I was in middle school, about 14 years old when I really began to notice something was ‘off’. I wanted things to be perfect and had trouble with touching things and contamination fears. It wasn’t very noticeable and I would say that it was mild at that time. Honestly, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I remember I would become upset and irritated if people would rearrange or touch my belongings. I never realized it was OCD.
I started obsessing
It wasn’t until it started to progress into other themes that I started to take notice that something serious was going on. I began working with a traditional ‘talk’ therapist. The brief, short meetings would help to provide some relief. Unfortunately, the relief wouldn’t last long.
My obsessions latched onto my phone. I worried that maybe I had searched for something illegal unintentionally. I wondered if when I was asleep I could have searched for something that may get me into trouble. I began spending hours upon hours checking and deleting my search history, ensuring that I hadn’t looked up anything ‘bad’.
I was questioning so many things in my life. I was making myself sick with intrusive thoughts of all the what-ifs. Before I knew it, I was spending days doing this. I retreated to my bedroom more and more. My parents started to take notice and worry.
At the beginning of all of this, I would try and ask for reassurance from people close to me. I noticed their strong reactions and this would send me into what I call an OCD panic. I soon realized that this was not something I could talk about with just anyone. I worried that somehow someone would find out my search history and I would get arrested. Part of me knew that there wasn’t anything on my search history that could get me arrested, but that small chance of what-if haunted me. Fear was drowning out any logical thought.
I was in my spring semester at college when things really began to spiral out of control. I tried to push through it. Intrusive thoughts bombarded my mind, my every waking minute. I spent hours upon hours cleaning things, my room had become a focus and I wanted to ensure no one contaminated it. I would get angry if others wanted to come into it. I didn’t want them in there messing up all of my hard work.
I couldn’t move forward until I had this one thing figured out and I had dealt with it. I needed to figure out that particular thought or process. I was lost in rumination. I was reviewing and going through everything I thought, did, and acted on over and over again until I could make some sense of it and feel some level of relief. It was absolutely debilitating. It had begun to consume my life and my functioning was impaired.
That summer I tried TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). Me, truthfully, I didn’t notice any difference. I was trying to find anything that could help me. I was stuck in this seemingly deep pit of mud unable to find my way out. That is when I stumbled upon NOCD. I had been hearing, for some time, that ERP was the best treatment for OCD. I just wasn’t sure that I believed that ERP was the answer. I had reservations about what I had heard about it. I continued to struggle with my symptoms and knew I would need to try ERP.
I went back to college. I started missing weeks and weeks of classes. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Eventually, I was forced to drop out and return home. I started intensive treatment and after 3 weeks, a depressive episode, and not getting out of bed, I almost went to the hospital. It was at this point that I finally decided to give ERP a real chance and to take the treatment seriously. Up until this point I had not believed it could help and so I didn’t really put my all into it.
The Holidays came and went. I wasn’t really taking care of my basic needs. I wasn’t able to enjoy anything really. People around me didn’t really understand what I was dealing with. There is still so much stigma surrounding mental health. There is so much misinformation about OCD in particular. Well-meaning, but misinformed people would tell me that I needed to just get over it, white knuckle it through it. I didn’t feel heard or validated. I also put a lot of pressure on myself to push through, to do it on my own. I felt I needed to be ‘tough’. I think that men, in particular, are expected to act a certain way, to not be phased by things like anxiety and mental health issues. This toxic idea can have devastating effects on men.
Learning to live with uncertainty
The metaphor I use to describe what having OCD is like is that you are in a cage and there are lions surrounding you. There is no peace, constant turmoil, and torment. You just want to push the thoughts away but you can’t. When I was at my sickest I was having thoughts of suicide. I kept telling myself that I needed to keep going.
My NOCD therapist became a huge support in my life. My mom was also an integral part of an amazing support system. Tara was my NOCD therapist. She was teaching me how to learn to live with uncertainty. I started to not engage in compulsions. I spent 3 months really putting in the hard work of ERP. I started to see gradual improvement, steady changes. Sometimes I would get annoyed with ERP. It was admittedly hard work. Taking it day by day allowed me to focus on getting better. In ERP I worked hard at not checking my phone, going longer and longer periods of time without checking it, and not deleting my search history. Eventually, I was able to refuse to check the phone right in the middle of one of my episodes. This was so empowering. Of course, OCD fought back, hard. It was like it tried to find a loophole, it tried to attack in a different way. OCD would say things like “Well maybe it’s not really OCD.”
In ERP I had to imagine the FBI showing up on my doorstep and arresting me. I had to feel the anxiety that this brought alongside it. I began to learn not to seek reassurance from my therapist but to allow the feelings to be there and pass on their own. I learned to sit with the discomfort and use the tools I had learned in ERP. Eventually, the anxiety faded on its own.
But they are in the background, I am no longer engaging with them. Not every day is perfect, but most days are so much better. I learned that instead of getting temporary peace from compulsions I could get longer-term peace with ERP.
Living in recovery with OCD
I am living proof that OCD is treatable. I am now living in recovery. I still check in with my therapist about 1 time per month. The majority of my days are spent living a life based on my values and not living in fear.
I am back at school again. That time of stepping away and focusing solely on my mental health was so important to me and I am grateful that I was able to do this. I am thankful that I had an amazing support system that helped me to do this. My dream is to become a doctor and to feel confident that I can become one. Every day I am learning something new about myself, ERP, and OCD. The NOCD app. Has been a tremendous help when I am feeling stuck or just need extra encouragement.
I recently became a NOCD community Alumni Member. I volunteer and help others who are struggling with OCD to regain control of their lives. I am spreading education and advocacy about this disorder.
I am surprised by how quickly I was able to recover. I attribute this to allowing myself to truly give ERP a chance and throwing myself into treatment wholeheartedly. I want others to know that OCD can play the worst head games with you. I try and help friends and family understand what OCD is really like and how much of an impact it has had on my life. OCD is chronic and I want to spread awareness. Even though it is often chronic that doesn’t mean that you will always suffer or be debilitated by it. There is hope. There is help.
Today I continue to attend school. In my free time, I am a volunteer firefighter, I like to play ice hockey, and I love to watch movies. If you had asked me 2 years ago if I thought any of this was possible, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am.