By: Teagan Miller
Hi, I am Teagan Miller, I’m twenty years old, & I have lived with obsessive-compulsive disorder for all my life.
My mind is overflowing with things I want to share in regard to my experience with this painful disorder, but for starters, I would like to make it clear that recovery is always possible.
I may seem too young to be saying that, knowing that many people live to be much older without a diagnosis or proper treatment. But I have never lived a day in an “average” brain.
The obsessive-compulsive thought patterns and behaviors began before I ever learned how to spell my name. I am twenty years old yet I feel as if I’ve lived 10 different lives. This is thanks to mental illness, specifically OCD.
Growing up wasn’t easy for me, from ages 3-10 I was involved in something that later resulted in a PTSD diagnosis.
During this critical development period, I obsessed over these events happening and was riddled with guilt at all times. OCD only exacerbated these PTSD symptoms for me.
As a kid I loved being active. I enjoyed playing multiple sports, anytime I was home I was playing outside with my neighborhood friends, and I was a very goofy, full of life kind of kid. I hid the trauma due to shame and not understanding what I had gone through, but I had intense separation anxiety and “irrational fears” which I could later trace to OCD.
I first began to entertain suicidal thoughts around the age of 8. By the time I was 11, my OCD had me in a chokehold and gave me 2 options. My options were to “confess” the traumatic events to my parents or commit suicide.
After multiple panic attacks that led to me getting physically sick, I came forward to my parents about what happened growing up. The mix of OCD, PTSD, shame, and confusion was deadly. After seeing a psychiatrist and getting diagnosed with OCD, I was put on medication and was sent on my way.
The next 6-7 years, my OCD jumped around between themes. I was 12 years old when my OCD had me spinning in circles (literally) to avoid a “fake world” (an existential fear). The mind can be incredibly creative and OCD is really good at using our imaginations against us. I won’t dive into details of every OCD theme I’ve experienced, it honestly may be easier to share which ones I haven’t experienced. But the biggest themes I’ve experienced have been somatic (fear of choking), health anxiety (fear of seizures & cancer), emotional contamination, contamination in regards to PTSD, fear of loss, existential fears, moral/religious scrupulosity, and sexual orientation, taboo themes, and BFRBs.
My OCD has morphed and expanded to affect every aspect of my life in any way possible. I truly struggle so much to express how CONSTANT OCD is. It NEVER stops. Every slightest movement is critiqued and analyzed by the OCD committee living inside my head.
Although, through lots of treatment, I am now able to live a life where I choose to walk towards my values on a daily basis.
I am no longer hiding from the world, making every attempt possible to avoid my fears. I share all this to say, you are never too far gone from living a fulfilling, happy life. Some of us may have to do that alongside OCD, but living a happy life with OCD by my side is a whole lot better than living a fearful life through the scary lens of OCD.
There is no “silver bullet” when it comes to a disorder as complex as OCD. For me personally, a combination of therapies for comorbid diagnosis, medications, consistent ERP therapy, and a community of supportive peers is what's helped me the most.
During my treatment at Rogers Behavioral Health, I began an OCD advocacy Instagram. The people I've met through the online OCD community have changed my life. Realizing you're REALLY not alone can have such a powerful impact. Another extremely helpful factor for me in recovery is psychoeducation. Knowledge is power. Although, we know OCD doesn't respond to logic, reminding yourself of factual evidence-based information can help push you into taking that leap of faith into uncertainty.
One piece of advice I would give to my younger self would be to change your expectations for what recovery will look like. Be open to the idea of OCD sticking around long term, but instead of it being the one in control, it's kind of just like an annoying little voice in the back of your head sometimes. I think that the all-or-nothing thinking about what recovery “should” look like for me only delayed the process of accepting reality. Also, I think we all hate the statement that “OCD is chronic” because we assume that means our pain and discomfort are also chronic which is not true. With hard work in recovery, OCD won't be able to cause you the same level of pain it is causing you today. You can ALWAYS make progress.
Teagan Miller is a twenty-year-old mental health advocate who is learning to navigate this world while living with a brain that isn't always trustworthy. Growing up, Teagan fought her invisible OCD symptoms on her own until she got diagnosed at 11 years old. Unfortunately, because OCD is still so misunderstood, Teagan did not have access to proper treatment until her senior year of high school. She is now using knowledge to her advantage to help others who may be suffering by raising awareness on Instagram @obsessively.tea and through sharing her story with people in her everyday life.