Three years ago I looked like I had it all. At the time I was a senior in high school, a member of National Honors Society, a two sport captain, a director in my school’s film program. Tall, blond, skinny. Everyone thought I was funny and everyone told me they liked me. What no one knew was that the second I walked into my house, I became a different person.
My mother said I had always been a nervous child but it was never a problem. I was smart, artistic and quick to make friends. Life was never difficult for me until I was fourteen and my mind imploded almost overnight.
For as long as I can remember, I always had a ritual when I went to bed. I put on Chapstick, took one sip of water, and turned off my reading lamp. By the time I was in high school it had grown into a ten minute process. Rituals had spread into other parts of my life too. I had rituals for taking a shower, for brushing my teeth, for heating up food at home. In public no one ever noticed my habits. They never noticed that I had to pump the soap three times while washing my hands or that I had the exact same lunch everyday that had to be eaten in the exact same order.
All day long I was able to hold together my perfect image but when I got home, all of that pent up anxiety came pouring out. By sophomore year of high school, I was a horror to live with. Almost every night I would cry uncontrollably for reasons I didn’t know. Anything could set me off: my parents could suggest going out to dinner or a friend could invite me to their house. When something I had not planned on came up, I shut down. I would scream and cry uncontrollably. In my head, I knew I was overreacting and told myself to stop, but my body wouldn’t let me.
At first, my parents were sympathetic to my episodes asking me what they could do to help. After a few months they were angry and would yell at me saying I was selfish and ruining the home-lives of my two brothers. My younger brother would look at my parents and tell them I was crazy. My older brother stopped spending time at home. My parents would pull me out onto the front lawn in the middle of my fits threatening to take me to the hospital. Eventually they gave up. I will never forget the night that I was laying on the kitchen floor choking on my sobs when my mother suddenly sat next to me and started crying too. She said she was sorry for being a bad mother and that she had done something wrong to make me so unhappy. She suggested I go live with my grandmother because maybe I’d be happier there. Her pain was finally what was able to break through the haze on insanity filling my head. I told her I never wanted to live anywhere else and agreed to see someone.
Within a couple of weeks I had seen a doctor specializing in adolescent medicine and a therapist. I was diagnosed with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The process of getting better was far more complex and difficult than I thought it would be. I didn’t mesh well with my first therapist and was uncomfortable speaking with her. Luckily, I did like my second therapist and stayed with her for almost a year. She was the one who helped me finally eradicate my rituals. The other side of getting healthy was medication. Being put on the right kind of medication is tricky because longterm anxiety medications are not quick fixes; they have to be in your body for at least a week to start working. Some medications didn’t make my anxiety lessen, some medications made me physically ill. Some doses were too high, some doses were too low.
By senior year of high school, I had my medication figured out, but still had problems with compulsive habits. I discovered I not only have OCD in the ritualistic way everyone thinks of but I also have it in a way that I become addicted to behaviors. I was obsessed with getting good grades and would put way more time and effort than was necessary into my schoolwork. I was obsessed with working out which led to anorexia and many other problems with my physical health. I realized I could not solely depend on therapy or medication to be sane; I had to push myself to be healthy.
By the end of my senior year, I had stopped seeing a therapist and was preparing to go to college, something that for a long time my parents never thought was possible. I am now in my third year at Northeastern University. I still face set backs due to my OCD and it is a mental battle I fight everyday. I am still on medication and I used to be reluctant to tell people that because they often get judgmental. For a long time I thought I was crazy and that’s why I needed to take a pill every morning, but I have come to realize that I am crazy without it. I now know that having a mental disorder is nothing to be ashamed of; it was not something I chose, it is how my brain chemistry works. To this day I still feel immense guilt for everything I put my family through and am constantly grateful for how much they still love me.
My OCD challenges me everyday and I have to make the conscious effort to not fall slave to it again. Now I am the strongest I have ever been and I am in a good place. I am finally happy.