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.
It is hard to document a journey I spent over a decade avoiding. The timeline concerning my history with depression is mostly blurry, save for specific dates concerning hospitalizations or medical appointments. Dates are evidence of my darkest hours.
Terrified depression would finally erupt and devour me, I forced myself to see a doctor in my late teens. I rarely saw the same doctor as I had the nasty habit of running from any physician that would diagnose a mental health issue or prescribe medication. I was convinced the medicine would numb my brain and fade the colors of my personality. I wanted to remain myself despite no longer knowing who I was.
I was first hospitalized after battling a depression so heavy that my bones ached. Anxiety was my depression’s menace of choice. Barely twenty, I was terrified that I would break and commit suicide. An important detail to appreciate is: I never wanted to kill myself; rather, I was fearful it was the natural progression of my illness.
I sat in silence as an ambulance drove me to the mental facility. The hospital was loud and some of the staff were aggressive. The food was tasteless. Some patients were confined to their rooms so they would not hurt themselves or others. Group therapy was not optional; I participated along with men and women who also seemed angry and reluctant to be there.
My parents visited, bringing candy and clothes. My sisters and a few friends also visited me. Everyone did a bang-up job pretending they weren’t thoroughly rattled. But I was rattled. Tired and defeated, I was willing to accept that I needed medication. I spent a total of three nights in the hospital and left feeling relieved and committed to taking better care of myself.
After a year, I stopped taking the medication. Therapy was recommended, but I never considered it as an option.
Over the next few years, anxiety continued to plague me. I went on and off medication, which increased my anxiety and depression. Driving along a highway was nerve-wracking as the trucks made me panic. I had to make my bed a certain way every morning otherwise I feared something horrible would happen to my family. It was nothing short of a nightmare and one that affected everyone around me.
Operating with a heightened sense of fear, my brain was overloaded. At one point, I found myself unable to work, eat, or hold conversations.
Despite how I felt on the inside, on the outside, my life appeared to be good. I was 33 with a job and an apartment and was surrounded by people that found me utterly delightful. Yet there I was, sick as I could ever remember. I was terrified I would somehow harm my family. It was a thought that dominated my mind from the second I woke up until I fell asleep. I would hide in my bed and cry, begging for the fog to lift. By this point, I was back on medication, but it was not working.
Two years later, I was hospitalized for the second time. This time I was admitted as an outpatient which meant that I visited the hospital during the day and returned home at night. I had insurance this time and my level of care reflected that fact. The facility was clean, warm, and bright. It was situated inside a major hospital; it made me feel safe.
With this second hospitalization, it became crystal clear that my mental health would never change unless I was proactive. Because I was so ill, I was ready to try anything, even the therapy. My participation in therapy, both group and individual, made a huge difference. I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a diagnosis that surprised me, but upon investigation, made perfect sense.
The day I was diagnosed with OCD was actually one of my better days. I confronted the monster that tormented me, enabling me to begin working towards a healthier self. After a week as an outpatient, I was discharged. I felt substantially better. This time, I did not disappear from my therapist or discontinue my medication. I followed up weekly with my therapist; I continue to see him to this day, only now on a monthly basis.
I have now been off medication for more than a year as per my physician’s recommendation. I work hard at my therapy. I rarely panic, save for a few episodes, but even when I do, the panic is more about trying to find the root cause of my pain.
Now that I am aware of my OCD, I am a fearless and strong advocate for mental health; I am willing to lend my voice to anyone that may benefit. I have stopped avoiding and started living my life. I find myself marveling at the tiniest moments of beauty as if viewing the world for the first time. It is remarkable, this change. Remarkable.
Help is out there. Despite the pain, rage, and loneliness, there is a light to be found.
I am a very smart, compassionate, and incredibly funny woman. I am the face of mental health.
Patricia Doody is a 37-year-old Chicago resident currently working in the human resource department of a nonprofit organization. Patricia uses her creativity to help dull the stigma surrounding mental health and advocates awareness through encouragement and support.