The Evidence of My Disorder You Can See on My Hands

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Lying on my bed, staring at the plain wall.

It stares back at me.

My gaze falls hesitantly on my raw, pink fingers. I hate myself. Why do I let myself destroy myself like this? Haven’t I gone over this thousands upon thousands of times in my mind? Haven’t I also tried countless coping methods — play-doh, rubber bands to snap my wrists, scented oils, band-aids, gloves? What’s wrong with me, and how could this be happening to me?

Dermatophagia, out of all the things I may be struggling with, is to me the most puzzling affliction I have to deal with. Out of generalized anxiety, clinical depression, possible borderline personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it is also the torment I’ve been dealing with — or at least floundering in – -the longest. I can’t remember a single day of my entire life when I wasn’t biting something. My lips, the inside of my mouth, my fingernails. When there were no fingernails left to turn to, I would automatically move to whatever was closest — the skin surrounding the nails. At first, it didn’t seem to be much more than just a bad habit. I would sometimes scold myself for this behavior, not realizing just how terrible it was, believing the worst was the impact it had on my teeth and my dental work that I had had done ever since elementary school.

Around the time that I left the comfort of my home environment for middle school, though, things took a sharp turn for the worst. Again, I had no idea just how much worse. Overtime, it grew from a terrible habit to an obsession. As I progressed through high school and into college, it became — and has become — a full blown addiction. Sometimes (and unfortunately still to this day) I would walk into class, hiding my hands and/or crossing my arms because of the gnawing during the lunch hour and during prior classes. Sometimes I would sit down in my desk, smearing blood all into my notebook or over my clothes because I hadn’t even noticed I was bleeding. Sometimes I could barely use a writing utensil, because my hands were all wrapped up in paper towels hastily grabbed from the bathroom because I was too embarrassed to keep bothering the office workers for bandages.

This continued for years, mostly without detection except when a teacher noticed as I was handing in a paper. I didn’t even have a good response; I just told him I had been under a lot of stress. Contrary to my hopes that my problem would begin to work itself out as time crawled on and “as I matured,” it just got worse. Driving with people was my worst nightmare because I felt that every time I turned the steering wheel it was as if I was screaming to my passengers, “Look at me! This is what I’ve become!” It even became slightly dangerous as I did all possible things I could to avoid detection. For instance, if I had to try to carry a heavy object I wouldn’t grab it by the handle, I would grab underneath so that my fingers weren’t visible. At least if they were smashed in an accident, nobody would be able to tell the difference. In the end, I’m sure many people did notice. I’m also sure that few truly understand the struggle. Just as an alcoholic is compelled to drink, often against his will, I also feel completely helpless when standing up to my condition. Except the main difference is the bottle is always in my hand; the bottle is my hand.

The one time I made a valiant effort to stop, I ended up experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms that you might expect to find in starting or stopping a prescribed medication. For the entire time, I couldn’t move without severe fatigue and I couldn’t stay awake for more than about four hours at a time. I somehow survived about 72 hours before I relapsed again. That was the first time I had experienced life without the guilty “blood on my hands”… and it genuinely felt awful. When I fell back again on that third day, it was worse than I had experienced in months. I never tried again after that. After all, what is even the point — it has become, it seems, an additional process of my body. I do it, hating every second of it, but still finding a terrible relief in it, whether or not I’m thinking about it. Consciously, subconsciously, it’s all the same, and they all end the exact same.

The entire reason I’m even writing about this right now is because I’ve been going through another one of these episodes. Coming fresh off of a mission trip during spring break that probably should have instead been spent in the peace of home, I’ve experienced the perfect storm of lack of sleep and alone time, extreme periods of busyness and boredom, anxiety, and hunger. And whenever it looks, no pun intended, that it’s getting better, the peak of the roller coaster hits — and then plunges down again. Some days I count: why I do, I don’t know. One, two, three fingers bleeding right now… four, five, six, seven fingers torn apart within the last few hours…

I showed my fingers the other day to someone I was talking to about depression. He was telling me how there were days where he was so angry, he would punch things — walls, lockers, doors — anything that could cause a painful response. His knuckles often bled after such outbursts. I was more than happy to be able to empathize — I showed him my fingers, which, ironically were doing better than usual. He gasped in horror as he observed the different shades of black, red, pink and dark blue. He probably didn’t know such a thing was possible. I can definitely say though, it is possible. For me, it’s all I know.

I’m addicted to the pain, my psychiatrist says. It’s ultimately no different than cutting. The problem is, it impacts everything in your life. You can’t write properly, you can’t use your hands properly whether in physical work or otherwise, professional and social interactions are terrifying because of the realistic fear that if someone tries to touch your hand they will find out. You can’t really hide it. Band-aids have become my pocket buddies, hoodies became my favorite sweatshirts for resting my hands out of sight, winter the best time of year because of the excuse to wear gloves, and any red clothing the ideal for hiding evidence. I constantly ask myself, what should I do? What can I even do?

The first step for me and for many is, I suppose, to consult a therapist/doctor. I am even noticing other problems beginning to develop, such as a sugar addiction that isn’t replacing my finger biting; it’s aggravating it. Out of all my counseling experiences, this is the only thing I conscientiously withhold information about. It just feels too shameful for me — what kind of monster would do this. Besides, am I actually trying that hard to win? It’s such a bizarre thing to be struggling with that it often seems to me that, to everybody else, I’m not trying hard enough. But no — sometimes I’m trying too hard. Sometimes I’m worrying more about what others might think than what others do think: Compassion. It’s a treatable malady. I’m a person with a monstrous problem, not a monster with a personal problem. Maybe if I focus on the path I have cut out for me instead on all the thorny bushes surrounding it, I can reach my destination in one piece of mind and body.

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How I Discovered I Had Postpartum OCD

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

I am a woman. A scientist. A wife. A mother. A friend. When most people describe me, it is as a capable and busy woman. Happy. Funny, even. They’d tell you I love my kids. I am a relaxed mother – hell, I’m a relaxed, accepting person. I adapt. I’m effective, efficient. And I am all those things in some measure or another. But there is a Hyde to my relaxed, go with the flow Jekyll. I struggle every day with a disorder that is largely misunderstood as a personality quirk, often minimized, and is routinely the butt of jokes, throwaway comments and dumb internet quizzes. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I had never been diagnosed or even suspected I had anything other than a “weird brain” I should keep to myself until things got serious in my second pregnancy. I found pregnancy was much more difficult the second time around, and health issues meant I was constantly monitored by both myself and health professionals. At 20 weeks, we were told my son may have a cardiac abnormality, which put me into months of anxious preparation, only to be then (thankfully) told on follow-up scans that nothing was wrong. It was then, I think, I felt a change. After that, I didn’t feel sad anymore — what did I have to feel sad about? But I felt like I was in a hole, looking up at the world as it passed me by. I brushed it off. I had too much to do.

When my son was born, I felt like it was the kids and me against the world. My children were my life, more than ever before. My universe began and ended in their eyes. My love for them was so deep and so intense that sitting and thinking about it would make me feel like I was choking on it.

I can tell you the first news story that piqued the interest of my OCD. A boy, the same age as my daughter, disappeared one day. It was all over the news. He was never found. There were never any leads. He was playing hide-and-seek in his backyard with his family. He ducked to hide around the corner, and when they looked for him, he was gone. I read that story with horror. I scoured every word of every article I could find, the same picture of the lost boy used in every one and imprinting on my brain. I tried to find what happened — how it could have been prevented. “I can’t lose them,” I would think. “I won’t lose them.” Every time my daughter disappeared around a corner, I would break into a cold sweat, and run after her. “I can’t stop watching her. She might disappear.”

Fed by the never-ending stream of the 24-hour news cycle, I consumed every detail of every gruesome article, determined not to have these fates befall my children. I became insatiable, seeking out these stories and researching them to the nth degree, all while knowing how much it was damaging me.

That’s when the thoughts began.

I have always had an extremely vivid, clear memory — it has been my ally all my life — but it turned on me. It started pulling up details of these horrible stories I had internalized. I would get these thoughts, these intrusive thoughts — images so horrible, so revolting I would feel instantly nauseous. Images so clear they were more like memories than musings, more like déjà vu than dreams. Images so intense they were debilitating. Images so real they took over my reality.

My children; my perfect, beautiful, wonderful children. I watched them die at least a hundred different, hideous ways. My fear had manifested in my head. I had to convince myself these things weren’t real. I would often have panic attacks when an image surfaced.

At some point, I decided the only way to avoid these fates was through hyper-vigilance. I began checking. I checked windows, I checked doors, I checked power outlets and stoves. I checked beds. I’d pull beds away from walls in case they fell. I’d check and check and check and check. I checked that chests were rising and falling at night. But once was never enough. My brain had betrayed me, and so I stopped trusting it. And so I’d check again. As I checked, my panic would subside. The images would pale, if but for a minute.

I stopped sleeping. Occasionally, I would pass out from exhaustion, but this lack of control made my brain rage, and coupled with mounting anxiety and lack of sleep, I was struggling to get through life. I remember thinking that if I was dead, I could at least rest, but buried that thought because I couldn’t leave my kids. I would have panic attacks daily. As my return to work date loomed, I felt like screaming. I knew something was wrong, but at the end of the day, I rationalized, I wasn’t sad, and I was so attached to my kids that surely postpartum depression couldn’t be a problem. Stressed? Yeah. Tired? You bet. But sad? Unattached? Not in a million years.

I had hidden my illness well. If you don’t sleep, it’s easy to be organized, to look put-together. But eventually, I admitted I was failing. I went to the doctor.

On the way, I had an internal conversation. I was overreacting, I told myself. I was a bad mum. They were going to take my kids. I was stupid and weak. I was ungrateful for my wonderful life.

I walked into the doctor’s office. I told her my story, nearly hysterical as I verbalized my struggle for the first time. She listened. She asked me to do a test which showed I had very severe anxiety. I had a preliminary diagnosis. The GP suggested I may even have postpartum OCD – a condition I had never heard of. She referred me to a psychologist and told me it was not my fault, and everything was going to be OK. I still left in tears.
The first few sessions with the psychologist were the most mentally draining hours of my life. I kept a diary to isolate triggers, tried techniques, had a plan. Hyde, who had been simmering my whole life and who had decided to finally raise his head in my most vulnerable time, was named – obsessive-compulsive disorder. I began to manage my OCD. My panic attacks lessened. I began to sleep again. I began to live again.

Today, my OCD ebbs and flows — it goes through some periods of being well-managed without assistance; other times, like now, I need more help and need medication to manage it. OCD is a widely misunderstood disorder that causes those who experience it a lot of shame (often because they recognize their own actions are nonsensical). At the time of writing this, I myself had told about 10 people total. My hope is by putting this out there, someone will feel less ashamed, and maybe go and get help. Because truly, help does exist.

Click here to learn more about postpartum OCD.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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The Most Distressing Part of My Harm OCD

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

A thick pall of darkness enveloped the scene, the only light being that of the flames all around me. The bonfire rose into the sky, while I stood at it’s center, my body arched backwards. A silent scream escaped my lips as my body turned a charcoal black. Like an accused witch of the Renaissance era, I burned alive.

That was the vision I saw in the latest episode of my personal Harm OCD. A rarer type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that is focused more upon obsessions than compulsions, the obsessions come in the form of thoughts, visions and urges to hurt oneself, or others. I have struggled with this disorder my entire life, but only recently was diagnosed officially with it.

For some people, the obsessions are a frequent phenomena. For myself, it comes when I am stressed, traumatizing me further. These are not imaginary instances. My brain truly believes what it is experiencing is real. The obsession stayed at the fore of my mind for 20 to 30 minutes, while I ran around, highly distressed, trying to find someone to help me. Fortunately, I was in a psych ward at the time, so nurses were never too far away.

The very nature of my Harm OCD is to take the polar opposite of my nature and turn it against me, which is why some people with Harm OCD are gentle, compassionate souls in reality. I am not in any way a violent person. I, through Harm OCD, have witnessed some horrendous acts and urges of immense violence within my mind, but I believe I am one of the last people who would ever commit such acts in reality. This makes the disorder all the more distressing.

There — to my knowledge — are no medications designed to specifically help people with Harm OCD. I take a medication to calm me down after the obsession has hit, though I must initially bear the full force of the experience, itself. I have been told Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is useful in reframing my perspective of the obsession, to remind myself it was just an element of my disorder, not something I would every truly carry out.

Explaining my experience to my family was extremely difficult. Only this week have I been able to tell my mother about my Harm OCD, after at least 35 years of experiencing it. My psychiatrist only picked up on it when an earlier episode traumatized me and I reached out for help. It makes perfect sense that people would be afraid to tell others about it, but it’s so important we do. We need not battle this alone. This is not a disorder I would wish upon anyone. Often it makes me feel like a monster. There are other people out there who share the diagnosis, however, and I am writing this to show I am one of them.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via vicspacewalker. 

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Why I Was Disappointed by How 'Black-Ish' Portrayed Therapy

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Mr. Anthony Anderson,

I really do love your show, “Black-ish.” I’ve seen every episode of it and many of them more than once. Specifically, your episode regarding police violence against people of color gave me goosebumps. I watched it over and over and was pretty upset when it was no longer on demand. Not many shows are brave enough to do what your show has done and you’ve done it with so much class.

To be honest, I hoped you would talk about mental illness at some point. You have painted yourself as an advocate for people with mental illness and those struggling with addiction. But honestly, when it finally happened, the of “Black-ish” led to me cry for about an hour and a half. I’m talking about season three episode 13 called “Good Dre Hunting.” Clever name. You focused on therapy, something I attend every week. This was a great opportunity for you to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to your mental health advocacy. Mental health is an important issue for people of color. Serious mental illness can be hard to deal with when you get help, so I can’t imagine how hard it is to do it on your own.

When you started the episode, you acknowledged the stereotype, and I sat in front of my TV with my emotional support animal hoping to see an episode as well-planned and thought-out as your episodes about serious issues plaguing the African American community. After all, this issue affects all communities, not excluding people of color.

I waited. I waited through the stereotypical responses from the people at work and the normal pushback to anything that could be perceived as weak. I waited through all the little nips poking “harmless fun” at the idea of therapy. It was a comedy after all and I wasn’t trying to be overly-sensitive. Like I said before, I really do love your show.

Then came the end part, where your character and your onscreen wife were laying in bed. This was your chance to break free from the stereotypes. Or if nothing else, to explore therapy as it exists unrelated to mental illness. You know, it would’ve been fine with me if you painted therapy as a way to deal with stress, because even this would’ve gone a long way to show therapy in a positive — or at least a neutral — light. Instead, Bow stated she was mentally ill and your character replied “me too” severely. Your characters had a rough day. I can sympathize. I know a lot of people know what it’s like to come home and just cry. Showing strong characters — especially men — crying is great. I’m all for it. Bust down those stereotypes. But this does not mean that you’re mentally ill.

I wasn’t diagnosed with mental illness because I cried one time about something upsetting. I developed my first compulsion at age 8 when I rubbed all the skin off the bridge of my nose. My dad threatened to put a big Band-Aid on it. It didn’t work and to this day, 11 years later, I have not fully gotten over this compulsion.

I thought my mom would die if I forgot to say “I love you.” I would get nauseous if we didn’t leave the house exactly when we said we were going to. My mom called a little bit later than she said she would after my grandfather’s back surgery and I knew he was dead. I had already started mourning. Do you know how terrifying that is for a kid? For an adult? And your characters just continued with their same old lives and routines. That’s not how mental illness works. But now it’s out there and no one is talking about the fact it’s such a misrepresentation of an entire community of people. I’m just disappointed you squandered such a great opportunity to make a point and send a positive message about mental health.

Signed,

A 19-year-old with OCD

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Why My OCD Demands a Constant 'Witness'

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

I’ve had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since I was 8 years old, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 28. It began as a way to ensure my safety. Did I touch that pill packet on the floor? Was my water bottle really closed when I opened it? At 14, my thoughts took me down a much darker path. While I was still obsessed over my own health and safety, I became much more concerned with that of other people. Now, my thoughts directed to everyone around me. What if I kidnap that baby? What if I shout out a rude word in public? What if I harm a friend in my sleep? What if I sexually abuse a child?

I managed to get by in school, college and university by always sticking close to friends and family. At school, I always stayed near my best friends so I could be sure I never harmed anyone. At college, I started taking and collecting photographs of all the places I’d have to go to alone, like the toilet. I’d use the toilet, take a photo of the empty cubical to make sure there were no dead bodies or naked children, and then leave. I had my photo and that was enough. Evidence for my mind. Proof I never harmed anyone. By the time university came around, my OCD was completely out of control. I was expected to be a lot more independent, an adult — someone who could handle being alone. 

I couldn’t. No matter how much I tried, I could not let go of the overwhelming fear that I was going to do (or had already done) bad things to people. I carried that fear with me every day, to every class, social event and meeting with a friend. I was a rapist, a murderer, a pedophile and I was just waiting for the day someone “found out” and exposed me. 

My university experience was spent trying to survive. I did this the only way I knew how: I brought a “witness” with me everywhere I went. Friends probably thought of me as clingy. Some, in fact, told me I was “unbearable.” Not my fondest memory. Looking back, I wish I could have opened up about my intrusive thoughts. Maybe someone would have helped me and I am certain I would not have been sent to prison or given the death sentence (even though I’m based in the UK) like I once believed I would. 

OCD took everything away from me. My assignments and exams were dramatically affected by my thoughts, believing I might hide threatening notes to my teachers and examiners in the body of my work. I dealt with this by finishing exams one hour earlier than everyone else, hiding my pen from myself by putting it down the toilet and returning to my desk to check and recheck all I wrote. I could not use the library like my peers for fear of writing “bad” messages in the books. And I most certainly could not walk across campus alone in case I saw a child. Throughout my four years at university, I was often confined to my room, haunted by thoughts and fears too loud, too terrifying to talk about.

Like I said, OCD took everything away from me in the end. Even with my witness beside me, the long walks I used to enjoy in nature were replaced by the abusive and venomous voice in my head. I was no longer focused on the sunset or beautiful lake, but instead the dead bodies I may have murdered and hidden beneath it. 

I recall one particularly traumatic experience just a few years back. What should have been a relaxing trip out the house with my mum later turned into a suicide attempt when she tried to leave me to go to a different aisle in the supermarket. I broke down on the floor, sobbing, crying and screaming at her as she walked away. Shoppers sped by me and no one stopped to ask if I needed help. I was a grown woman crying because her mother left her for a few seconds. What I did next still leaves me feeling ashamed. I stood up in a rush of panic, rage and frustration. My witness was gone. What if I harmed someone because she wasn’t there to stop me? I grabbed the shopping cart next to me and shoved it into a bunch of oncoming customers. Did I want to hurt them? Not at all. It was actually as if I were saying: ‘Please, stay away from me. I am bad. I am evil. Keep your distance.’

OCD continued like this. It was a slow and painful decline in living; so slowly, in fact, that I barely noticed my life wasn’t really my own anymore until it was gone completely.

I could no longer have pens in my room because I was too afraid of writing a “confession” and throwing it out of the window for my neighbors to see. I couldn’t send an email for the same fear. I couldn’t cook for fear of poisoning myself or others. I couldn’t paint or draw, for fear of drinking dirty paint water or stabbing my eye with the pencil. I couldn’t exercise because I was obsessed with the idea that sports bras would cause me to have breast cancer. I was too scared to be alone with my dog, even my parents. Everything and everyone became tainted by my intrusive thoughts. Most difficult for me, however, was the suspected strain it put on my mother, who had to do everything for me, who could never leave my side again – even though she had no idea why.

Fast-forward a few more years, and I now live with my partner who for the past two years has taken on the same role as my mother: my full time witness, my conscience and my memory. I even go as far to say that he acts as my mind, reassuring me when we are outside that I haven’t harmed anyone, that I didn’t touch a child inappropriately or say anything offensive or threatening. We’ve tried lots of different things, such as him not reassuring me, or me trying to go it alone, but the truth is I always become suicidal. The thought is: if I’ve potentially harmed someone, if there is even a tiny chance I might, I would rather take my own life than live with that fear, that unbearable guilt.

I’ve been in OCD therapy for four weeks now. Not long, I know, but amazingly I am already seeing a small change in some things. However, my homework last week asked me to stand outside my house for one minute — alone. I couldn’t do it. I could not bring myself to leave my partner’s side. The intrusive thoughts were unbearable. What if in that minute I see a child? What if I hurt the child? Say something rude or inappropriate to them? Or worse, what if I kidnap them? Murder them? But most distressing of all for me, what if I rape them? The word hung heavy in my head, stuck on repeat every time I psyched myself up to go outside for that one minute.

Last week, I wanted to join a swimming club with my partner, but I found out that they have no disabled path to the pool. This would mean I’d have to walk to the pool alone. No witness. I couldn’t do it. The walk might only be a short one, but it is one I cannot take alone. Not yet anyway. Not if it means I’d fear putting other people at risk.

But that’s just it: without my OCD, I would be free to swim, walk or even run. I wouldn’t be held back by the voices inside my head or my need to always have a witness by my side. I want to be free to be the person I want to be, without my witness, without this illness.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Why My Harm OCD Made Me Afraid of My Own Children

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

Here is my soul poured onto a page.

I am writing this for the millions of people struggling with this mental illness. For the many, many people who have this exact same theme and thoughts, who are too fearful to speak up. You are stronger than you know and you are not alone.

I am sick of being dictated to by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I am sick of being too afraid to move, breathe or function because of OCD. I am sick of not knowing who I am because of OCD. I am fed up of doubting everything because of OCD. I am sick of losing time because of OCD and I am sick of not speaking up because OCD tells me to stay quiet.

These are some of the thoughts I battle because of OCD.

“Don’t say that because you will be judged. Don’t say that because no one will understand. If you say that thought out loud, you are admitting it’s true. If you speak up it’s because you believe it. If you talk about how you are feeling it will make it worse. If you speak up the fear will feel even more real; there’s a threat so stay quiet, you are alone, there is no one else going through this. You must be evil, you must be a monster. No one has this problem, what kind of person thinks and feels like this?

What if you want it to be true? What if you become this awful person? What if you’ve lost the ‘old you’ forever and this is who you are becoming? What if you feel like this forever? What if therapy doesn’t work for you? What if this isn’t treatable? What if this isn’t OCD? What if I am a horrible person? What if I can’t ever get past this? What if I stop having morals? Why me? Why is this happening? What went wrong? Why won’t it back off? Just stop and leave me alone! No one will understand, I will be judged, I will be misunderstood. What if people become afraid of me? What if no one trusts me? What if people think I’m a threat? Your past history of never hurting anyone doesn’t matter. What if I go back to how unwell I was at Christmas? Maybe it would be easier if I wasn’t here. Maybe that’s an option if this doesn’t get better; I will die before hurting anyone. What if I go onto medications but they don’t help like last time? What if I am going “crazy?” Why is my brain doing this to me? Who am I? Why is this the theme OCD picked? Why can’t I go back to worrying I might stab someone? That felt so much less scary compared to this. Why has it picked on something so ‘disgusting?’

Why do I have bad days? I must be so weak. Why can’t I get out of this? Why can’t I believe my own mind when I tell myself I am a good person? Why am I doubting everything? Why does everything make me feel uncomfortable? I must be being punished. Does God hate me? Do I believe in God? What do I believe? Do I know who I am? I must prove or disprove these thoughts. What do I even like? Can red still be my favorite color? It’s the color of blood, so that must mean I like blood. What kind of person likes to look at blood? The footstool is red so does that mean I’m a bad person for looking at it?

Who am I? Am I straight? What if I am gay? What if my marriage is a lie? What if I am a lie? What if I am in denial about everything? What if I am a monster? Why did I bring that person up that day? Why did I talk about him? What if I am like him? What if there’s a link? He seemed so normal but wasn’t, so what if I am like that? What if I don’t know if I am like that? Who am I? Why won’t this stop?”

That man was a local convicted pedophile. My hands shake as I write this. I mentioned him at Christmas — five weeks after having my fourth baby and already struggling with harm OCD — while talking to the crisis team about the harm OCD and a BBC drama we had recently watched before the harm OCD began. I said, “I’m disturbed by the drama I watched, how easy it was for this man to be stood, watching his wife sleeping, then just jumping on her and strangling her to death. He went from being so normal to not, and that terrifies me; how anyone could just snap? That’s why the harm thought bothers me, I keep thinking back to that drama and how easy it looked for him to snap. Like that man we knew. He seemed so normal and then he wasn’t, he’s now a convicted pedophile.”

And that was it; that was the moment the life-destroying thought popped into my head. “What if I was a pedophile?

That one thought brought my world as I knew it crashing into a million pieces, cutting my soul as it broke. That one thought broke my heart and took time I will never get back. I was a statue, sat rotting. I stopped eating, drinking, sleeping and how my heart didn’t stop I don’t know because it felt like it was going to explode. I hoped it would because then I could die without having to take my own life. The compulsions spiraled. I did everything possible to get as far away from my own thoughts as I could because I was terrified to my core. I sat in the bathroom, contemplating ending my life. I have never ever felt like that before. I never thought I would be a person to even get close to that edge, yet there I was, stood right up close to it, looking over into the darkness.

I’ve taken a moment because the tears keep flowing as I think back.

I thought I would never recover from that moment. I was questioning my own character, my own morals, my own soul. I felt like I had lost everything I was. I couldn’t go near my own children or look at them. Not even photographs. It was painful being in my own home because everything reminded me of them. I couldn’t watch anything to do with children or be near anything that reminded me of children. Everything was ruined. I hit rock bottom.

I have tried to avoid writing this. I have tried to write things in a way I can try and convince people that I am really a good person and no threat to anyone. I have torn my head apart trying to think how I could possibly word this to make it sound more understandable. I didn’t even understand it myself. Truth is, I have a recognized mental illness. Truth is, OCD theme and thoughts like it is so common that there are literature and workbooks with separate sections on just this theme. This is my OCD theme. Sexual OCD. This is what my OCD latched onto because it was the easiest target for it. I grew up in the church, strong in my morals, babysitting countless times over the years for family and friends, working in a nursery before having my own children. I grew up being told, “You’re so good with children, you will make a great mother. You are so kind and patient, you are so good at your job, you are a wonderful mother.” I knew growing up that my sole purpose was to have children of my own, to raise strong independent children who would go out into the world and make it a better place. And OCD decided it would take that security and knowledge in myself and rip it apart without mercy. How I have begged for mercy.

I didn’t ask for this to happen. I have been in pain — physical, emotional and mental pain, pain that has made me question living. The fear of sharing this truth in detail has been causing panic attacks and stress I can’t even measure. But today I have had enough. I have had enough of being beaten down by the doubt OCD causes to stay quiet anymore. I am sick of the stigma. I am sick of the fear of judgment — judgments I am guilty of making before having these thoughts. If someone said this to me before … you know what? I would have questioned it, thinking “but are you then? How do you know you aren’t? Surely you would know if you were or weren’t?”

I understand that hearing such disturbing thoughts may be difficult. It’s ugly. I fear being judged by my friends, family and the entire world. I feel guilty and shameful every day. I feel awful every day. I beat myself up every day, looking for proof one way or another. I know the difference between an OCD fear and an actual pedophile (even the word fills me with panic). I know I have this theme because it goes so against my morals and is not linked to my being. I am learning to recover. I am learning to accept thoughts are thoughts, they mean nothing and they are not connected to me. I am learning to let them pass, then carry on with my day. I have learned more in the last three months than I think I learned in three years at college. I have learned that this is treatable. I have learned this is nothing to do with who I am. I have learned this will take time and there will be falls on the way — that has a very literal meaning to me, as I am currently typing this with a broken ankle. I have learned these thoughts are not me, they are OCD. This has affected the most important part of my life — the part that completes me, the part I love unconditionally and would die to protect. It’s affected my relationship with my children and I have made big steps in regaining my confidence again.

I promised I would help advocate for OCD — that I would become a warrior fighting against everything OCD throws at me, and everything society throws at it too. I hope by finally, after all this time, sharing the absolute deepest fears in me, that I have kept that promise, and this will give you the strength to fight as well.

Follow this journey on The Real Housewife of OCD

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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