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.
Since childhood, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has ruled over my life. At the age of 9, my OCD came up with an elaborate hand ritual: it involved knocking at my knees, kicking my feet together and then tapping my forehead. My mind told me that if I did not perform this ritual, something terrible would happen to my parents. This elaborate hand ritual was just the beginning of my OCD. At the age of twelve, I began a Googling compulsion which compelled me to spend hours on the internet.
As I entered high school, I became obsessed with idea that I needed to study relentlessly in order to get into college; consequently, my school work consumed every aspect of my life. This compulsion kept me from spending time with friends, joining clubs, or volunteering. Rewriting, rereading, and spending hours redoing homework or creating a Quizlet became the norm for me. At the time, it felt normal as I thought I was working hard to get into college.
College soon rolled around for me which presented new challenges. Instead of being a typical college freshman, I thought that if I spent time with friends, I would be a bad student and would somehow turn into a bad person. Schoolwork consumed every aspect of my day; I could not do anything else. I could not attend sports games because I feared that I would be responsible for my college team losing the match. If I spoke out about my symptoms or did anything else besides schoolwork, my OCD told me that something terrible would happen.
I also developed a fear that I would become contaminated with an STD and then contaminate others. I spent hours washing my hands until they were raw. I became obsessed with my heart rate and began to check things repeatedly, especially when I was about to leave my dorm room (to make sure I had not forgotten anything). As a result of all of these symptoms, I spent three days awake in my campus library performing rituals.
Things became so difficult that I was taken to the emergency room as I no longer wanted to live. At this stage, I made the drastic decision to take medical leave from college. I cried every day as I felt an overwhelming sense of defeat and failure. I was convinced that my life was over.
Shortly after, I entered a seven-week residential treatment program where for the first time I was diagnosed with OCD. Through exposure and response prevention therapy, I began to face my fears. I learned practical skills through therapy that I continue to apply in my life each day. In January 2019, I returned to college with my OCD no longer controlling my life. I was able to join a sorority, earn a 3.8 GPA, and do all the things that I value. While OCD continues to scream at me in the background, I am now equipped with the skills to face my fears. I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel; I can now see my future clearly.
I am done being quiet. I am done with OCD controlling my life. I am now in the driver’s seat. I wish to talk about my OCD, so nobody else has to suffer the way that I did. For almost 10 years, I lived trapped with OCD without being diagnosed and this needs to change.
OCD needs to be recognized for what it is: a debilitating disorder that can derail someone’s life and turn it upside down.
For anyone with OCD, please know that treatment can help to manage the disorder. Be patient and compassionate with yourself: the storm will not always last and you will shine again.
Tori is a college sophomore who wants everybody to know about the realities of OCD. She hopes that one day people will be able to obtain a diagnosis early on without spending years of their life in silence performing rituals. She hopes that people will come to understand that OCD is truly a debilitating disorder rather than a quirk.