By DJ Walker
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’m so OCD!” my friend said as she cleaned her apartment. “My desk has to be perfectly organized or I’ll freak out.”
“You do realize that OCD is not a quirk, right? It is a serious mental health issue that can be debilitating for people,” I replied.
“Jeez, I never thought about it that way. You’re right,” she said.
OCD is often misunderstood.
I struggle with OCD. Though I don’t perform any outward compulsions, I suffer from unwanted intrusive thoughts and my compulsions take the form of unseen mental rituals.
The onset of my OCD occurred when I was just seven years old. I can pinpoint the exact moment a thought came into my mind that I could not shake: my mom, sister, and I were watching a play being performed at a church. During one of the scenes, the devil – pitchfork and all – dragged a little girl to hell because she did not have faith that Jesus was the Son of God. I remember asking myself: Are you sure you believe in God? Of course, I reassured myself. I’m definitely going to heaven…but what if I don’t? These thoughts stayed on a loop all day until I cried myself to sleep that night.
For a grueling 23 years, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I worried about the most bizarre and irrational ideas. The thoughts were uncomfortable and produced unbearable anxiety. I suffered on most days and at some points, I was even close to suicide. Though I never wanted to die, it felt like it was the only way I could escape.
In my late teens, I began having intrusive thoughts about being attracted to men. I had never been attracted to men and had only ever had relationships with women. I went back and forth with myself all day, every day, for several years about this issue. It got to a point where I would question if I was attracted to any man I encountered. Just seeing a man would trigger anxiety, so I tried to avoid looking at men altogether, which was impossible. Though I had other OCD themes and fears, this one was the most anxiety-inducing.
Fast forward a decade to the summer of 2017. My day started off as normal: I went to work and then to the gym. However, when I returned home that evening, I began to feel anxious. I could not understand the cause of the anxiety. I lay in bed and did what I do every night: look through social media and news outlets. As I was looking through the different platforms, I saw a story that triggered something dark in me: an image that was so disgusting that I wondered what it meant that I had this terrible thought. I knew almost instantly that I wouldn’t get any sleep. I tossed and turned all night trying to get this thought out of my mind but the more I tried, the louder the thought became, until eventually, it was screaming at me.
These new thoughts were scarier than any previous thoughts. I dealt with the nonstop obsessive compulsive behavior for a few weeks until one day I was at my parent’s house contemplating suicide. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where to start. Finally, I turned to Google. I typed “Why do I keep having irrational thoughts that will not go away?” The first link brought me to a page where the author described intrusive thoughts and OCD. This article described my experiences perfectly. After all these years, I finally had an answer. The anxiety that caused me to drink to excess when I was younger, perform poorly at different stages of my academic career, and battle bouts of depression all came from my bully: OCD. I lay on my bed and sobbed like a baby for 10 minutes. On the one hand, I was relieved but on the other, I was terrified of what this meant.
A few weeks later, I was officially diagnosed with OCD. I am now on medication, which diminishes the thoughts so I can return to work and enjoy the things I love. I’m also seeing a therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD. She challenges me every week and equips me with the tools I need to overcome it.
OCD is a bully that shows up when you least expect it. It may leave for a while but it will return in another form to terrorize you further. OCD bullied me for more than two decades; it pushed me around and made my life a living hell. However, knowledge is power, and the more I learn about OCD, the better equipped I am to fight back. I will not allow OCD to bully me anymore.
DJ Walker, 31, is a graduate of both the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore, and currently works as a research associate in the field of mental health. Since being diagnosed with OCD, he’s become dedicated to raising awareness and helping those suffering from the disorder understand that they can overcome it.