By Izzy S.
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.
December 6, 2010. It was a Monday night when my father called to tell me that my Italian grandmother (nonna) had passed away. I was 12 years old. My initial reaction was numbness. I immediately ran to the music room and punched one of the couch pillows. Feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, and disbelief flooded my brain. My nonna and I were very close. She took care of me while my mother was hospitalized after my birth. I was always staying at my grandparents’ house devouring Italian food and listening to my nonna speak in her thick Italian accent.
A couple of years prior, I lost my other grandmother. Although I took both deaths hard, the passing of my nonna ended up being the beginning of a life-long mental battle. I became obsessed with the idea of mortality. During the viewing for my nonna, I avoided touching anything because I believed I would die soon after if I did.
As time passed, I started to have intrusive thoughts about my nonna’s funeral. I became obsessed with praying. I felt that if I didn’t pray a specific prayer before I went to bed, then something awful would happen to me. If I didn’t recite the prayers with “good thoughts” in my head, then I would have to repeat them, over and over again. I avoided touching anything deemed sacred in the church. I dreaded going to mass because of the huge mental toll it had on me; however, I felt that if I didn’t go, then something bad would happen. The superstition of religion caused me to form the most peculiar thoughts, which turned into the most peculiar rituals.
As I became older, I decided to step away from the Catholic Church. Stepping away from the church, however, did not alleviate my anxiety nor did it free me of the obsessive thoughts.
The obsessive thoughts told me that if I wanted to feel safe and secure, then I had to walk in and out of a room 10 times. They forced me to erase my name (however many times) on an exam or assignment so that I would not die. They insisted that if I had a “bad thought” when accepting my admission into college, then my whole college career would be ruined. The thoughts controlled me. I felt afraid of everything. I was afraid of the intentions of others. I was afraid of getting sick. I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of being harmed.
The thoughts stopped me from living my life to its fullest.
After 19 years of struggling silently, I finally decided to get help. During my sophomore year of college, I started seeing a therapist who diagnosed me with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). It was helpful to finally talk to someone about my experiences. After every session, I felt like a huge amount of anxiety was lifted off my shoulders. Talk-therapy was a great first step, but what I really needed was to see an OCD specialist.
This past summer, I began to see a therapist who specializes in OCD, and who happens to have the cutest therapy dog. We practice exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. I have also met with a psychiatrist, who prescribed medication. It took a lot of courage to finally seek help, but once I did, I started to feel hopeful about my recovery.
Of course, I still have an immense amount of work to do. Exposure therapy is hard. I still have days where I feel trapped and suffocated by these awful thoughts.
I’m lucky to have a great support system and access to professional help. However, I know that not everybody has these luxuries. That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness about OCD and mental health. People need to feel they aren’t alone. By sharing my story, I hope to reach out to others who suffer from OCD and encourage them to take care of themselves.
Izzy S. is a 20-year-old college student who hopes to help others by sharing her story.