By: Sarah Louise
My OCD began to develop at the age of seven, around the time of my grandma’s death. After my grandmother passed away, I would place our coats on the stairs every night; I would put my dad’s coat on top of mine and my mum’s so he would protect us from danger.
While I have fond memories of primary school, I remember one distressing incident at school when I was 7 years old. Needing to use the bathroom, I raised my hand to request permission to leave my seat. The teacher refused and asked me to wait. Before I knew it, I had an accident. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. For a long time after this incident, I was obsessed with going to the bathroom. Before leaving the house, I would go to the bathroom frequently, even if I didn’t need to go, to prevent the incident from happening again. During long car journeys with my family, we would stop frequently at service stations; I was so anxious the incident would occur again, that I wanted to stop as frequently as possible. Shortly after, my mother took me to see a doctor about the problem.
At the age of 16, I felt increasingly anxious. I worried about everything: war, death, events reported in the press, my family, illness, disease. Despite everything going well in my life, I was expecting something horrible to happen. I also began to experience intrusive thoughts. I did not understand what was happening; I thought I was a bad person for thinking what I was thinking. As my fears escalated, I began to develop rituals. At one point, I could not use the bathroom without physically licking the taps. As you can imagine this did not to do my physical health any favors. If I went shopping, I would restack the shelves ensuring everything was facing the same way. If one side of my body was touching something, I had to ensure the other side touched it too. My hands and feet constantly tapped to a rhythm of four movements. It was exhausting.
I felt trapped within myself. My thoughts were like a river cascading through my mind distorting my reality. My rituals and compulsions offered only short-term relief. If I felt I had not performed the rituals properly, I would need to do them all over again. It was impossible to function properly and I had no energy to fight the urges.
Around this time, my mum took me to a GP who referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I was put on medication and started cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). I continued this therapy for two years, until I was 18. At that point, I understood that I would be living with this monster for the rest of my life. Nobody understood what I was going through. I felt so alone.
Once I stopped the weekly therapy, my anxiety persisted. Over the next few years, my OCD was up and down. I was holding down a job and maintaining relationships. However, the OCD was always in my mind, always picking at me, always having the upper hand. I was victimized by the bully in my own head. Constantly doubting myself, I always sought reassurance. I was always scared of what was coming next. I slept a lot as it kept the pain away.
Over the years, I have had my medications changed and dosages upped, I have taken beta-blockers, and I have tried various forms of therapy. I have bad days and good days.
My greatest tool in the battle against OCD is the support I receive from loved ones, especially my parents who have offered endless reassurance and love. While I understand I have a debilitating mental illness, I will not allow it to define me.
Sarah Louise writes to aid her own recovery and to end the stigma surrounding mental health.
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.