Hannah Zidansek, author of today’s guest blog, was this year’s OCD Awareness Week Video Contest winner. Her video received over 200 votes throughout the week and is a great example of using humor to raise awareness about OCD. Here, Hannah shares a story about how OCD went from stopping her from enjoying holiday time with friends and family to being the event that finally pushed her to make a bold decision to confront her fears and find cause for celebration instead.
Thanksgiving is a notably triggering time for my OCD. For the most part, my disorder revolves around contamination related fears. Thanksgiving Day represents just that.
This is likely is due to a childhood memory I have of my mother coming down with the flu during a Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt’s house. My mind then consequently associated this holiday with the start of flu and illness season. OCD declared the grand feast of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans to be the day of highest contamination probability. And I believed it.
From ages 15–19, I spent Thanksgiving alone. I was fear-driven to seclusion in my home. I chose not participate in the celebratory festivities I had once looked forward to in years prior. I avoided my family out of fear of contamination. I was riddled with anxiety and intrusive thoughts and found it too overwhelming to confront. Avoiding was easier. If I avoided the situation, I would not have to face the distress. I would not have to suffer from the relentless worries, and I would not have to ritualize. I would not have to be kissed on the cheeks by the disease-infested mouths of the people I love. I would not have to spend quality time with my cousins and exchange laughter for airborne ailments. I would not have to eat contaminated food that family members had spent hours preparing for us to enjoy together. I would not have to hug my family members and express my love to the most valuable people in my life. I would not have to come into contact with germs. I would not have to feel afraid. It was the perfect solution to the problem.
My relatives stopped asking me if I was joining them for Thanksgiving after the third year into my self-isolation from family functions. My avoidance of Thanksgiving eventually evolved into the avoidance of all family events away from home. My absence was accepted and became the norm. I saw my family in small doses here and there when they came to me, and if they could not come to me then I simply did not see them. I went five years without seeing my grandmother who passed away before I was ever able to see her again.
But at least I wasn’t suffering. Right?
And that’s what is so insidious about OCD. I thought I was avoiding the suffering, but the suffering is unavoidable. No matter what, you are going to suffer. But you have the power to choose which way you will suffer. You can choose to suffer through the anxiety and the obsessive thoughts and worries in the name of your desires. Or you can choose to be consumed by your OCD and suffer on much deeper levels than being afraid.
Before my niece was born a little over three years ago, I vowed that I would be physically present in her life and in the lives of the people who matter to me. I decided to stop settling for my OCD. I decided to become an advocate for my life and my desires instead of constantly advocating for my fears and my OCD’s desires. I decided to become even more merciless than my notoriously merciless disease.
And I could not have foreseen how rewarding the payoff would be.
I’m still afraid. My OCD is still an everyday presence in my life. I still struggle, but I am living. I have spent the past three Thanksgivings and Christmases with my family. In the past, I spent Thanksgiving being thankful that I was avoiding contamination, embracing my OCD as if it was my keeper of safety. Now I spend it embracing my loved ones, as contaminated as they may be. I may be risking contamination by breathing in their germ-polluted breath and eating their questionable food, but I no longer spend it alone.
OCD is motivated by fear. And one of every human being’s greatest desires is to avoid their fears. I still have the desire to avoid my fears, but I have a greater desire to be with my loved ones. A momentary yield to OCD gives it the power to eat you alive. I have been there. I have been eaten alive. But, alas, OCD is the whale, while I am Jonah.
Here’s to my fourth isolation-free Thanksgiving.
Thank you to my incredibly supportive, spectacular family. I am thankful for you this day and every day.
If you’re a friend or family member looking for more information or wondering what you can do to help a loved one with OCD, visit our website here for more information, including a list of online resources, support groups, guidelines for family members, and more.