamed of. I learned that although there is no definite cure for OCD, there are many ways to cope with it.
I was extremely blessed to have two parents who were very supportive and wanted to do anything they could to help me. I went to therapy with my mom for months. When the therapy wasn’t enough, my parents went away with me to a mental rehabilitation facility where I could get the attention I needed. I spent every day going through cognitive behavioral therapy and learning how to cope with my intrusive thoughts. Doctors prescribed medication that helped with the serotonin imbalance in my brain. I’m so grateful to have two parents who were willing to do anything to help relieve my anxiety and help me cope with the intrusive thoughts.
My OCD is something that will never be cured. It will be an ongoing struggle and I’ll be forever learning to “talk back” to that voice inside my head. But I know that I don’t have to fight that battle alone. If my parents had not been so proactive in getting me into therapy and working with me through my OCD, I don’t think I would be alive today.
My support group continues to grow every year, and each year I meet new OCD sufferers who I can understand and help. Although living with OCD is miserable, I’m thankful that I had support so I could get the proper tools that I needed to cope. I want to be that support system to others and reassure sufferers that they don’t ever have to go through mental illness alone. Having OCD has given me the opportunity to share my story with others and learn about ways other people are affected by OCD as well as work to end the stigma around mental illness. If we are able to end the negative stigma around mental illness, we’re able to have more open conversations. By raising more awareness, parents and loved ones may be able to identify the mental illness early on so they can seek out proper treatment. I hope that by having more open, accepting conversations around mental illness, other sufferers are able to receive the support and love they deserve.
Featured Photo Credit: OCD by Airpix on Flickr