I’ve been trying to figure out the right time to talk about this for a while. I kept deciding that it wasn’t the right time, and left it be.
This past Sunday, one of our lead teaching pastors was talking about the choices we face when it comes to the wounds in our lives – we can either “run and numb”, or “own and offer”. In other words, we should own up to our pain, and offer our story in the hopes that it will help others. Near the end of the message, I felt God saying to me: “You’re doing better with your OCD. It’s time to talk about it”. Ever since that message, I have had no doubt that this is the right time to open up about my mental health journey.
Even if you don’t share my faith, you don’t have to believe that God told me it was time to share my story to listen.
In June of 2016, I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder after a year or so of dealing with severe anxiety.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify something: OCD is not a quirky personality trait that centers around wanting things to be neat. OCD is a debilitating mental illness. It is composed of two parts – obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are repetitive, intrusive thoughts and images that cause fear, guilt, and anxiety in the individual struggling with OCD. Compulsions are the actions that the individual completes in an attempt to reduce their anxiety. For example, someone might have obsessions over a loved one dying, and they feel like they have to repetitively turn a light switch on and off in order to save that person.
People with OCD do not choose their obsessive thoughts and physically can’t control their compulsions. It is not quite known exactly what causes OCD, but correlations have been found between individuals with OCD and a lack of serotonin in their brains.
Think of it in the terms of car transmissions. A car with an automatic transmission seamlessly switches gears. That’s what it’s like in the mind of person who doesn’t have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. A non-afflicted person can usually ignore any intrusive thoughts or urges they might receive. Their mind automatically pushes them away. But then there are cars with manual transmissions. The driver must physically shift each gear, or the car will get stuck. That is what it is like to have OCD. The brain of a person with OCD cannot automatically disregard unwanted thoughts or images. The person must learn how to manually deal with them, or the brain will get “stuck”, and the individual will feel compelled to continuously dwell on their anxiety and repetitively complete actions. This stagnant physical and mental state hinders those who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder from freely living their lives.
So please, don’t make any “OCD” jokes. I won’t find them funny.
I see my counselor (Justin Erb, Greenleaf Christian Counseling, he’s awesome, look him up) and I take medication to treat my disorder. I’m not ashamed of doing either. I am getting the help I need, and I’ve already seen how far I’ve progressed since just last year.
I still deal with anxiety every day, but it’s gotten so much better. And now I’ve discovered a newfound passion for helping others who struggle with mental illnesses.
This my struggle, but it doesn’t define me. And your struggles and pain don’t define you either.
Thank you for taking time to read my (shortened) story.
Now that I have started discussing my OCD, I will definitely be writing more posts on it in the future. But if you want to learn more about it in the meantime, here are some useful resources:
Crash Course Psychology: OCD and Other Anxiety Disorders (Video) – Watch this video from 2:34-4:16 for information about OCD.