by IOCDF Advocate Adira Weixlmann
My world was rocked when I was diagnosed with OCD at the age of 18. Prior to developing symptoms — practically overnight — I had lived a very privileged high school experience. I was at the top of my class with a full course load of AP classes, I had success on the varsity sports teams I captained, I had a close-knit group of friends I spent countless hours with, and a family who cared deeply about one another.
Over the next year, OCD took a dangerously rapid and severe grip over me. Although I finished high school and started college at my dream school, I was very much a different person. One who struggled to do the most basic daily functions. Showers took hours, my hands were raw and bleeding from washing, I couldn’t focus during lectures, I avoided spending time with the new classmates I was surrounded by — I was all but falling apart at the seams. The worst part? I was in denial. I knew I was going through a rough patch, but didn’t think much more of it. I was struggling far deeper than I could see at the time. My parents saw it all happening in real time and did everything they could to get me the help I needed. I saw OCD specialists on a weekly basis, but it just wasn’t enough to combat how loud the OCD had become.
I reluctantly agreed to reduce my course load to attend an outpatient program in the town my university was in. This way I could still attend school part-time — which was very important to me as I didn’t want to fall behind my peers. I didn’t want anyone to know anything was “wrong” with me. Of course I now look back and know that was silly. How could my roommate being locked out of the bathroom for an hour as I showered not be a red flag?!
As someone who thrived on being self-sufficient, I hated asking for help. My parents lived in the same town as my university and one night I had deemed my dorm room too dirty to sleep in, so instead went over to my parents' house for the night. It was then that I truly broke down and admitted that I needed more help. I was fighting as hard as I could to stay above water, but clearly that wasn’t working anymore. I’m sure my parents were relieved that I’d finally come to this realization (months too late). But they let me figure it out for myself. I applied to a residential treatment program and began attending a few months later.
A few things came to a head in residential treatment that really made a big difference for me. There were the obvious external factors that the bathrooms were locked 24 hours a day so I couldn’t just wash my hands or shower whenever I pleased. I also was focusing my energy solely on treatment, not trying to split my time between class, a social life, and therapy. But most importantly, I had a chance to take true stock of what I wanted out of life. Why was I fighting so hard to get better? Why was all this terrifying exposure and response prevention work worth it?
I had a family full of parents, grandparents, a twin brother, an older brother, and extended family who adored me and I loved them as much right back. They would do anything to help me get healthy again, but I had to remind myself they could not do the scary exposures for me. I had to do it for myself, but their love and support bolstered me through.
Never had I once questioned my ability to graduate from college prior to OCD appearing, but I was so sick my freshman year. I knew that in order to have the successful design career I desired, I needed to get healthy. After a full semester off for residential treatment, I was able to return to school and could put energy and passion back into my course work again. I found a major I was truly passionate about and now work as a graphic designer for a world-renowned design studio (while decorating cookies on the side).
Going from playing sports every day in high school to barely getting by day-to-day, I had lost any additional motivation and time to take care of my physical health. Getting a sweat in has always helped me clear my mind and refocus. Slowly during my recovery, I started running again. With the help and motivation of my twin brother, we trained for and ran our first half marathon together. That led to a full marathon, which led to more marathons, which led to the pinnacle — the Boston Marathon. Staying active is just as much about mental health for me as it is physical.
I’d always loved traveling as a kid with my family. We trekked all over, including visting many National Parks. I wasn’t going to let OCD stop me from doing what I was passionate about. There were still so many countries I wanted to see and places I wanted to live. A few years after graduating college, I followed my dream to move from my home in the midwest to California and have been in the Golden State ever since. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel to many foreign countries. The list of places to explore never ends.
Having such a close family growing up, I knew that was something I wanted to grow for myself one day. At my sickest, I could hardly give my parents a hug, fearful of contaminating them. How was I supposed to hug a future potential partner? Getting my OCD better under control allowed me to start meeting more people and feel comfortable dating. I have since gotten married to my husband and look forward to building our family together.
Trust me, things aren’t all the sudden a perfect fairytale ending. The past 15 years of learning to cope with OCD has been a continuous journey. Since my first stay in residential treatment, I’ve since been back for a second stay, as well as attended two outpatient treatment programs. To this day, I have periods I still struggle through.
And other days I feel like my younger, carefree self. But one thing for certain is whenever I find myself in the mental tug-of-war that is living with OCD, I remind myself of my why — my values — fighting for my mental health so worth it. I have a lot of life, cities, runs, and happy times to look forward to, surrounded by so many people who care very deeply. And for that I am eternally grateful.
What motivates you to conquer OCD? We want to know!
This OCD Awareness Week, we invite you to participate in our #ChalkItUpToValues social campaign. Take a photo or video of something you value that motivates you to face your OCD; or use chalk to write or draw what you value, and take a picture of it! Share on social, tag @IOCDF, and include #OCDWeek and #ChalkItUpToValues — we'll share your posts!