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.
Do you remember what it feels like to be nine years old? I look at my nephew who is nine and think, Dang, this kid is cool. He is full of life, funny, and smart.
At that age, I was laid back, having sleepovers with friends, watching scary movies, consuming copious amounts of Mountain Dew and Skittles, oblivious to calories and sugar. I played t-ball and rode my bike. I was so happy with not a care in the world.
Then there are other memories — the ones I never really talk about. The ones that make my stomach drop — such as when obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) first appeared.
It was a spring day at grade school. I headed outside with my two best friends to play softball against the boys. With our leather baseball gloves in hand, we walked out the double-doors towards the baseball field. We were giddy with excitement at the prospect of beating the boys. It was a sunny day with a cool breeze. I remember the sweet scent of lilacs.
I trailed a few steps behind my girlfriends on the pavement
before the hill. Suddenly, an uncomfortable twinge crept into my stomach.
What in the world is that? Do I have to go to the bathroom? Maybe I’m just nervous about batting against the boys, I thought.
it was none of these things. Thoughts raced in my head:
I’m good, I’m not bad, I’m good. I’m strong, I’m not weak, I’m strong.
I pause. What
We’re gonna win, not lose, we’re gonna win.
why these thoughts were running through my mind.
My friends kept walking toward the field. I looked down and
realized I had been stepping on a crack in the cement over and over in rhythm
with the thoughts in my mind. First, I stepped with one foot, then the other,
making sure I stepped on the crack with both feet.
I froze until
the thoughts returned.
I’m strong, I’m not weak, I’m strong.
At that moment, all I knew was that the “good” thought had to
overpower the “bad” thought before I could move. For that to happen, my feet had
to hit the crack evenly when the thought: I’m good, we’re gonna win, I’m
my hands inside my glove and started praying: Why am I thinking this? God help me. Please make it end.
One of my
friends called out, “What are you doing, Mandy? Let’s go!”
voice interrupted the compulsion. I looked up and separated my hands.
finished the prayer and leapt forward off the crack, still not sure what just
happened. Something felt unfinished. A part of me felt compelled to go back but
I didn’t. I ran down the hill to play baseball.
From that moment, life was never the same. I experienced
self-loathing and feared my own thoughts. I hid my touching, tapping, praying,
rituals, and compulsions, and never spoke of the morbid thoughts to anyone. On the
outside, I acted happy and wanted to look “in control.” My goal was for family,
friends, coaches, and teachers to see me as a highly motivated, focused leader.
I found basketball at 12, which became my saving grace, my
obsession, my goal, and my identity.
At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with OCD. Unfortunately, my
goal of having a perfect body and to be the perfect athlete in the eyes of
coaches and the community enabled the OCD to morph into anorexia and
depression. After an intervention, therapy and medicine helped me overcome the
anorexia and depression.
However, after experiencing an excruciating sports trauma which ended my basketball career at 18, I went down a seven year path of alcohol addiction, arrests, and abusive relationships. At age 25, I entered Libertas Intensive Outpatient Treatment in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which was my actual saving grace.
Therapy helps me to manage the OCD. This is aided with
exercise, journaling, and meditation among other things.
It’s been a rollercoaster of extreme ups and downs getting to
where I am today, but I have gained a perspective that only comes from fighting
Sharing my first memory is freeing. I hope it helps others share, too.
35 and lives in Boston. She has a successful career in tech, is writing a book
about her journey, and is blessed with many genuine friendships.