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.
When I was six years old, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. When I was thirteen years old, I wanted to become a lawyer.
When I was sixteen years old, I told my therapist that I was afraid I wanted to become a murderer.
I remember when this thought first appeared a few months earlier. I was in the bathroom; I was in tears, afraid to move. I had to force myself to not repeatedly shower in order to decontaminate myself. I wanted to scream. When I stepped out the shower, I found my towel on the floor close to the toilet. As I leaned down to pick it up, my mind rushed with thoughts:
What if my hair fell into the toilet when I leaned down to pick up the towel? Oh my gosh, there’s toilet water all over my hair. There might be E. coli in the toilet water. I’m going to spread E. coli and people will become ill. No, they’ll do more than just get sick; they’ll die. I’ll be killing people; I’ll be a murderer. I want to be a murderer.
Once this line of thinking started that night, it stuck with me. My purpose in life became avoiding situations where I could pick up E. coli infections. My obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) quickly decided that E. coli could be spread by my own bodily fluids. I created elaborate bathroom routines that took longer than an hour. I had to shower after going to the bathroom. I had to wash my hands for almost thirty minutes after touching dirty laundry or going to the bathroom. I would spend hours researching E. coli and looking at obituaries of people who died from E. coli, trying to find out if I was responsible for their deaths. Eventually, it got to the point where I was so scared of going to the bathroom that I started severely restricting food and liquids. I began to drink only three sips of water a day and eat one meal.
OCD took control of my life: I spent countless hours every day on obsessions and rituals. I could not focus in class because of the thoughts racing through my mind. As I was eating and drinking so little, I felt extremely dehydrated and tired. Several months later, my parents and therapist made the decision to take me out of school for a while to receive treatment. I left boarding school and engaged in intensive therapy sessions a couple of times a week. Nevertheless, the thoughts still lingered:
You know that you are a murderer. If you decide to eat and drink, you will kill innocent people. Do you know how many people die each time you go to the bathroom? If you really cared about other people, you would never eat or drink.
I was so fused with these OCD thoughts that I followed them completely. I saw OCD as the one thing in life keeping me from harming others. I felt hopeless.
Finally, at the end of November 2018, I was admitted at McLean’s OCD Institute for Children and Adolescents. After months of horrendous struggling, I began to receive the support and treatment I needed. During this time, I learned how to diffuse from my thoughts in order to get some space. As I wrote down my thoughts each day, I began to see them as just thoughts, separate from myself. This realization made it easier for me to fight the OCD. Slowly but surely, I was able to eat and drink more and my rituals decreased. I began to sit with my thoughts more instead of pushing them away. I finally gained some freedom from the OCD.
Today, I still struggle with OCD. I still have the same thoughts of infecting others with E. coli; however, now, I recognize the thoughts as the OCD. I know that these thoughts might stay with me for a long time, but I now know how to fight them.
Rachel is seventeen years old and lives in Maryland. She has lived with OCD since she was five and is still working toward complete recovery.