‘You’re too intense.’ My heart beat out of my chest; there wasn’t enough air. I became addicted to the relief of self-harm.’: Young woman diagnosed with OCD after years, ‘I learned so much about myself’

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of self-harm and suicidal ideation that may be triggering to some.

“Although it had only been ten minutes of waiting outside her office, it had been long enough to settle into the comfort of never wanting to go in. It was a very familiar feeling. Every morning for the last three months I found myself peeling my body out of bed. It would take me hours to fall asleep and even though I had only slept for a few hours, that gave my depression enough time to grow roots that embedded themselves in me and the sheets of my bed. They never produced anything beautiful—the roots had no blooms, only thorns. While growing, they’d remind me of the long day ahead and the stressful anxiety that was waiting to be felt.

When I finally harvested my body to start the day, I would rush to get ready for work—counting the strokes of mascara and triple-checking the curling iron to make sure I turned it off. One time on my way to work, someone honked their horn. I didn’t think it was towards me, but what if it was? Was I just involved in a hit-and-run and didn’t even know? One time my e-mail had been hacked and I was kicked off YouTube. I forgot I even had a YouTube account. ‘What did they do with my account?’ I would think. ‘My name is on there, what if I get in trouble?’ I found myself obsessing over the possibilities I knew were all in my head. But knowing they were in my head never helped me turn off the anxious voice. I would go about the day in constant fear that something I did or said was going to get me fired from my job. Was I nice enough to that customer? Were there any negative reviews about me on our social media? I would check almost every hour to make sure.

I was detaching from everyone around me simply because it was exhausting. I’ve always been an introvert—someone who loves socializing but gets the most energy when they’re by themselves. But I found myself wanting to simply comment on conversations, not engage in them. What if I said the wrong thing? What if I wasn’t smart enough for the conversation? Humility was never a problem for me—I could make fun of myself and admit when I had a ‘blonde moment.’ But humility had turned into absolute disgust. ‘How stupid,’ I thought. I didn’t just think of this for a second and move on. I would run it back and forth in my mind, continuously wearing my self-esteem thin.

Courtesy of Hannah Gribbins

I found myself feeling very blind-sided by the world. I grew up in a Christian home, and I believed that God loved me, and His son died on the cross from me. But why were all these bad things still happening? I lost my Aunt Clara at seventeen, my grandfather at eighteen, and my Uncle Jeff a few months after. My dad had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, my dog died, and my car had been totaled in a wreck, all within a month of each other. I came up with this idea of ‘cheating God.’ I would just assume the absolute worst out of every situation so that if it did happen, I would be prepared. My anxiety had become so strong that my faith in God’s love felt so weak.

Anxiety has never felt foreign to me. When I was ten, I started a new school, and the idea of not knowing anyone or the curriculum sent me over the edge. My heart was beating out of my chest, I felt like there wasn’t enough air in the world to inhale, and I couldn’t help but cry out of fear. I had even started having hallucinations of objects flashing before me as I tried to work. I would go to the nurse’s office when these feelings found their way to me. I practically lived in the nurse’s office—crying on the plastic mattress wanting to die. Those were my first thoughts of death—what it meant and how I wanted it to happen. My parents decided it was best to take me out of that school and go back to my normal routine.

Flash forward two years later and I found myself struggling with depression—I wasn’t the best at school and typical middle school drama made me feel unwanted and alone. I decided to experiment with something I had heard of in a Lifetime movie—cutting. I only did it a couple of times and soon I received the help I needed with a therapist. After six weeks of meeting with her, I was convinced cutting was something in my past. Unfortunately, those feelings I felt in seventh grade made their way to me in ninth grade. I found myself hating the person in the mirror. I simply believed she wasn’t good enough. I started cutting again, but this time it was much more frequent and deeper than before. I became addicted to the relief that soon I was doing it almost every day—it was a way to pass the time. Eventually, I became so tired of covering it up I started abusing over the counter painkillers. I was abusing them every day. One night I was taking my normal dose and simply wanted to give up. I took a lot of pills that night, not caring if I would wake up the next morning.

But I did. I woke up as if nothing had happened. I received the help I needed for my self-harm—a weekly session with a therapist I still see. She taught me coping skills and helped me gain confidence and taught me healthy ways to express myself. Going through my battles with self-harm never took me down the path of psychiatry. Therapy and behavioral work kept my head above the water—helping me thrive without medication.

Courtesy of Hannah Gribbins

I grew up singing and writing songs, so expressing my feeling at fourteen through songs and poems came naturally. It was if I was putting the pain on paper and not on my arm. I went through the rest of high school in a pretty healthy manner and as I started college, my love of writing put me in the great role of an English major.

When it came to dating, I heard the same things: ‘You’re intense,’ ‘You’re a lot,’ ‘You take things too personally.’ When I was going through my struggle of self-harm, I begged to be diagnosed with a disorder. I wanted something to explain my emotions—something that wasn’t necessarily my fault. But as an adult, I started embracing these ‘intensities.’ When I was told these things, I would shrug them off and not let them get to me. I used them to better my writing—creating short stories that were dripping in emotions, filled with heartbreak and triumph. I was okay to be ‘too intense’ because it made my writing better. It made me more relatable for other people to not feel as alone because they were told similar things. I figured the right guy would come along and not think of the intense emotions as negatives, but as positives. Little did I know something was going on inside me that wasn’t my fault.

After I graduated at the top of my class with two creative writing awards, two college creative writing publications, and two self-published books at twenty-four, the roots began to grow as I slept again, and the anxiety began to scream—leading me to the chair sitting outside the therapist’s office. I did everything I could to stay away from there. When the constant checking and detachments began, I knew something was wrong. But I didn’t want to self-harm so it couldn’t be too bad, right? In October of 2019, I told my therapist about these issues and she suggested I may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I asked if we could do more behavioral work to get me back to normal because I didn’t feel like a different person. I just felt my habits had changed. I started keeping a journal, my Joy Journal, of things to enjoy each day—holding myself accountable to not let the fear keep me from living a happy life.

Courtesy of Hannah Gribbins

But right after this accountability began, my grandmother died suddenly. I was working so hard to keep up with my journal of joy, but I found myself wanting nothing to do with it. I would sit down to write at my favorite coffee shop, and I couldn’t. I would spend time with my family and beg for quiet. I would try to talk to God and give Him praise, but I simply wanted to scream at Him. I felt like a heavy mass was sitting on my shoulders, constantly pushing me down. I felt I could burst into tears at any moment. I started to rush and panic when a minor inconvenience took place at work. I second-guessed all my friendships, fearing  everyone secretly hated me. I felt so behind in life when I had no reason to.  I remember counting meatballs at our family Christmas because I was overwhelmed with all the people. Knowing mental illness ran on both sides of my family and seeing how much psychiatry helped my dad, I knew I had to do it—even though I didn’t want to.

I felt as if I had failed myself. I had failed at making the behavioral therapy work and the Joy Journal effective. I had failed my fourteen-year-old self who begged for a diagnosis. I decided to see the same psychiatrist my dad goes to—I felt more comfortable going to someone he trusts. When she came out to get me, I ripped the roots from the chair, forced a smile, and made my way into her office. As she looked over the paperwork I had just filled out, I noticed a very large book with a light blue cover that read ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ on its spine. I rolled my eyes believing it to be the world taunting me. She asked that I give her a history of my mental health. How am I supposed to unpack twenty-four years in an hour? But I started from when I was ten, and then I was like a freight train unwilling to slow down.

She began asking about my hobbies, my energy, and my focus. I realized how much my anxiety had kept me tired during the day and how my depression refused to let me sleep at night. I remember telling her about the different deaths in my family and she let out a sigh of sympathy—I can’t recall a time anyone had ever shown compassion for the patch of grief I went through. She acknowledged the worrying, the counting, the fear. She explained my body wasn’t producing a healthy amount of serotonin, which in turn was keeping my mind from slowing down.

I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder manifesting itself as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She clarified my lack of serotonin was to blame for these disorders, just like a body’s inability to use blood sugar properly is to blame for diabetes. She validated that I did everything I could to take care of myself—therapy, behavioral work, coping skills—but something was going on chemically inside me that needed to be straightened out.

Courtesy of Hannah Gribbins

After the first two months of medication, I felt like the same person, only balanced. I found myself sleeping much better and waking up easier. There were no roots that had grown overnight keeping me from leaving the bed. I was reasonable in my fears and able to talk them down. There was no constant fear of going to jail. People commented that I seemed happier, more talkative, more energetic, and I felt I was as well. I had the energy to go to work and hang out with friends after. I spent my days off writing and working on other side projects, rather than sulking on the couch. When something doesn’t go as planned, I don’t wish I had better prepared, instead I look at ways to move forward. I don’t question God’s love anymore; I dwell in it.

I’ve always been very open about my struggle with mental health and self-harm. I’ve had no issue speaking about it to others or on social media. And this diagnosis was no different. From the time my therapist and I started working on the Joy Journal I made it known, hoping it would help others. When I was fully diagnosed and had been on medication for a couple of months, I spoke about it on social media on my twenty-fifth birthday. I announced I was taking the step of moving out on my own—something I never would have thought possible three months prior without medication. I was overwhelmed with the love and support of others. Many people reached out to me asking more about it, thanking me for discussing it, and sending me good vibes and prayers. I look back on my life before this diagnosis and I never say ‘I wish I had known sooner,’ because going to therapy for all those years taught me so much about myself. And it continues today.

I go to therapy to talk things out—to reflect, to plan, to iron the wrinkles in my emotions. I go to a psychiatrist to make sure my body is handling everything healthily and to make sure my serotonin is leveled. I will continue to go to both because they help me take care of who I am—emotionally, spiritually, physically & chemically.”

Courtesy of Hannah Gribbins

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Gribbins of Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow her journey on Instagram, and on her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube  for our best videos.

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