Meet IOCDF Advocate Adira Weixlmann! She shares with us her journey and why she chose to become an IOCDF Advocate. Learn more about our advocacy program.
"I love to remind other OCD sufferers and their families that a person isn’t just their OCD. Yes, I have OCD but it doesn’t define me. I am also a wife, sister, daughter, athlete, designer, world traveler, baker, and so much more." - Adira
Why did you become an advocate?
I became an advocate to show people that OCD (and mental health) can look like a million different things. When I was suffering the worst with my OCD, I went out of my way to give the appearance that everything was fine to those around me. I put on a brave facade (until I hit the bottom and no longer could) and hid how much I was suffering from my closest friends. I was known as the “perfect” one who always had her act together. I felt the need to uphold that image of myself.
To be clear, no one other than myself, said that I had to keep my anxiety disorder a secret. To this day, many friends don’t know I received residential treatment for my OCD. I don’t want others to feel like they have to struggle in silence. It’s okay to not be okay.
How has OCD impacted your life?
I was diagnosed with OCD 15 years ago (in 2006). I was a senior in high school and felt so lost. For the most part, I had lived a really “typical” life to that point. Yes, I had some tendencies that looking back I now see are related to OCD, but it was nothing like what took me over seemingly overnight. I was washing my hands hundreds of times a day. My hands were bright red, cracked, and bleeding constantly. I refused to touch certain things, washed all my clothes repeatedly, avoided places and people I felt were dirty – I could never get clean enough. I pushed through my final year of high school keeping my issues mostly a secret. The few rare times someone ever questioned my red hands, I just chalked it up to the harsh midwest winter.
Fast forward to my freshman year of college and I was completely falling apart. I was no longer the high-functioning, friendly Adira with straight A’s, an avid athlete, and many adoring family & friends. I was a shell of myself who could hardly get through the day. Fortunately, I had the most supportive parents who helped me seek treatment. I was able to take a medical leave from college and after attending several outpatient treatment programs, it became clear I needed more help. I attended the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital for two separate stays.
Though my OCD isn’t cured and will never go away, I was able to return to college and finish my degree. And most importantly back to a happier Adira. There are still very challenging days but the good far outweighed the bad after receiving proper treatment.
Why is it important for you to speak up about OCD and related disorders?
My experience with severe OCD rocked my world. The worst part was it didn’t just affect me, but my family and relationships with those I love most. OCD can make you appear far more selfish than you actually are. Everything in my family became about my OCD and that wasn’t fair to my parents and brothers. I didn’t want to take everyone’s energy and resources to fight OCD but I had no idea what else to do. It’s SO loud and at the time was impossible for me to ignore. Thankfully, I was able to receive helpful treatment that made all the difference in the world. I feel really fortunate for that because I know it isn’t always easy. If sharing my difficult experience with OCD can help just one person or one family suffer less, I will shout my story from the rooftops.
What helped you the most throughout your journey?
I had a very trusted treatment provider that I formed a great relationship with who shared a line with me that was really useful – “You can be miserable getting sicker, or miserable getting better.” No doubt about it, doing ERPs and treatment is hard work. And it’s going to feel impossible. But the alternative is feeling just as terrible, but instead continuing to get worse. If you’re going to feel crappy – you should be getting something positive out of it.
Also for me, having the support of those around me that I was able to be open and honest with was really important. At the same time – you need a separate treatment team that isn’t family, significant other, etc. The lines can get too blurred when you’re asking a loved one to fill in as the role of therapist. Leave that to the professionals! But just knowing loved ones will support what’s best for you is imperative.
What words of encouragement would you like to share?
While OCD isn’t curable, it is manageable. When I was at my sickest, lowest point, it was hard to see the way out. I had to remind myself of all the difficult things I’d done in my life to that point and know that I had the strength to fight back – even if I didn’t feel it at the time.
Try to give yourself small goals to work towards. For me, I wasn’t going to wake up one day and have zero OCD rituals. I had to break my big goals down into smaller, more manageable steps to work towards. Plus you feel really accomplished when you can check items off your to-do list, no matter how small. All the little goals will add up to a big accomplishment.
I love to remind other OCD sufferers (and their families) that a person isn’t just their OCD. Yes, I have OCD but it doesn’t define me. I am also a wife, sister, daughter, athlete, designer, world traveler, baker, and so much more.
When you’re in the deepest throws of your disorder it’s hard to see that there is more to your life. As my mental health improved, I started getting back into sports more. Prior to getting sick, I was really active but gave it up when I couldn’t touch a basketball without thinking about how dirty it was. I have since gotten into distance running and even qualified for the Boston Marathon. That was a particularly special moment for me because Boston will always have a special place in my heart as the place I received treatment and I learned that I can fight back against my OCD. It doesn’t have to control me and I could get healthy again. When I ran Boston in 2018, ten years after first receiving residential OCD treatment in that same city, it was a huge moment for me and helped me to literally see all the progress I’d made.
Another big piece to my life was recently getting married. At many points along my OCD journey I laughed at the idea of ever being in a relationship because I had no idea how I could be there for someone else if I couldn't even take care of myself. I’ve now been with my husband for 5 years and realize how important it is to have someone who can stick with you through not just the good but also the bad. Whether I’m struggling with my OCD or he is dealing with something that I can help with, it reminds me that I am capable of being in a strong partnership.