“I’ve struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since I was ten years old. Every single day of my life, everything I do consists of a ritual of counting the things I do in multiples of two, four, eight, and onward. It can even go up to multiples of 400. Every year, my brain chooses different numbers to interact with, but the 2s and 4s have always remained.
From showering to going to bed, I have a ritual for everything. Random things can trigger it, and I am left constantly thinking about how to rid my brain of this mental contamination. But I can’t just walk away from all of this.
When I wake up, I dread getting out of bed and starting my day. I know how much work my brain will have to do. Even the thought of feeding myself is unpleasant. I can only eat if I’ve grabbed the right pot that day, the right pan. I have to wash my hands every time I use or touch the trash can, which is often. I try to spend time with friends and family to distract from my triggers, but that only works for so long.
Then I forget what I’m doing, where I am, what I’m saying. I fear I will lose everyone in my life if I don’t turn on the faucet ten times in a row. I convince myself that my life will be in a perpetual, anxiety-ridden state if I don’t open the fridge door eight times with each hand. I am positive that bad things will happen to me if I don’t walk into a room four times, or blink thirty-two times. I’ll be sure it’s the reason I’m having a bad or unlucky day. The reason I’m feeling sad.
Naturally, it’s very difficult for me to focus on daily activities. I struggle the most with watching television or going out. Any word or image could jumpstart a ritual of blinking however many times it takes to get the bad thoughts out of my head. Going out is a whole other story. I feel like the outside germs contaminate me, and certain things like a distant cough or a sneeze will somehow find its way to my body. I must go home and cleanse myself. Some days, I’ve taken way too many showers to the point where I lose the complete willpower to take any more. I opt for just washing my hands, arms, face, and chest.
It’s difficult not to get upset about the fact that I can’t to do as much as a ‘normal’ person can. They can have a normal job. Go to school and pass their classes. Party. Not be afraid that they’ll need someone to depend upon when things get bad again, which always happens. Every day.
You may be wondering why I think like this. Well the answer is simple: I don’t know. It could be genetics. It could be something more. It could be multiple things. Almost everyone that I discuss my OCD with tells me that they have it too. I understand that a lot of us like things organized. Some of us are perfectionists. But it is not the same thing.
For me, it is difficult to even sit in class without wanting to scratch my skin off. I often get scolded for not listening, and I always need extra help and explanations. I’ve often thought that life would just be easier if I was left out of everything. It would have made my experience growing up a hell of a lot easier if people truly understood the severity of my illness. I cannot just turn it off like a light switch and wait until I get home to deal with it. I wish I did school differently; I wish they had known about my condition.
My peers at school looked at me funny when I didn’t want to touch certain things. They never knew why and just thought that I was stupid. One day, someone purposely rubbed my arm with a ball. I ran away and spent the entire rest of the day in agony, waiting to go home and shower. Waiting to wash my clothes and wash my backpack. I even had to start switching bags all of the time when I could no longer touch my current one, at least until I’d forget why I didn’t want to touch it in the first place.
No one ever noticed I had severe OCD because I kept it under wraps for so long. But I did worry that my teachers would notice, especially when I wrote a word over and over again to the point where it became illegible on the page. Or that I would erase things so many times that I would accidentally rip most of my papers.
Towards the end of school, I started not showing up. Quite a bit. In fact, I became the girl known for never showing up and sleeping all the time. I often wish my friends, family, and even I would have known then how much help I truly needed.
Nonetheless, it has made me who I am today, and I learned to cope with it a lot better when I wasn’t being excused for it.
When my family and friends questioned me, I never wanted to talk about anything in depth. They would ask if I was okay and what was wrong, and I’d respond by telling them I was just tired.
My mom, however, has always been my rock. When I was about eight, I told her that I felt really sad one day. She asked me why and I told her that I had no idea. That was the start of my depression. At twelve, I told her all about my blinking problem. She would have me lay down and close my eyes a while until my thoughts would rest. She later took me to a doctor where I was officially diagnosed with OCD, anxiety, and depression, and prescribed medication.
I remember going home and thinking I was insane. That no other kid had to take all of this medication. But she reassured me that many people struggle with the same things and that I was very normal. My mom has always been so understanding and loving. She’s helped me through the terrible moments, days, and weeks. She goes out of her way to make my crazy life just a little simpler.
It took my dad a while to realize that I was truly struggling, that it wasn’t just teenage stress. He now gets that it’s a very difficult condition to deal with and constantly supports me.
It wasn’t until I got a little older that I felt comfortable telling my friends about the weird things I did, like going home after an outing and scrubbing myself raw from head to toe for two hours in the shower, wasting half of my body wash. I hadn’t told them that I’d often lay in bed and sleep for days so I didn’t have to listen to my own head. It was the only way to make the thoughts go away. Or that after a concert I spent crying in the bathroom from anxiety, I had to go home and throw away that beautiful eighty-dollar dress I wore. No matter how much I washed it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to let myself wear it. Even just thinking about it made me want to cleanse every part of myself.
But at this point in my life, my friends totally understand what I go through and are so amazing. We all try and lift each other up and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I’ve gotten rid of the ‘friends’ that would put me in situations I wasn’t comfortable being in, fully aware that I wouldn’t be able to stay calm and cool.
I used to be so scared that others would think I’m crazy. I was so embarrassed of even my own mom knowing about any of the things that truly went on in my head. But after seeing nine therapists and six doctors, I am now taking the right medication to handle it well as an adult. It hasn’t gone away and the intrusive thoughts have not stopped, but I have found some level of peace while living with my mental illnesses.
From the age of ten, I remember watching YouTube and thinking that it was something I wanted to get involved with. Either that or something in the entertainment industry. But I doubted myself. How could a person like me, with my brain, be able to go off into the world and execute that? Then I remembered something: we all have brains. Why not go for it?
I wanted to relate to other wonderful people living with mental health issues, tell my stories, and give advice. After a lot of trial and error and anxiety about putting myself on the internet, I have finally gotten the hang of it. My little community understands me and what I go through. I try my hardest to understand and help them the way others have done for me. I finally feel like I have something to live for. My mental illness is no longer a curse, it is a gift and the focus of my career.
I have also found a love for reading again. For years, OCD kept me from being able to read a book. Now audio books allow me to read, though it sucks not knowing the comfort of a bed, warm blanket, and rainy day with a good book in hand.
I used to write when I was younger, not sure what about, but I was too scared to ever let anyone read it. I have now gotten over that fear and started blogging about mental health and other strokes of life.
While some days are harder than others, I know that I will always get through them. I remind myself of how far I’ve come. If I can do things living with OCD, then I can do plenty more things that I could never have imagined possible. When the days get rough, I look down at my tattoo. Breathe, it tells me. And that’s what I do.
On a lighter note, always keep dish-washing soap handy. If it can scrub the grease and grime off of dishes, it can take the germs off your hands.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melanie Nicks of Washington. Follow her journey on Twitter here and her channel here. Do you want to share your own journey with mental health? Submit your own story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free newsletter.
Read more about overcoming mental illness:
‘She’s not broken’: To the man whose wife or partner has anxiety
Do you know someone who could benefit from this story? Please SHARE this on Facebook or Twitter.