How OCD and a Phobia Almost Took My Life
“I’m not going to choke, I’m not going to choke, I’m not going to choke, I’m not going to choke.”
The words I repeated to myself hundreds of times daily for the better part of six months.
It wasn’t that simple though. I couldn’t just repeat the words in my mind whenever and however I wanted. Absolutely not. There was a very specific pattern by which those words had to be repeated. Why was this the case? Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
I was in grade 10 (15 years old) and OCD had taken over my entire life.
It started out with just a few compulsions I would have to act out and I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. Why would this sudden urge come over me and make me act out or say certain things over and over again? I had no idea, but I did what it “told” me to do. These compulsions were small and didn’t interfere too much with my life (flicking on and off the light twice or repeating “don’t worry” in my mind two times for no reason). These were the early days of my OCD — the days where I could tolerate the obsessions and compulsions.
Eventually, though, things began to spiral out of control. My repeating phrases twice turned into four times and then two groups of four and eventually four groups of four (so 16 times). Instead of every now and then, I was repeating phrases all the time. My OCD mind was never at rest.
Instead of for no reason, I always had a reason. “If I don’t repeat this thought four times, then four times, then another two times of four, I am going to fail this test, or I’m not going to get invited to the party, or they will pick on me in class, or I will get really sick, etc.”
Notice how I didn’t say “If I don’t repeat this thought sixteen times.” This is because that was not the compulsion. The compulsion was for me to think the thought through in two groups of four followed by another two groups of four. Many times, I would actually have to repeat the entire thought process over again and again until it felt right because thinking the thought over the first four, then four, then four, then four times wouldn’t satisfy my OCD mind.
I remember multiple occasions where I would be trying to complete an OCD thought for over 30 minutes. I would get so frustrated that I would break down crying with my anxiety skyrocketing because the OCD feeling wouldn’t go away (I can’t think of or do anything else while I am completing these compulsions).
This was therefore especially challenging when I was around other people and having to socialize or focus on something else which, in grade 10, was all of the time.
The repeating thoughts were not all I had to do for my OCD. Some of the other compulsions I would have to act out included: counting whenever I walked up or down steps, going through specific channels on the TV before I could select the channel I actually wanted, always making sure the pillows and towels were organized a certain way, picking up and putting down objects a certain number of times, turning the lights on and off in a specific pattern, never doing anything in multiples of threes, and many more.
So, where does the phobia come in? Well, like I said, I was in grade 10, trying to navigate my way through the everyday challenges of being a 15-year-old girl in high school, yet I was about to face the most challenging six months of my entire life. It was late November and one evening it felt like I choked on a bagel that I was eating before bed. This incident traumatized me so much so that I developed a severe phobia of choking.
For the next six months I was absolutely terrified of putting anything down my throat for fear of choking. I therefore stopped eating and even had trouble swallowing liquids. All-day, everyday, I would be consumed with the fear of choking and of when I would have to try to eat next. I was also scared I would never get better and would eventually die from the lack of nutrition in my body. I became overall not healthy at all.
But it wasn’t just the phobia I was dealing with. The OCD was not about to leave just because something else had come up. No, in fact, it decided it would be a great time to mix in with this intense phobia of choking. I now spent literally all-day, everyday acting out and thinking through compulsion after compulsion so that I would not choke the next time I ate. “If I don’t count each step I walk up, I’m going to choke. If I don’t pick up and put down this mug four times then another four times, I’m going to choke.” It was absolutely exhausting. And guess what? Not once did acting out a compulsion actually make me less scared that I would not choke the next time I ate.
I remember feeling absolutely terrified for my health and completely trapped. In my mind, if I ate I was going to choke and die, but if I didn’t eat I would end up dying eventually. I was terrified all of the time and completely exhausted and weak from constantly acting out compulsion after compulsion. It felt like there was no way out.
Through intense therapy, medication and my own determination, I slowly began to introduce certain foods back into my life and over the course of about a year I was able to completely conquer my phobia of choking. Through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), I simultaneously worked on overcoming my OCD and although it continued to persist in my life over the next few years, I had much more control over it.
I tell this story because it was one of the most difficult periods in my life. It was something I, at the time, did not think I would ever make it through, yet I did. I surprised myself, and if I could get through that, then I can get through whatever else comes my way. This means that so can you. OCD can really take a toll on one’s life, but the mind is powerful and through proper treatment it is possible to overcome such a disorder.
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