By Ashley K.
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 have lived with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression since I was nine years old. As a child, I thought my strange ways of thinking were the norm. I thought everyone became anxious when their stuffed animals weren’t aligned in the “right” way, or when they didn’t have exactly three cheerios on their spoon for each bite.
It wasn’t until my friends started pointing out some of my compulsions – such as how many times I washed my hands or wiped my mouth with a napkin while eating – that I realized that there was something different about me.
This realization – at the age of nine – made me feel ostracized by my peers. I began to withdraw into myself, becoming quiet and shy. I did not want to do anything that would cause other children to laugh at me. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, only that something about me was different and that difference made me a target for bullies. The need to hide my compulsions produced a deep inner turmoil that created significant anxiety.
My OCD has taken many forms throughout my life and has produced different symptoms.
The first form my OCD took was hand washing. I imagined tiny germs crawling all over my skin. I would wash my hands until they were raw or even bled.
When I turned sixteen, my OCD began to significantly disrupt my daily life. While all my friends were getting their driver’s license, the thought of driving made me panic. When my parents offered to teach me to drive, I screamed and slammed my bedroom door shut. Images of horrific car accidents ran through my mind. I had studied the driving manual multiple times to try to ease my nerves. I knew I wouldn’t be a terrible driver, but those persistent and intrusive thoughts about all the things that could go wrong were debilitating. It was infuriating and embarrassing to have my parents drive me everywhere.
I finally obtained my license at the age of eighteen. I had a panic attack each time I got behind the wheel of a car. It took four years to obtain my full license. At twenty-three, I still haven’t driven on a highway. However, the fact that I can now get behind the wheel of a car without having a panic attack is something to celebrate.
When I went away to college, my compulsions changed again. I began to check things multiple times. For example, in my college dorm, I had to check the lock each night at least eleven times or I had these terrible thoughts that an intruder would enter during the night.
Stoves remain a constant source of anxiety for me. When I’m home alone, I avoid using the stove because I’m afraid that I won’t turn the burner off correctly and cause a gas leak. If I do use the stove, I have to check it at least eleven times to feel some relief.
Another checking obsession relates to something being on my face, specifically on my mouth. This leads me to check my reflection constantly for fear of others making fun of me.
Throughout my battle with OCD, I have learned that the most important thing is to celebrate each small victory. Each step forward, no matter how small, is progress – and this is something to applaud.
Fighting a battle against something you can’t run from is no easy feat so you should feel proud of every achievement.
Ashley K. is a twenty-three-year-old graduate student from Massachusetts.