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Photo Series Offers Glimpse at the Private Lives of People With OCD

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Photographer Dan Fenstermacher has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and after spending a great deal of time with other individuals living with the mental illness, he produced a photo series titled, “Overcoming Challenges Daily.”

“I’ve had a lifelong experience with OCD ranging from skin picking, anxiety, depression, lock checking and repetitive hand gestures and motor tics,” Fenstermacher, who lives in San Jose, California, told The Mighty. “It’s created a lot of anxiety and personal turmoil through the years. I’ve gotten better through therapy, but it’s a daily battle.”

OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety, according to the International OCD Foundation. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions, which can “take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.”

Fenstermacher wants to share his images to help show people living with mental illnesses that others are going through the same thing — and getting better.

One in five people in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year, according to NAMI, and one in 100 adults currently have OCD in the United States, according to IOCDF.

Fenstermacher connected with the people in his portraits via support groups, classes and Facebook, and he also attended the the Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles in 2014. “I met many people who were more than willing to share their story with me,” he said. “I consider all of these people to be heroes because they let me into their lives and homes as a stranger for the sake of activism concerning mental illness. They believed strongly in my project and the misunderstanding of mental illness by society at large and were able to put down their guard in order to try and help others.”

“Drink Me” featuring Ethan Smith

Man with OCD on couch

“As a kid, my OCD started out pretty traditional: physical rituals like tapping counting, checking. As I got older, however, it morphed to fear of illness. A headache was a brain tumor, a fever meningitis. At my worst, I was literally afraid I would bash my own head in with my hands. I guess that falls under the category of “self-harm” but among many other OCD thoughts, I was afraid of my own hands and often laid in bed for many hours, literally laying on top of them to protect myself.”

“Auditory Aversions” featuring Laura Lavadour

Woman bothered by noise in kitchen

“I am a stay at home mother of three with a passion for cooking and everything domestic. I’ve been dealing with OCD issues most of my life, some symptoms beginning as an adolescent and others appearing later into my adult life. I work hard to manage them and am learning to just ride the wave. One of the biggest symptoms of my OCD is a rare one called Misophonia: bothered by certain sounds or noises. This started very young and I’ve struggled with it all my life. The other types I have are intrusive thoughts, symmetry, and orderliness. I am currently on a combo of meds that is working for me. My symptoms are manageable. I am also exercising a lot which really helps. My advice to others is to reach out and talk about your issues with OCD. Sometimes you can get locked into a train of thought and feel trapped. Reaching out and listening to others experience can be uplifting, and can also open up opportunities to treatments that you might not have considered before.”

“Never Finished” featuring Nancy Wu

Woman holding a sketch with a dog by her side

“I suffer with OCD in perfectionism, depression and anxiety disorder. I struggle with completing projects because I’m afraid of making mistakes and I fear my work will be seen as being poorly done. My intense fear of making the wrong decision has made me an indecisive person. Everything I do needs to be “done right” or “perfect” to my standards, and I always set the bar too high for myself. When I get anxious, I pick on my skin and scabs. I also become fatigued and depressed. You are not alone! For the longest time, I thought I was a crazy, neurotic, lazy, unworthy and useless person until I found out it’s a disorder and it’s possible to get help. I feel like I have wasted so much time going through life without knowing I have OCD and procrastinated on getting the help I need so I hope others can learn from my mistakes and take action to get on the path to healing as soon as possible.”

“Under My Skin” featuring Dan Fenstermacher

Man with OCD picking at skin in bathroom

“I have struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was a young child. I was embarrassed by my compulsions and did not understand what OCD was until I was 23. For many years I hid my OCD from the outside world and those around me, living without getting help.”

“Is He Okay?” featuring Mary Samson

A woman sits on her couch and stares at a picture of her cat

“My cat’s name is Mish-Mish. One of my ever-present OCD fears is that something will happen to him. I don’t have children. I suppose he is like my child and looms large. OCD is a disease of uncertainty and doubt. And you can’t be sure of much when it comes to a cat. They are quite independent. Most of my OCD is image based. I imagine something bad happening to him; so much is out of my control. Although I worry about him, most of the time he comforts me and calms me down.”

“Champion of My Muse” featuring Anthony Solis

A man holds a sphere in a storage room

“Sometime between 2008 and 2009 I faced some health challenges that put me on disability. In the beginning it was challenging to cope with life stresses and spent a majority of my time isolated in my bedroom. One day I decided to pickup some paints and pastels and started making art. Within a couple of months, I approached City Art Gallery, a local cooperative in San Francisco and they accepted me into their group. I soon channeled all my energy into creating new work and finding new outlet for my obsessive behavior. Immersing myself into my art is how manage my stress. My behavior disorder is my muse. The obsessive thoughts that cycle through my mind always give me a constant spark of creativity.”

Woman with OCD washing her hands

“When asked how do I cope with my symptoms, unfortunately it’s not a easy answer. To be honest it’s a daily, hourly, minute by minute struggle … I spent my life since then trying to figure out how to be like others, how to be “normal.” Wondering what it is like to just “be”; not be happy, nor sad, not angry or depressed, no racing thoughts, no feeling of impending doom. Just be.” -Erica Atreya

Jeff Bell

“Through reaching out to Jeff Bell (pictured above), an OCD activist, author, and founder of the non-profit A2A, I was able to find relief and realized that through helping others with their OCD struggle, I could help myself. I read Jeff’s books and was inspired, and when I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school at San Jose State University, I contacted Jeff and met him near his office in San Francisco. Since then I have volunteered for A2A and began making many contacts in the OCD community here in the Bay Area. When I started to feel better I wanted to give back to others who struggle with OCD, adopting Jeff’s ‘Greater Good Motivation’ for helping others and finding purpose in life.” -Dan Fenstermacher

All images courtesy of Dan Fenstermacher

For more photography, visit Dan Fenstermacher’s Facebook page and website.

h/t Huffington Post

Originally published: January 14, 2016
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