‘I can’t do this another day!’ My hands were rotten, my skin so red and thin I could see my bone through it.’: Teen OCD survivor becomes mental health advocate, ‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel’

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Disclaimer: This story contains mention of suicide and self harm and may be triggering to some. 

“People may often wonder why I have ‘survivor’ tattooed to my arm. They may walk past thinking I must have survived a terrible car accident or a cancer diagnosis, when in reality, most won’t know why I have it tattooed to me. The word survivor means: ‘to beat the odds; one with great courage and strength, a true inspiration.’ The meaning popped up on my Pinterest board just years before my biggest battle yet.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

I was in the hospital from an incident relating to my mental health. There I was, tucked away in the small pediatrics ward, where I was kept closely monitored by hospital staff. It had already been three weeks of medication changes and constant hustle around the hospital when I tried to take my life. No one saw it coming either, which I think scared the people around me the most.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

No one can ever explain the sadness you feel before attempting suicide. It’s a deep numbness mixed with hope this life will soon be over. Sad, I know. It still shocks me I could even feel this way, but yet, so many more people also struggle with the same feelings.

It was 1:15 p.m. on August 28th, 2019 when I decided enough was enough. I was going to attempt suicide once again. Alone in my small hospital room, I lay in pain and struggling. I soon gave up with my attempt and pushed the small red button to alert the nurses I needed help. I felt stupid. What was she going to think? What was going to happen?

‘What’s up?’ my nurse asked. ‘Naomi? Naomi!’ She grabbed my limp body and dropped me as she jumped for the ‘code’ button. ‘Code blue, pediatrics, room 2027.’ What? I knew what that meant! Code blue is a term hospitals use for when a patient’s heart has stopped or when a patient is in a medical emergency. I heard the piles of nurses and doctors running for my room with carts and equipment to save me.

‘I found her blue,’ my nurse explained. What? How bad was this? The doctors began to resuscitate me, giving me oxygen and intravenous fluids. Tests on my heart and imaging were ordered, and I was rushed downstairs in my bed to get an X-ray. Thankfully, I had not sustained any injuries to my head. I was stabilized, the code blue was then cleared, and the medical team filtered away and went back to their work. I was left to finish the intravenous fluids.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

This wasn’t my first attempt or even my first hospital stay. For the last couple years, I had been struggling with mental health. I was officially diagnosed with OCD, BPD, and ADHD in 2017, while in an inpatient mental hospital. In this time frame of two years, I had been to four hospitals, had dozens of medical tests done, tried over seventeen medications, rode in two ambulances, had a procedure done, and stayed in a hospital for a total of six months.

Yes, I did say seventeen medications. Anything from antidepressants, antipsychotics, beta blockers, antiepileptic, and lithium was tried. Some medications would work and others would react with my body, causing swelling and dangerous hormonal imbalances. I also mentioned I needed a procedure done because of self harm. I ended up needing knee surgery and was stuck in a wheelchair for a few weeks, which (surprise!) did not help my mental wellbeing.

We knew something was wrong by the beginning of 2017, when I began to wash my hands excessively to the point where they dried up and began to bleed. My OCD manifested in the contamination category of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The only way I could describe them was they had become rotten. My skin became so red and thin I could see my bone through the skin. It was excruciating, and daily life became a battle. Every night, the words ‘I can’t do this another day’ came flooding out of my mouth. There is not a word to describe the torture endured in those first months of my battle.

Along with the OCD, I struggled for months with self harm, and of course, the suicidal ideation. We now know it was a trait of BPD. There were days the staff at my school would pull me out of the bathroom stalls, injured and scared. I was put on one-on-one care at school, where I had a teacher watching me 24/7. The second I would go MIA, a search team was sent to pull me out of the bathrooms. Life became a blur. I isolated myself from friends and family only to find my next ‘fix.’ Overdose after overdose, injury after injury, my school and family watched in horror as I destroyed my body and soul. It’s an addiction that’s so hard to beat. It was then, just months later, I coded in the hospital after my most serious attempt.

A week after my resuscitation, I was discharged from the hospital. You might be wondering why so soon after a serious attempt. It was me. Something flipped. I wanted to go home. I wanted to try to fight, and most importantly, go home after a month in the hospital.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

I will never forget the moment I walked outside those doors for the last time. It was a bright, crisp morning in September. I told my mom to take a photo of me saluting to the nurses. I looked up toward the second floor and threw my arm up into the sky. ‘Thank you,’ I thought.

I wouldn’t call that moment the moment I recovered, only because of the months after my discharge. I had relapsed again with my OCD while at my new school. My hands once again crumbled into a pile of dead skin. I think the moment I began to fight was during that relapse, as I began to use my therapy tools. My therapist had told me about the rock-in-the-jar. Every time I had an urge to wash or complete a ritual, I had to decide whether to put a rock in the jar or to continue down the dangerous path. This saved me. It gave me just the little amount of satisfaction I needed to battle my illness. It was a slow start to begin with, but I’m happy to say it’s just the thing that saved me.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

It’s 2020 now. My life is truly a dream come true. To start, the school I self harmed in welcomed me with open arms, though I thought I was to never set foot on their property. I am working hard to become a nurse. The plan right now is to work at the psychiatric hospital I once stayed in. I’m also just beginning to write a book about my story, at the young age of seventeen.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

In early 2020, I made the decision of a lifetime, with a little help from a wonderful woman named Jazz Thornton. I came across her TikTok account one morning, and it quite literally changed my life. To see an inspiring young woman with such a passion for mental health intrigued me. Why wasn’t she ashamed of her story?

Two days after finding Jazz, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet her and talk to her via Instagram live. I will never forget the notification that popped onto my screen. Utter shock. I quickly got myself together and pressed ‘accept.’ We talked for maybe five minutes, but that was enough to give me the confidence I needed to move on with my recovery.

I instantly fell in love with the idea of advocacy. I decided to open up about my story. It was a difficult and scary decision. What would my peers think? What would everyone think? But I did it. I made an announcement on my Instagram that I was no longer going to live my life in fear of others. Just like that, all of the secrets and lies left my body and mind.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

I started my own TikTok account. Though I didn’t think it would go far, it was a spot to tell my story and release my emotions in a healthy way. I now have over 4,000 amazing followers that I get to inspire and help every day. I also will never forget the moment I got this comment. ‘Thank you. You just saved my life.’ Or something along those lines. My heart dropped. What if I hadn’t made that video? I was so proud of myself, but also proud of the individual who decided to stay.

That wasn’t the last message I got. Every few weeks, I’ll get a message explaining how I saved their life. (Well, they decided to save themselves, thanks to my videos!) It warms my heart knowing I can make a difference.

Courtesy of Naomi Solbak

My greatest advice to someone who is contemplating suicide (or anyone struggling) is to reach. Reach out to a friend or family member; reach for a therapist, or doctor. Reach for anyone you trust. This is something I didn’t do, and I wish I had. I’m now learning it’s better to reach out for help than to sit in silence. I also want to say there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even if you can’t see the light right now, it doesn’t mean you are too far off the path. Maybe your tunnel is dark because it’s nighttime and you need to wait until morning to see the light. I came up with this analogy not too long ago, and I absolutely love it because it’s true. Life turns itself around.”

Courtesy of Kristen Renee Photography
Courtesy of Kristen Renee Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Naomi Solbak of Alberta, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram and on TikTok @naomisjourney. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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