By Nicolas Sanchez
I have spent most of my life running. I was in Cross Country throughout high school and always somehow managed to find myself in last place at our school competitions. What I ran towards was sometimes unclear, but I always knew what I was escaping.
When Fight or Flight kicks in, I’ve always been a Flight person. I still tremble when I spot a bug in my room. The sight and sound of danger terrify me: especially the dangers that resonate in my head.
My dad claims that the word “choking hazard” was a regular part of my vocabulary at 4 or 5 years old (choking was a terrible fear of mine). 16 years later, I still occasionally struggle with the fear of death and illness.
The constant checking of my body for signs of illness is all too familiar to my close friends and family. I have asked my best friend twice to take me to an emergency room over a simple “weird feeling” in my body. I have also messaged my chemistry laboratory professor after-hours to make sure I was not exposed to dangerous chemicals, and I have called poison control after taking a covid test and having a drop of liquid spilled on my hand *possibly*.
The content of my obsessions has shifted over the years, and it wasn’t until I started having taboo intrusive thoughts that I realized there might be something seriously, seriously wrong.
I was 15 years old working in the children’s daycare one evening at church when I was hit with the most repulsive and absurd thought I have ever had. As I entertained and cared for a class full of 5-7-year-olds with dance, play, drawing, and pretend, every joyful moment was distorted in my mind and became a target for my anxiety.
“What if I were to stop playing right now and hurt this child? What if I am a monster? What if I am a violent abuser and not a caretaker at all?”
These thoughts tormented me for three years and eventually forced me out of the daycare and into silence, loneliness, and constant guilt. I was fearful to ever tell anyone about my thoughts because I thought that they showed a truly darker side of me.
Alone and confused, I decided to confide in my parents. I thought they would know what to do, being healthcare workers, but they were just as confused as me. At last, I was left in the dark wondering why I, of all people, had thoughts like these.
Sometimes I struggled driving home when I obsessed over the possibility of having accidentally hit someone on the way home. Other times, I avoided petting my dog and avoided public spaces for fear that I might abuse our beloved family pet or a stranger. During the height of a global pandemic, the feelings of isolation only grew. I sought advice online because it was the last thing I could do.
To my amazement and relief, I finally had a name for what I was going through after conducting hundreds of Google searches and reading dozens of articles. It was OCD.
I still didn’t know how to combat these feelings and gain control of my life. I decided to tell my parents that I needed therapy. It was scary telling them about my thoughts, but after showing them a couple of articles on OCD and what it was, they agreed to get me help.
Therapy was difficult, to say the least. I didn’t have a private space to conduct my therapy sessions in, and the violent content of my obsessive thoughts was hard to talk about near my younger siblings. I often resulted to conducting sessions in my parked car on my driveway. The expenses were a major problem, with therapy bills amounting to hundreds of dollars per month. Teletherapy was the only option in my region, considering the lack of specialists near me.
Even with all these barriers to treatment, going to therapy has been the best decision I have made in my life (falling just short of choosing my significant other of four years.) With the help of my NOCD therapist, I was finally equipped with all the tools I needed to become an OCD warrior and a fighter. My flight instinct was still strong, but I became a fighter that day I decided to choose therapy.
The day I decided to choose hope will forever be a part of who I am. I realized I was not alone; I became part of a community of so many others, young and old, who were just like me.
Because of therapy, I no longer have to live in constant fear of who I am and what I am capable of. I now understand that uncertainty is an inherent part of life that I must choose to accept and live with.
I still have thoughts sometimes, but the distress they cause me daily is benign. I do not fight my thoughts. I am no longer performing compulsions 8-10 hours a day, reading through hundreds of articles trying to diagnose myself as a chemically exposed psychopath, zoophile, vehicular manslaughterer, pedophile, chronic memory loss patient, cancer patient, and everything else in the book.
True freedom and healing is not a cure, but it is much better. Nowadays, I am the main creative inspiration behind the OCD Texas Tiktok page and an advocate for the community. The account is dedicated to community education, community building, distributing resources, and connecting OCD sufferers to therapists and support groups.
As a researcher and aspiring Clinical Psychologist, OCD has also become a topic of my academic interests. It is a topic I research in my laboratory with Baylor College of Medicine. OCD is an illness I will forever be indebted to fighting, not just for myself, but for my community. No person should be left searching for answers in the dark ever again. I choose hope, and you should too.
Nicolas Sanchez is an undergraduate student of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a volunteer Research Assistant at Baylor College of Medicine in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He is an OCD advocate and social media content creator for OCD Texas. In his free time, he likes to cook and watch movies with his friends or take walks with his partner.