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 obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) story begins sometime between the ages of five and eight. In pre-school and kindergarten I suffered from generalized anxiety and separation anxiety from my mother. While I don’t remember having any compulsions, I do remember that when I was separated from my mom, my heart pounded in my chest like a jackhammer, my palms sweated, my thoughts raced, and fear wedged in my throat.
Around second grade, I remember being bombarded with intrusive thoughts and developing the compulsion to touch and tap wooden surfaces (this became surfaces of any kind as I got older). At this age, my intrusive thoughts were: natural disasters were going to kill me and those I loved, my parents were going to die, I was going to die, and I was a bad person. I carried around a piece of wood in my pocket so I could constantly touch it; this made me feel safe.
As I entered my teen years, my intrusive thoughts molded into fears of being racist or homophobic, fears of eating unhealthy or “wrong” (this developed into compulsions to starve, purge and run — an eating disorder), fears of stabbing another person with a kitchen knife, running people over with my car/getting into car accidents, and being a pedophile.
I was living in hell, engaging in my compulsions, and experiencing intrusive thoughts at least 100 times a day.
When I was 19 and away at college in Washington, D.C. I woke up and knocked on the picture on my wall beside my bed. I then stood up and tapped my desk four times, counting in increments of two. I walked to the hall bathroom and counted while I washed my hands and then pulled off two papers towels, counting in my head as I did so. I believed that if I did everything in two, I wouldn’t be gay. I believed that if I touched the desk, I wouldn’t stab my roommate. I believed that if I purged the dessert I ate, I would stay healthy. I believed that if I shut my eyes and visualized chopping off my hand — an internal compulsion — I would never hurt a child. I asked my roommate and my mom for reassurance repeatedly; I constantly scoured the internet for answers — another compulsion. I sat in the library, trying to do my homework, but I couldn’t type. Every time I had an intrusive thought, I had to stop and knock on the desk.
Living with OCD feels as if your brain is bleeding: you cannot stop thinking no matter how hard you try. You know your thoughts and compulsions are irrational, and yet you cannot stop. I couldn’t stop counting and touching and tapping and purging and checking and researching…
OCD, depression, and my eating disorder combined drove me to have suicidal thoughts. I couldn’t stop questioning and thinking and doing. It was beyond painful.
My breaking point occurred when I was 19 years old. I sought therapy and was diagnosed with OCD; I was given medication and also underwent treatment for my eating disorder. Things slowly improved. At twenty-one, when I started relapsing, I engaged in exposure response prevention (ERP) and this made a world of difference. Today at 24, I still experience intrusive thoughts every day, and occasional compulsions. However, things are relatively under control now. Up until this year, I’ve struggled with major depression and subsequent hospitalizations, OCD coming and going.
It’s been a long mental health journey, but at least today I am no longer ashamed. In high school, I lived with undiagnosed OCD. I hid my compulsions and never spoke a word about my obsessions. When I was alone, I often cried and felt panicked. I felt so ashamed and confused.
Up until one year ago, I was not able to write about my obsessions, as I was worried about what others might think. Today I can share what I’ve dealt with and convey that there is hope for others living with OCD.
Kelly is 24 and lives in New Jersey with her two dogs, Penny and Daisy. She is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in Psychology and has a lifelong passion for creative writing.