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.
My story is not easy to tell.
I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in my mid-twenties – just a few years ago. The symptoms, however, have long been present.
Both my parents have suffered from health problems since I was very young. My mother has multiple sclerosis (MS) and all my life I have been watching her health deteriorate. Ever since I was 7 years old, I believed I was responsible for my mother’s declining health. My parents were divorced and my brothers and I lived with my mom. At around 9, I became her caretaker along with my two brothers and aunt. As a teenager, I remember carrying my mother into the classroom to meet my teachers for parent-teacher meetings.
I experienced compulsions as a child, such as handwashing and always checking to make sure there was no water spilled on the kitchen floors, however, I paid them little attention.
As I entered high school, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. While all my friends were excited about the upcoming high school dance, I was coming to terms with my father’s terminal diagnosis and my mother’s illness. High school was extremely hard. I could not concentrate. I skipped a lot of classes. My biggest fear was not graduating. I felt like a failure as balancing my stressful home life and school was so challenging. Given all that was happening at home, I barely graduated high school.
Starting college was scary. During my first year, I began drinking and throwing house parties; it provided an escape from all that was happening. At this point, my dad was very sick; he was dying. My brothers took great care of him. Although I lived close by, I did not see my dad much. I always assumed there would be more time. Family members commented on my absence; their words still affect me to this day. I remember the moment I visited my dad after not seeing him for a while; he thought I was someone else. Two days before he passed away, my dad turned to me and said: “Why are we not as close as we used to be?” Thinking we had more time, I just hugged him and turned on his favorite Bob Seger song. It was the last thing he ever said to me.
A month later, still mired in grief, I began to bless myself repeatedly and say a prayer for each person who crossed my mind. I believed that if I did not pray for that person, something terrible would happen to them. Each time I prayed, I had to get it ‘right’ otherwise I would need to start over: I could not cough, miss a word, or sneeze. It had to be done perfectly. The nights grew longer as my ritual began to take up more and more time. After only sleeping for about an hour at night, I would wake up and begin the ritual all over again. I visited a priest hoping that he could help me with this obsession. While he had no answers, he offered a few words of hope. The idea of seeing a therapist made me feel nervous as I imagined they would judge me after I explained my compulsions and experiences.
For the next ten years, I constantly blamed myself for my mom’s failing health and my dad’s death. My obsessions became worse and I became more reclusive. My friends were getting married and buying houses while I was stuck, refusing to receive help. But that has now changed.
One month ago, I took myself to the emergency room. After spending 12 hours in a room waiting for a social worker, I broke down and asked her for help. She referred me to a partial hospitalization program. I began the next day at 9am. I missed my first session due to a compulsion. However, now I have almost completed the group therapy and am about to begin individual therapy. The support I am receiving has been humbling. For the first time in my life, I have been able to tell my story without fear of being judged or feeling embarrassed. I have also been prescribed medication. All of these efforts are steps along the long journey that will lead to recovery.
To all those feeling despair, you are not alone. I encourage you to ask for help. With the right help, things will get better.
Marianne is 29 years old and works as a photographer.