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.
At 13, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); however, I had been living with these thoughts long before then. Throughout my middle school and early high school years I was plagued with intrusive thoughts that were coupled with senseless, time-consuming, and irrational compulsions. I had to touch all of the doorknobs and stair railings a certain way before I could leave my house; I could only sit on the right side of my mom’s car. And everything I did came with numbers. On good days, the numbers were neat: I only had to do my rituals once or twice. On bad days, the numbers were all over the place, and it was hard for me to focus on anything else when this happened.
My life was filled with fear: fear of an angry God, fear of how far I would have to go to keep bad things from happening, and fear of what others thought of me. I did not know how to speak to others about the burden I carried. It was isolating.
After being diagnosed, I received exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) off and on for a few years. I took medication for a short period of time, but it didn’t prove to be effective for me. I started attending church, which helped me to see the benefits of faith. I felt better.
I am 18 now, and most of my OCD symptoms are in remission. While minor intrusive thoughts pop up in my head occasionally, I am now strong enough to manage them.
As I look back on the times when I struggled with OCD the most, I realize that there are many things that helped me overcome my worst obstacles: my great therapist, who was incredibly understanding of my mental strengths and weaknesses and who supported me from diagnosis through to treatment; and my parents, who never hesitated to act on my behalf and were there for me every step of the way.
There was also another factor which aided my recovery: my friends.
OCD convinced me to do things that made no sense at all, making me deviate from social norms. During these times, my friends never judged me. They never questioned my actions, never made fun of me, and never stopped supporting me, no matter how emotionally distant I was. Sometimes my friends performed my rituals with me. They didn’t even know I had OCD, but they joined me right where I was. When I confided in one of these friends in high school about my struggles, she asked me, “Is there anything I should look out for, anything you might say or do, so I can know you’re struggling, and be there for you?”
My friends, without knowing it, helped me conquer OCD.
The unconditional empathy of my friends was one of the biggest turning points during my struggles. Their actions made me realize that empathy truly does have the power to heal. Because of them, I strive to treat other people with that same empathy that transcends and overcomes personal differences. While we may not understand what others are going through, we can still be supportive.
If I could encourage the family and friends of those who struggle with OCD to do one thing, it would be to accept and love that person right where they are. You can’t fix their condition or their struggles, no matter how badly you wish you could. But you can listen, even when their anxieties are irrational. You can validate them when they feel like their world has fallen apart. You can try to understand their perspective, so that they don’t feel like they’re going through it alone.
But most of all, you can care, unconditionally. Trust me, it makes all the difference.
Sydney attends the University of Iowa and is pursuing a BS in Biology. She enjoys singing on worship team, reading, and watching her favorite TV show, Gilmore Girls.