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.
I remember when it began.
I was nine years old. A puberty book warned me that if I or a friend ever considered suicide, we should tell an adult. I had never thought of myself in relation to death before.
That night I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of jumping from the ninth-story window plagued my dreams. Over the next six months, I called my mother into my bedroom nearly every night. I did not fall asleep facing the window again until I was nearly sixteen years old.
Everything that was once safe morphed. Cooking with my mother became running away from the sharp knives in the kitchen. Young adult novels, advanced ones I was so proud of reading, became increasingly violent; murder was always the focal point, but I couldn’t stop reading.
I began praying. I was overcome with the fear that God was convinced my Judaism was a façade. My mantra was: never ever – to suicide, to turning my back on my religion, or to being anything other than who I thought I was.
In middle school, I was placed in the advanced classes. My parents began speculating about colleges. I felt like a fraud. At least three times during each class, I would stop listening in order to push my thoughts away. By this point, the fears had manifested themselves into something just short of a hallucination; I knew it was not real, but my brain could not help but envision knives from my kitchen flying around my classmates’ heads. My brain was convinced it was my fault. I imagined trapping these thoughts in a box and pushing the thought-filled box out of my ear. I was criticized for being spacey, but I was more alert in those moments than at any other time.
I purposefully pushed my parents’ buttons. I fought irrational fights and constantly put myself down. I hoped that at some point they’d give up and insist that I see a therapist.
It’s worth noting that at many points I was quite happy with my life. Entering high school, I had a solid group of friends and a secure spot on the tennis team. However, as I acknowledged my happiness, I began to feel guilty that I had lived a such a privileged life. As my mantra changed to one of gratitude, my intrusive thoughts transformed. Rather than threaten my own life, the thoughts decided that they would threaten the things and people I held closest to my heart.
The thoughts of knives became inescapable. One morning, my parents told me that I had woken them during the night in a panic. I had no memory of it. For the next month, all I could picture was my hand reaching for the knives in our kitchen. I had never felt so out of control.
After that, nothing was the same. My disorder had acquired a taste for power. Suicide was no longer an issue; after five years, I could say the word again. It had been replaced by a new fear: homicide.
I stopped trying to get forced into therapy. Now, I was convinced, if anyone found out about my intrusive thoughts, I’d be sent to jail. With violence, coincidentally on the rise in my hometown, I began to wonder: is this how a murderer thinks? Is this what that inexplicable, ugly, horrible thought is? I vowed that I would never hurt a person, that I would rather die than do that.
Compulsions took over.
My prayers took form, and to this day the wording is sound. If I miss a word or a rhythm, I must begin again.
I could not concentrate or sit still in class. Once again, a perceived noise in my head took precedence – I knew it was not real, but that only made it more distracting. Out of nowhere, I would feel the urge to scream, and I would have to look around to make sure I hadn’t done so. I unconsciously wiped my hands of nonexistent knives on tables. I filed and cut my nails every day so they could never be sharp or hurtful. I often pinched myself to check that I was awake. I ate only certain foods, scared that if I branched out my body would rebel against me.
While I had not been athletic as a child, sports took a precedence in my life, mainly because it was one of the only times I felt in control.
I don’t remember what my parents and I fought about, but I remember us fighting constantly through high school. I remember walking towards a building one morning and collapsing on a New York City street in tears. I was convinced that my mother had been hurt by my words and would never forgive me. I called her in hysterics, guilt seeping out of me. She did not even remember our earlier conversation, and told me to go or I’d be late for school.
Another time, a friend of mine joked about my being late. I told him the truth: that my father had been in surgery that morning. That comment made me more anxious than my father’s situation. I was sure that my friend was irreparably hurt. All I could utter were blubbered apologies.
Today, I’m lucky to have found help, to have been put on medication, and to have been in therapy. I’m lucky to have been formally diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and I’m lucky to have been educated in what that means.
Nevertheless, sometimes all my brain remembers is my disorder.
Carolyn Silverstein is a New York native currently attending Dartmouth College. She was diagnosed with OCD at age seventeen, and hopes to use writing as a platform to share her experiences.