Looking back, I was surprised I’d survived at all. The summer after third grade I wouldn’t eat because I was too anxious. In fourth grade, I spent one hundred and twenty arduous days eating only dried cereal for lunch. In sixth grade, I wouldn’t even eat at school. In seventh grade, I was afraid to go to school and needed my mom to stand outside the classroom. By eighth grade, just thinking about being at school made me so nervous that when I went, I always wore my hood up.
No one seemed to be able to help me, although they tried to lend support by rationalizing my thoughts. “Everyone feels anxious at times”, they would say. “It’s normal to feel frustrated at times. Maybe it’s shyness? Maybe it’s moodiness? Maybe it’s puberty? Maybe it’s stress? Maybe it’s just a teenage stage? Maybe it will be over soon?”
These words did nothing to ease my anxiety. However, in ninth grade, the anxiety finally dissipated. I felt great! I had a new school, new friends, new environment, new me. Life was good! I joined the student council. I got top grades effortlessly. I was carefree and felt like nothing could stop me. And nothing did, until after spring break, when my anxiety suddenly returned.
In English class, my mind never quieted down. In Geometry, I would constantly feel worried but often not know why. In Biology, I worried about threats to my own safety, my friends’ and family’s safety, or the safety of others. My world began to shrink. In order to calm down at home, I had to perform certain acts, like click the light switch five times, or take the stairs two at a time, or tap my fork twice. But I had no idea why. I felt lost and alone. I was anxious and frustrated.
It got so bad that my anxiety would cause me to visibly shake at just the thought of having to leave my mom. When I started having difficulty simply leaving my house without crying, I knew I had to try something new. It terrified me, but after many weeks I finally got up the courage to talk to the social worker at my high school about an anxiety group she was starting.
It was hard to describe to her what I was feeling. Not only was it difficult to articulate my feelings of anxiety, it was also hard to share these emotions with someone I didn’t really know. I remember her being very practical and making me feel like I wasn’t abnormal. She talked with me about anxiety and OCD. She put a name to what I was feeling. She even shared with me about how she overcame her personal fears by learning to retrain her mind. I never would have imagined that she had also suffered from unwanted thoughts just like me.
During one of my panics, I came to see her. She decided we would work together to laminate notecards with different phrases on them that I could carry with me and look at whenever I felt panicked. They were positive statements to make me realize that I had control. Things like: “I can talk to Mom”; “I can talk to Dad.” She also told me that jokes sometimes help calm people down. “What did the zero say to the eight?” she asked. I had heard the joke before, but was too busy concentrating on my anxiety to care. “Nice belt!” she smiled, and added that one to the pile as well.
I still have those notecards today. They are stashed on a shelf that holds all of the items I had used to manage my OCD during that time: the notecards, the juggling ball to squeeze if I felt anxious, the mittens. Seeing them reminds me that I can separate my life into pre-OCD, OCD, and post-OCD, where I am right now. Although there are still little bits and pieces of insignificant rituals that I have to perform — those that would’ve taken me at least 20, 30, or even 40 minutes to complete — now only take seconds. I still have challenges, but I also have new coping skills.
When I think about how lost I felt back then, I realize that I can also see how far I’ve come. No matter how much I despised going through my OCD struggles, I think it made me a stronger, more empathetic person. It helped me realize that there are a lot of people just like me, and that I want to help them, just like the school social worker helped me.
I have worked really hard over the last two years to conquer my OCD. I have also begun to see beyond myself and realize that I can make a difference in the world. I want to help others who have OCD as well as help to educate those who don’t know about this disorder. In order to do this, I came up with the idea to put together a book called OCD to Me: An Anthology of Anxieties. OCD is a short acronym for something that is so broad and affects so many, and I want to provide a platform for people’s unique stories to be heard. I believe that if people could read a collection of first-hand accounts, and understand how diverse as well as debilitating OCD can be, then maybe we can change the image of OCD, and the belief that mental illness only affects certain kinds of people — because it affects all of us, at one point or another, directly or indirectly. I never want anyone else to have to feel isolated like I did.
This is the story I have shared with you and I invite all of you to help me create OCD to Me: An Anthology of Anxieties by sharing your story. All you have to do is answer the four-question anonymous survey I created by visiting the link below. You may choose to include your name or to remain anonymous. I will then edit the responses for clarity and publish them in the book. By capturing each person’s experience with OCD, this book will give hope to those who struggle as well as inform and educate those who want to learn more.
I also believe fundraising for the International OCD Organization (IOCDF) is a perfect way to start changing misconceptions about OCD. All proceeds from the sale of OCD to Me: An Anthology of Anxieties will be donated to the IOCDF in order to help to broaden awareness and provide support to the OCD and related disorders community. Let’s find our way. Together.
Find the survey here: www.surveymonkey.com/r/8XK6SBC
P.S. Here are a few fun facts regarding my survey:
- It is for a really great cause — remember, just a few minutes of your time will support IOCDF and help others who have OCD as well as those who want to learn more about OCD!
- It takes on average 6 minutes to complete the survey — that is how long it takes to get a cup of good coffee!
- The survey is completely anonymous!
- We need a minimum of 50 responses to make the book, so if we got five people to complete the survey every day it would take less than ten days to complete!
Ryan is a 17-year-old high school student.