“On October 6, the year I turned 1 year old, there was a gift arriving 3 days away, but I did not receive it until 30 years later. That gift was my husband, a fellow Libran, with OCD. The day we met up in person, we both drove Buick LeSabres and owned Toshiba laptops. The funny thing is he had grown up as a best friend of one of my closest cousins. I knew of him only by name, saw him once in passing, and in later years, found out he suffered a mental breakdown, extremely parallel to mine. My cousin had told his best friend his cousin was ‘kind of weird.’ Yet, this man, who I call my twin, said he could not find anything strange about me. He is the only person who has told me I am beautiful every single day since we met and has loved me unconditionally, never judging me or making me feel like ‘the other.’ He is the most genuine soul I have ever known, perfect. I felt it was serendipity and I prayed to the stars he would be mine.
When most people think of OCD, they think of ‘cleanliness’ and ‘orderliness.’ They use it as an adjective to describe themselves, such as, ‘I am so OCD!’ They don’t realize or understand OCD is actually a neurological error in the brain that causes emotional turmoil against the person’s will. It is intrusive thoughts, which also constitute images; still or moving. The sufferer gets thoughts of a taboo nature. It is similar to the experience some people have when they hear fingernails scratching on a chalkboard or someone cracking their knuckles. The thoughts, just like the sounds, are unexpected and they make you cringe and conjure disturbing images you just cannot shake out of your head for a while. All people have taboo thoughts that pop up in the mind every once in a while, but most people just move one from them, passing them off as nothing. OCD sufferers, however, get ‘stuck’ on the thoughts and tie them in with worry, doubt, and guilt. The thoughts play very much like a broken record. There was no funny one-liner the day it was revealed I was ‘so OCD.’
‘What are you thinking right now?’ asked the clinician in the examination room. ‘I’m thinking, I want to kill you,’ I responded. She obviously did not understand what I meant, because I was immediately committed to the behavioral ward of the hospital. No one seemed to understand. To this day, they still don’t, save for only one person: my husband. She never allowed me to explain. ‘She made you angry, maybe…,’ my nurse-aunt and godmother asked me years later.
‘No, she didn’t make me angry. I did not want to kill her.’ I used to see those words inside my mind. That image would repeat over and over in my head. It was not about ‘wanting.’ It was what I was ‘seeing’ inside my head when she asked me what I was thinking. I told her what thought I was ‘seeing’ at the forefront of my mind’s eye. It wasn’t something I was contemplating or feeling— it was an intrusive thought.
‘Did someone ever hurt you when you were young?’ That was the only response she came up with, given my attempts at trying to explain how OCD works. There was no comprehension of anything I had just explained. It went in one ear and out the other. Perhaps if I drew it out as a sketch with speech balloons over top of a stick figure’s head, it could be understood better? I have done that myself just to see how it would look but never shown it to anyone. How do you explain an intrusive thought to someone who does not have them on a broken record, and differentiate yourself from a psychopath who actually takes pleasure in them? I have tried and that latter question is what I have received in return. Only a picture would work, right? A picture is worth a thousand words. How many pictures would I have to draw to make people understand OCD?
How can I make someone understand why I had to keep washing my hands until they became chapped with blood seeping through the cracks and reddened because I could not stop until the ‘bad thoughts’ ceased or were ‘taken back?’ How can I explain why I would repeat words and sentences over and over again, because I had to ‘make things right?’ I could not cross a threshold until I ‘made things right.’ I used to keep turning my head back and forth, looking at the person in front of me, turning away, then looking at them again, back and forth, until I could look at them without thinking a ‘bad thought.’ Could I draw all these things, also? Wouldn’t these types of things be understood better, as they are outward behaviors and are not inside the mind, where no one can see? Apparently not, because when a female teenager is under distress and behaving erratically, it is immediately inquired as to whether they had been sexually assaulted. Either that or you are labeled as disruptive and neurotic, purposely acting out to seek attention.
I have tried; my husband doesn’t even want to try. He thinks no one will understand unless they have a similar mind. Why did he have seven panic attacks a day, when he turned 27, vomiting, and losing 30 pounds? It is the most hopeless feeling in your world when the people who are supposed to be closest to you explain the answer as a grand Oscar-worthy performance or you are being lazy. This is the struggle people with mental illness live with on a daily basis. Your brain is not an arm or leg where the break can be outwardly seen.
I am ‘so OCD’ that at 16, during my sophomore year of high school, I was diagnosed as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with ‘severe depression and psychosis.’ I know these specific terms of diagnoses because years later, I retrieved all of my medical records for my own study and keeping. I have piles of papers, filled with handwriting that is unfortunately highly illegible because I would like to reveal more of what was written about me. I was so out of my mind at the time I need reminders to recollect upon. Not much was known about OCD in the late ’90s. Only more recently has it been treated more appropriately. I was in therapy until I was 17, on various medications. I remember the Zoloft being handed to me in a small paper cup, along with another paper cup filled with a mouthful of water. ‘What is it?’ I asked the nurse in the ‘school room’ of the behavioral ward in the hospital. ‘It will make you feel better.’ It was just like a scene straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They were in control and you were not in on the action.
As a result of a relapse, I was taken out of school for the rest of the year and homeschooled, being put into outpatient therapy. I had a therapist and a counselor, who would come to the home and speak to my father and me. Then, they would take me out for activities, such as swimming, bowling, shopping, playing basketball, and even cashing their paychecks at the bank. Basically, they were getting me out to socialize. At home, they would ask my father questions, which he felt were interrogations and a burden. They were exceedingly kind women; however, it was not what is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is the only truly known scientifically proven and supported treatment for OCD. I am on the severe spectrum, at least for 20 years. My recurring intrusive thought was, ‘I want to kill you’ as previously mentioned. It would just pop up when I had to be face-to-face with someone. It tortured me, horribly. I had to pray, and still do pray, but with better control.
I have learned to ‘privatize’ my OCD. I don’t allow it to show outwardly anymore, as much as I can. I never wanted it to show, by the way—I had a mental breakdown. I never invited it in. I never knew what it was. All I knew was I had strange thoughts. Strange, because they were ‘bad’ and I was a good little girl. Then, like an intrusive, unexpected vampire barging in from the night, it slowly started draining my life away. Gradually, since I was about 6 or 7, on and off, until I had the ‘Big Thought’ as I call it, my future husband was also having some strange thoughts of his own. He frightened his aunt by looking out the window at night, staring at the moon, and asked, ‘What is it doing?’ His mother was confused as to why he would keep going to her, asking if he was a bad person, needing assurance that he was not.
That is what happens when you are ‘so OCD’ and your mind controls you and you lose control over your own body. You know people are looking. You know they see and hear you, but you must ‘compulse’ against those obsessions, or ‘something bad will happen.’ A good Catholic girl cannot have this in her mind. She cannot be sinning. She must repent. She must rebuke thoughts, praying them away. But then she would get stuck in her prayers, having to repeat them, starting them all over from the beginning because a bad thought intruded.
Incessantly, this would happen until I would break down into tears. ‘I want to kill you.’ ‘I want to kill my father.’ ‘I want God to die.’ ‘I want my mother to die.’ My mother was already dead. Wanting her to die when she was already dead was the worst thought possible. My poor angel mother. I could not be bad. I was a good girl.
When I got to high school, I would break down in the hallway in front of my teacher. That was the day I was taken to the hospital. I made my algebra teacher break down into tears from seeing mine. I just could not stop the thoughts, nor picking the skin around my fingernails under my desk, until they bled. So much of that time for me is a haze in my mind. I kept trying to ‘pray away’ the thoughts and wanting my forgiveness for them. It was a repeating cycle, so I just broke down into tears from the mental anguish. It was too much. Of course, she noticed this girl with tears streaming down her face; the girl who did not speak to anyone in class and had no friends because she was bullied. She held me after class and guided me into the guidance counselor’s office as I rambled repeatedly to her, ‘I’m sorry Mrs. Whitley…. I’m sorry Mrs. Whitley…’ I could not stop. I hated it and I hated myself. I hated my life. I was an inconvenience, a stressor on others.
They called my father to come and pick me up from school as I behaved like a parrot, choking on tears, turning my head from side to side, yapping incoherent words. I just could not stop. At home, my father rubbed the temples of the side of my head, while sitting on the couch. ‘Does this make it better?’ It. We had no real name for ‘it.’ And, no, it did not make me feel better. My father meant well. He called my nurse-aunt/godmother at work. She said she would be by in the evening. He laid down to take a nap. I walked from one side of the living room to the other to take back the bad thoughts I was having as I looked at the photograph hanging on the wall of my paternal grandfather, who had passed away nearly 2 decades before my birth. What was the worst thought I had? Nothing is worse than horrible thoughts about the Almighty, right? Or am I wrong? They are all torture, either way. While this was going on with me, my husband was a budding popular, handsome young man, but one who stayed in his room playing his guitar most of the time because music was his escape from depression and the strange thoughts, which still had not fully gone away.
During diagnosis and recovery, the past had to be drudged up, including the thought I was told to never mention. When I was a child and I wanted to confess to my father something ‘bad’ I had done, but was afraid of confrontation, I would write it down on a piece of paper, fold it up and leave it on the coffee table. This amused him, as he thought it was cute. After my mother died, my thoughts got worse. I do not really remember exactly what they were. My mother was in and out of the hospital with systemic scleroderma for 8 years. I remember my cousin telling me about a friend of hers who had wished she would die, and then her mother ended up dying. One night, I think I was 7, my mother was in the hospital. I was standing in the kitchen by myself at night, and I suppose I was thinking about my mother. I said out loud to myself while rubbing my face with my hands, ‘I wish I was dead.’ I immediately felt fear and guilt. I did not want to cause my mother’s death by wishing for my own.
By 9 years old, I had developed anxiety and depression. I would bawl tears of loneliness whenever my cousins came to play and then had to leave to go back home to the city. I would lay in bed at night, not being able to sleep. Thoughts and worry made me weep, and my belly ached with burning pain. As an adult, I learned that this was panic and anxiety. It causes a feeling of a knot to form in the center of your abdomen and you can’t move. You just curl into the fetal position. All I knew was my ‘stomach hurt’ so bad. I would get out of the bed, crying, and go to my father. ‘Daddy, my stomach hurts. I can’t sleep.’ Sometimes I would crawl into bed beside him. Other times, I would lay down flat on my stomach, across the floor below his bedside, pressing into my aching abdomen with a balled-up fist until I fell asleep.
One night, at 10 years of age, I was lying in my bed again with carnivals of irrational, random worries racing through my mind and I had the ‘Big Thought.’ It just popped out of nowhere. It really was not a ‘thought’ but a very strange image I had never seen before. I had no reason to think it because I had no knowledge of anything of its nature. Intrusive thoughts are random and unpremeditated. I was a very loved and protected, blessed child. I have an extraordinarily far-stretching memory and I was never left alone with people. I always had my own mind, and no one could make me to do anything. I was stubborn. Holding people’s secrets made me feel guilty; I told my father everything.
I know partly where my OCD comes from. My father will never admit it. Maybe there was more behind why my father did not want to talk about my thoughts. I have other family members with it, in different ways. But the mental disorder is there. There is also manic-depression and schizophrenia. I no longer deal with the intrusive thoughts like I used to, though if they do occur, they mostly come at night. I pray them away but also have taught myself to let them go. I know they are random and mean nothing, but they are disturbing, nonetheless. I am working on my tics.
My husband can now sleep beside me in the bed, without having tearful panic attacks as much as he used to. We are seeing the same therapist, who actually has OCD himself, and we are on medication. It does usually run in families, but older generations stigmatize therapy and medication. For the longest time, I avoided treatment. It caused me problems with keeping up with my writing or turning in school assignments on time. When people have OCD, they get depressed. To avoid having stressful thoughts, they often sleep, but when you wake up, you will have to deal with your issues all the same. I still wash my hands like a fiend, but it is to avoid germs.
My husband and I support each other. He encourages my writing and I encourage his music. We take things one day at a time. There have been hardships, but we understand what the other is going through and that is the main thing. Is it good for the rest of the world to understand? I think it is good to recognize that mental illness is real, even though you cannot necessarily see it and it does not ‘just go away.’ Intrusive thoughts are like the pink elephant in the room. When you try to not think about them, you think about them. People might not understand the mechanics of how the neurons and chemicals in the brain make you the way you are, but you can know that you are normal. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a bad person, nor do you have a bad brain. Do not allow stigma to keep you from seeking out treatment. There is support. Medications are not a cure-all, but they do help to stabilize our brain chemistry, therefore our moods get better so we can get motivated to do the behavioral work we need to do.
The brain is a mystery to medical science to this day. It is extraordinarily complex. You will get better, not worse. OCD evolves with you. It goes through multiple phases. No demon is causing your OCD. No amount of praying will make it go away for good, but that does not mean you should stop taking comfort in prayer. Just remember that prayer makes you feel good, so if you end up getting stressed from doing it, or you keep checking the stove dials when they clearly say ‘off,’ you are making it a compulsion and you are not guilty for stopping. You will not cause anything bad to happen. The thoughts are not willed. This is what we are told in therapy: The fact we are anguished by whatever our thoughts are means that it is our OCD and not anything rational or real. God bless.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rosaline George Russeau from NC, USA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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