This story is part of our blog series called “Stories from the OCD Community.” Stories from the community are submitted and edited by Toni Palombi. If you are interested in sharing your story you can view submission details at www.iocdf.org/ocd-stories.
When I was a child, I struggled daily. I experienced intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and depression. I had an irrational fear of glass ketchup bottles, believing they would attack or poison me. I counted numbers and added/subtracted them obsessively on clocks and license plates to calm myself down but it never worked; it only made the compulsion stronger.
I have struggled with different forms of self-harm since seventh grade, including cutting, scratching, and hair pulling. The self-harm was a response to the intense feelings and emotions that I could not control or express. One time, I overdosed on medication as I desperately wanted to stop my thoughts; of course, this did not help at all.
As I became older, everything became worse.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). I was accepted into the McLean Hospital OCD unit where I stayed for three months. I engaged in exposure therapy to deal with irrational fears, health anxiety, intrusive and obsessive thoughts, as well as suicidal obsessions.
The therapy required me to confront my fears. For example, to deal with my fear of ketchup bottles, I had to carry one with me all the time. This experience helped me to sit with the anxiety. To deal with the suicidal fear, part of my therapy involved telling myself that I would kill myself with pills (even though of course I would never do that). The therapy helped me to tolerate the intense emotions and scary thoughts so I could then engage in another activity.
Exposure therapy was also used to treat the BDD. I could not cut my hair knowing that each strand would be uneven. My counsellor came with me to a hair salon so I could sit through a haircut. At first, I cried. But eventually the thoughts racing through my mind became more tolerable.
In 2015, I returned to hospital for another three months. This experience saved my life.
Life continues to have ups and downs. I still struggle against self-harm thoughts and OCD behaviors and compulsions on most days. However, now I have a strategy to manage the struggles.
I have learned a lot about OCD and different types of effective therapy. I have even given a lecture at an annual OCD conference about the specific skills which have helped me to manage OCD and BDD, such as mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance skills.
Because of my struggles, I know my strengths. I have a semicolon tattoo on the back of my neck – this represents that my story isn’t over yet.
I truly enjoy sharing my story because it helps my recovery. Also, by sharing our stories we may be able to help others. Although I still struggle, I can now hold down a full-time job as a preschool teacher, care for my own apartment, and make positive changes to my mental health and well-being.
Jessica Bishop lives in Massachusetts where she works as a preschool teacher. In the future, she would like to become an expressive art therapist to help others who struggle with mental illness.