By Stephanie Sousa
Those were the words I told myself time and time again. I washed my hands knowing there was no rationality behind the idea that I may have been near something that was “contaminated”. I still took that 3-hour shower after being reassured by family members that I was indeed safe. Even after being flagged at the Apple store for repeatedly destroying my phones, I still ran them under soap and water to ensure it was safe. It wasn’t something I looked forward to or even a task I enjoyed but I had to do it, just in case. Like so many others I didn’t see a way to recover. I felt as though I was trapped in an empty room hoping to be saved but too afraid to open the door to any who knocked. Keeping that door closed was my only chance of keeping those demons at bay, but I was wrong.
I spent four months at McLean Hospital’s OCDI, they were some of the most difficult moments of my life, but also the most transformative, and influential. I didn’t just leave McLean in remission; I left a completely changed human being. I decided at that moment that I wanted to give the same hope to others that I had received. I was not an easy case to handle by any means. At the time of my admission, I had been living in my room for the past 4 years, too afraid to leave my bed. When I was forced to leave for work, I would keep all my belongings locked, just in case someone touched them. I washed my hands in secret to the point of bleeding and continuously used rubbing alcohol for sanitization. I isolated myself from friends and family and would go without food or water because I didn’t know who touched it. Looking back, it’s hard to believe the amount of progress this program was able to achieve. On my last day at McLean, I was asked if the treatment had been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t. Those years following my compulsions, avoiding my loved ones, and living in constant fear and anxiety were so much more draining than any ERP that I had experienced.
I took back now at what OCD had taken from me. I was not, and am not, my illness. The compulsions and avoidant behaviors were drawn together by a disease that finds what you love and uses it against you. The fear is controlled by the same organ in which this lives, and those feelings of rationality that show up and tell you it doesn’t make sense, that’s you! What helped me most in my recovery was the knowledge that I was taking back control. I had all of the power this time, and the more my OCD pushed back the more inspiration it provided me. I promised myself that I would no longer let this disease decide my future. I couldn’t control my thoughts or fears, but I’d be damn sure that my actions were my own! I can’t sit here and pretend to know all the answers and tell you what works best, but I will say this. You deserve better, you deserve the life you’ve always wanted and the happiness you dream of. You deserve to live the life you choose, and you are anything but alone. The exposures are your chance to fight back, so look OCD in the mirror and do what you’ve always been capable of. Show’em who’s boss. I hope to help others who live with OCD and feel alone in their journey to recovery, so I tell my own story, you know, just in case.