To the Nurse Who Understood My Invisible Pain


No one is at their best when suffering through a bout of food poisoning. I was certainly a mess, wanting only to run from my body. As someone with obsessive compulsive disorder, I usually want to run away from my brain as well. On this day, it was a double whammy, but the nurse who took care of me made me feel at ease with one simple phrase.

She asked me about my symptoms, but I’ll spare you the gross parts. As is customary, she also asked if I was taking any medications. I told her about the Zoloft, and she asked what it was for.

“OCD,” I said.

With that, the interview changed. She was kind before, but now I truly felt her concern. “I understand,” she said, and I believed her. I don’t know if she has OCD or knows someone who does. I just know those were the exact right words to say.

Not many people know what it’s like to be tormented by your brain. My outward appearance that day – haggard, writhing, unkempt – is how I imagine my disorder would make me look if I didn’t keep my symptoms under wraps. I have Pure O OCD, which means my compulsions take place inside my head. I have counting rituals, I repeat phrases and I imagine car wrecks and other awful scenarios multiple times a day so they don’t happen in real life. After all, things never turn out the way you imagine.

My illness is invisible, but that nurse saw inside me; she understood the numbness I felt in my extremities before food and I parted company was a manifestation of my anxiety. She expressed compassion with words and a sincere look of concern, and for that I am grateful.

More than anything, I want others to understand this invisible suffering as well. I believe it’s possible. Most of us have experienced worry, and we know what physical pain looks and feels like. OCD hurts too; it’s like being whacked in the head with anxiety, but our bruises don’t show. Here’s to all of us becoming more like that nurse. To her, I say: You truly live up to the ideals of your profession.

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Related: To the Doctor Who Showed Compassion During My Mental Health Crisis


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