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I've Spent 17 Years Hiding From Children – This Is My OCD Story

It started when I was 8 on a frosty winter’s morning. My mother left me alone in the car for two minutes while she dropped off a Christmas present to her friend.

“Stay in the car, Sam. Don’t move. I’ll be right back, OK?”

I smiled and promised her I’d do just that. And I did. I sat and waited, but she didn’t return as quickly as she said she would. Something about being stuck in the car alone made me feel afraid.

My breathing quickened, the boom-boom of my heart could be felt in my back, my legs, my chest and before I knew it, I was standing outside of the car.

Time passed slowly, and everything was hazy. But after a while, my mother appeared behind me, furious I had disobeyed her instructions. She was a cautious mother; she still is.

“Sam, what are you doing out of the car?” she pushed. But I had no answer for her. My body was frozen, my eyes fixated on the concrete beneath us.

“Sam, why aren’t you answering me?” She followed my eyes towards the ground and that’s when she saw it.

“Sam, did you touch that needle?”

Disease = Death.

Did I touch the needle?

Disease = Death.

No, of course I didn’t.

Disease = Death.

Did I use it?

Disease = Death.

Then I replied with the only thing I could: “I don’t know, Mum.”

And so it began: a life of doubt, danger and darkness. I feared things that most children of my age simply didn’t. I started to question everything, like if the waiter drugged my meal or if I drank bleach instead of water. From that day forward, a voice appeared in my head that was never there before. It was a man, of that much I am certain. I remember thinking that maybe I was hearing God, but the lady at Sunday School said that God was good, so I decided the voice inside my head was actually the “devil.” It took 19 years to find out that this “devil” was actually the workings of my mind; this was the voice of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

You kissed your mum on the lips. Don’t you think that’s wrong, Sam? You’re disgusting. It’s a sin. You’re going to hell.

My every minute was spent worrying, obsessing and checking, and no one around me had a clue; not my mother, and certainly not my drunk, emotionally-absent and abusive father. To them, I was a carefree child who enjoyed spending time alone in her room with her collection of toy ponies and teddy bears. All the while this hidden illness grew inside of me like a tumor, gaining complete control of my brain.

I recall having a rather strange relationship with the “devil,” for he was neither bad nor good. Sure, he told me that I had done awful, terrifying things I never remembered doing or could never imagine doing, but he also protected me and those I loved.

If you don’t rub your hands together 68 times your mum will die.

In my eyes, he was magic. If he told me to do something, I would. And he never told me to do bad things. They were always strange, odd behaviors that made me look a little silly, but if my actions saved someone from death, what does it matter how peculiar they looked?

As time went on, however, his requests became incessant; intoxicating my every thought. He no longer wanted me to rub my hands together 68 times, but instead 184. And it wasn’t just my mum that would die. He started telling me stories about bus crashes and murders. He said if I didn’t perform these tasks for him, someone was going to get shot, or that a bus full of children would crash and everyone would die. They would die because of me.

My mother watched the news constantly, and she was always crying for someone’s missing child or for the victims of another school shooting. Little did she know I was the cause. The “devil” was working me too hard, and I couldn’t possibly keep up with all of the things he asked of me.

At 14, things got more intense as I began to experience flashbacks of a sexual abuse I suffered as a child. I was 8 when the abuse started, the very same time that the “devil” decided to take residence in my mind.

The most difficult night of my life was, and still is, the night I lost my mother’s love; the night that the “devil” told me I was pure evil. He wasn’t playing nice anymore.

Mum and I were laying side by side on her bed, just as we used to do most nights. Lights down low, the radio playing softly in the background while she caressed the tips of my hair, lovingly curling each piece around her long, painted fingernails.

For a very brief moment, the “devil” wasn’t there, and I was quite simply my mother’s daughter; loved and cherished. Pure. For a moment, I remembered what happiness felt like. But in my experience with mental illness, happiness does not last, and the road to darkness begins with one thought. One dark and dangerous thought has the ability to alter your entire life, and indeed it did.

“On tonight’s show we’re going to be tackling the topic of childhood abuse.”

My mind tuned in a little louder to the radio. I so often wish it hadn’t. I would give anything to take back that moment.

And then…

“Abused children always go on to abuse others,” insisted the host.

Frozen, I listened with fear and disgust. And the “devil?” He was back; louder, fiercer, more terrifying then ever before.

You’re an abuser, Sam! You can’t ever go near a child again.

My mother, still next to me, completely oblivious to the thoughts running through my head, tutted and sighed like she always would when something bothered her.

“Disgusting, Sam, isn’t it? What kind of person would do such a thing?”

You would, Sam, said the “devil.” You heard the man. Abused children always go on to abuse.

Without saying a word to my mother, I quickly removed myself from the room. She couldn’t witness this. She couldn’t know that her only child was this sick, twisted monster, who was destined to become a child abuser.

You’re evil, Sam. Nobody can love you now. You have to stay away from children, do you hear me?

I heard him. I heard his panic, his fear, his urgency.

I will never go near a child again, I replied to him. I’ll stay away from children, I promise. I’m a monster. Oh, God! I’m so, so sorry. I promise I’ll never ever go near a child. I won’t. I won’t.

And your mum, you can’t let her treat you like this anymore, do you hear me? You don’t deserve her love, Sam. Can you imagine if she knew what you were? She’d abandon you in an instant.

From that day on, I rejected all of my mother’s hugs. I became cold and detached, convincing myself I was, indeed, unlovable; that I was a sinner. And then, suddenly everything and everyone I once knew and loved became tainted, because I was tainted; a risk to children, an abuser in the making, an abomination. Something to be feared, killed even.

As I developed into a teenager, the “devil” became less of a “thing” living inside of my mind; instead, I became one with “him.” These were my thoughts now, and that was far scarier than believing that someone else was responsible for them.

Days, weeks, months and years went by, with my thoughts growing darker and more terrifying every waking moment. New obsessions presented themselves at every given opportunity. I went from fearing I would snap my dog’s neck one minute, to believing that I had murdered someone without remembering it the next.

The four years I spent at university were among the most difficult, tortured years of my life. Each and every night, I’d lock myself away in my bedroom by dragging large pieces of furniture across the floor.

Cupboard in place? Check.

Desk in place? Check.

Chair in place? Check.

It seemed logical to me that if I couldn’t trust myself during my waking hours, I should be extra cautious while sleeping. What if I do something bad during the night and don’t remember it?

With everything in place, all furniture pushed against the door, I felt a little safer that I wouldn’t “escape.” This setup gave me a false sense of protection, acting as a barrier between my thoughts and the possible danger I believed myself to be.

Ashamed, I kept all of these thoughts and fears locked away from others, burying them deep within me, where no one would ever be able to find them.

But all of this became too much for me; the dark thoughts, the horrid fears, the lengths to which I would go to avoid children. Most painful, however, was the six to eight hour rituals of having to physically write out every child I had seen during the day, just to check I hadn’t harmed anyone. Most nights I’d be awake until 4 or 5 a.m. performing these rituals, crying myself into an uneasy and restless sleep.

At 28 years of age, I’d had enough. This enduring battle with my mind would finally be over. There I sat, cross-legged on the edge of my bed, medication of all kinds scattered around me, ready to die.

There’s no way I can beat this thing, I thought. I’m done.

But then, in a moment of calm, I reasoned with my mind and decided that before I sent myself to such a final end, I would look online to see if there was some explanation for why I was so afraid of myself.

I went over to my desk, opened up my laptop and typed into Google the words that I’d always been afraid of writing: “I’m scared I will abuse children.” The search results directed me to an article published on The Guardian, by Rose Bretécher. The article outlined the reality of an illness called obsessive-compulsive disorder, or more specifically, in our cases, Pure O.

And just as the corners of my world folded in on me all of those years ago when I was 14, they finally unfolded at 28 years of age, and for the first time since it all began, I could see a spark of hope. At the very least, I wasn’t alone. Tears of joy and sadness worked their way through me that night as I recalled years of obsessional thinking and compulsive behaviors. I cried for the child who never got to be a child, and for the ones that never knew what they were suffering from; the ones who tragically went on to kill themselves because they had no idea that they too were living with something that millions of us struggle with — something treatable.

For me, however, despite the hope and solidarity I found that night, my mental health has unfortunately further deteriorated over the years. I’ve been through a few suicide attempts, have since been diagnosed with other mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and major depression, and have been fully housebound now since 2012. I live in a house where all windows and doors must be locked, and their keys then put away in a safe by my full-time carer. During the day, he carries the keys with him every step. I can’t even allow myself to touch them due to the false memories doing so would provoke. And while I’ve grown up in some ways, I am still the same person I was back when I was 14. I’m still that terrified little child who was abused. I’m still terrified of my thoughts, even after knowing that they are “just” a part of my illness. I’m still controlled by OCD, still sticking to the rituals. I’m still avoiding children. 

But if there is one thing that I am certain of, it’s this: I am massively determined to beat this. And for the first time in my life, I am about to embark on a new journey which will hopefully give me the skills I need to overcome the OCD. That journey is psychology, for both my OCD and my BPD. I’m also going to be joining an OCD support group in my area.

Aside from this, I am also certain of my passion when it comes to raising awareness and combating the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses. I’m even working on my first novel, in which the main character has Pure O. I believe in the importance of highlighting debilitating disorders. If a novel such as the one I intend to write had existed way back when all of this began, I’m certain I would have sought help for my disorder, saving me from years of emotional and mental torment. And that’s exactly what I hope my novel, and my articles, can do for people: encourage them to speak out and access the help they deserve.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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