The 9 Words That Gave Me Hope in My Struggle With OCD
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.
In July of this year, I wrote a story for The Mighty describing my battle with intrusive thoughts. I had bottled up these worries for nearly my entire life, and only gained the courage to share my struggles with the world after reading others’ stories online, and going through what I would classify as a meltdown in front of my husband. I finally decided to come clean to him about the most bothersome symptoms of my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Some of my worst intrusive thoughts revolve around an uncomfortable topic. I’ve grown up with a terrible fear that one day I would be capable of, or even compelled to, harm a child. I hate even typing that sentence, so the idea of baring these thoughts to the world was absolutely terrifying.
When my story was published, I hesitantly shared it on Facebook, and even then I blocked a few people from seeing the post, simply out of a desire to avoid answering questions or creating an awkward situation at work. When I hit the return button, I awaited the worst. I was sure rejection, mockery and judgment were headed my way. But I was so utterly wrong. Family and friends wrote messages of encouragement and acceptance. I was overwhelmed by the love that was poured my way. But one note in particular stuck out to me.
I logged onto Facebook and discovered a notification that one of my college professors had commented on my story. My stomach started turning. This professor was, and is, an incredible teacher who had continued to give me career advice even years after I graduated. He had served as one of my references for multiple job applications, and his passion for education is blatantly obvious. But, this particular professor is also incredibly blunt. He was the kind of teacher who tells students what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear. When I told him about landing a good-paying seasonal job after graduation, he plainly reminded me I should probably keep an eye out for a permanent job. When I brought in half-baked assignments, he didn’t shy away from telling me he knew my work, and I should have put in more effort. When I emailed him a year after graduation, asking for advice on whether I should pursue a job opportunity that had come my way, he helped me map out the pros and cons of this new position, and told me he was confident I could handle it, but ultimately I needed to make the decision on my own. I appreciate having an honest voice of reason to turn to, but I certainly never considered my professor a confidant for discussing my mental illness.
What if the comment he left was along the lines of, “Buck up and deal with it,” or, “Self-pity doesn’t solve problems?” Of course, this was unlikely, but my OCD convinced me that if anyone had the gall to address my mental illness that way, it would be my ultra-honest professor. When I clicked on the red notification bubble though, I was relieved to discover, once again, my OCD was wrong. My professor had left one sentence. “Emily, we are still with you and support you.” Nine words. “Emily, we are still with you and support you.” I was blown away. My non-coddling, blunt professor, who rarely made an appearance on Facebook, had taken time to let me know I would not be rejected and I was not alone. The worries of telling my story to the world were fading away. I was not going to lose my friends. I was going to be alright.
Of course, I am immensely appreciative of all the kind words I received during my difficult journey of publicly sharing my OCD symptoms. But loving words from my mother and best friends were certainly no surprise. My professor’s blunt and concise nature had given me what I needed to hear. And my reaction to his words further proves you don’t have to be eloquent or an expert to support others during their mental health journey. Nine small words gave me an extra boost of confidence and hope. “Emily, we are still with you and support you.”
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