Hey guys! My name is Hannah. This week is #OCDWeek and this year I thought I would share my story. My OCD journey is a big part of my story and my hope is by sharing I can help one person know that they are not alone and that God loves them so much.
2013 was the beginning of one of the hardest parts of my life. That summer, I went to my first summer camp ever. It was my first time being away from home and I was pretty homesick. One of the girls in my cabin got sick and, as sometimes happens at camp, got spread around to some of the other girls. I got sick the day I came home from camp. I had gotten sick before and obviously not felt great, but I would recover and go about my life again.
This time, however, was a bit different. I came down with a bad sore throat and a cold, and when I got better, I suddenly became worried about becoming sick. I did not want to get sick and I started washing my hands and bringing hand gel with me when I went places. When members of my family would get sick, I would not sit by them. It was a fear I had never really worried about before and it seemed to come out of nowhere.
I remember one day, I washed my hands so much that they become cracked and chapped. At that point, I realized that I needed to stop and I did. I stopped washing my hands so much and the rest of that year, I did not really worry as much about getting sick.
At the beginning of 2013, I had started going to youth group and really felt like I was getting plugged in. I had made some friends, and I knew that God had brought me there.
In February of 2014, I went to youth group just like any other day. We were watching a video and this lady was sharing her testimony. She began talking about how she had self harmed and I began feeling anxious as all of these intrusive thoughts became coming to my mind. I loved my life and had no desire whatsoever to kill myself or self harm, but I suddenly had the fear of killing myself. It was an overwhelming fear that I had no idea where it was coming from.
I stopped going to youth group as I did not want to be triggered even more. For three months, I would live in dread as thoughts of killing myself would basically play on repeat in my mind from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I kept all my thoughts to myself. I didn’t tell anyone for fear that they would think something was wrong with me.
That was a really hard time in my life, but in May 2014, I went to church and I heard a sermon that changed my life. My pastor preached about how there is always light in the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, and He reminded us that He would never leave us alone. After church that day, I suddenly felt like a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. Over the next few days, the thoughts stopped becoming so intrusive and I was able to think of other things. Eventually, the thoughts seemed to stop altogether. I know that God helped me out of those awful, fear provoking thoughts, and I am so thankful He did.
I did not know why I had had those thoughts but in 2015 I would soon find out why. In the beginning of 2015, I was finishing up my last year as a senior in high school. It should have been a time of excitement, but instead, it was the start of a very debilitating time in my life. I read a book for my English class, Frankenstein, and I did not like it. It really bothered me. I began having intrusive thoughts about God being mad at me for reading the book and that God would not love me anymore because I read the book. The fear was so intense and I started engaging in repetitive rituals to get thoughts of the book out of my head. I would re do things if I had a bad thought about the book. Even though I knew this was irrational, it was always the “what if?” “What if God doesn’t love me for having these thoughts?” “What if reading that book made God mad at me?” “What if I did the bad things that the people in the book did?” These thoughts would repeat in a loop in my mind, and whenever I had the thoughts, I would try to get rid of them. I flipped on and off my light switch three times. If I was typing my homework, I would have to retype the words if I had a bad thought. Every night, no matter how late it was, I would have to listen to the same three songs and read the same chapters of my Bible every night. If I didn’t, I feared that God wouldn’t love me anymore. I had started sending out a Bible verse to a group of friends, and every morning I would wake up and have to type some of the same things in my commentary of the Bible verse. Which also involved retyping if I had a bad thought. It would often take me up to an hour to do which should have taken me maybe five or ten minutes.
It was exhausting. Imagine living in a constant state of fear that God won’t love you anymore if you didn’t do these things. It was awful. I had no idea what was going on, and I had never experienced these types of thoughts before. I knew that I had placed my trust in Jesus, and I was a born again Christian, and that could never be taken away from me. So, the fact that I was having these thoughts did not make sense. I love God so much, and the thought of losing Him scared me so much.
One night, I was typing and retyping my homework, which was due the next day. The thoughts caused me so much fear and anxiety that I started crying. My Mom asked me what was wrong, and I told her I wasn’t sure what was going on. I told her that I was retyping my homework and I did not know why.
Concerned, she began researching things on the internet and came upon Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. I had heard of OCD before, but I had no idea what it really was. When my Mom started talking to me about it, it seemed to make sense but I guess I was worried that having OCD meant I was crazy. Spoiler alert: this is not the case.
I finished high school and I was so relieved when I was done. I graduated and I was happy to be done with high school for more reasons than one. Glad to move onto the next chapter of my life, but also glad to have a break from typing and retyping papers and to not have to read triggering books.
As I was finishing up high school, my parents talked to me about going to see a therapist. I resisted the idea. I did not want to see a therapist because I had thought that it meant that something was off or wrong with you. Or, you were a crazy person. Even though I was initially against the idea, I think I knew deep down, however, that I needed help.
So, that summer, despite my protests, I began meeting with a therapist. She diagnosed me with generalized anxiety and OCD. She was a very kind lady but I didn’t do much to invest in my therapy. I have always been a quiet person so the idea of opening up to this lady about my biggest fears did not exactly seem like my idea of a good time.
I continued to go to therapy once a week while preparing for college in the fall. I was going to remain local and commute to Houston Baptist University, my dream school. My OCD had lessened over the summer, and I thought that things would be better in college. Unfortunately, they weren’t.
As the school year began to pick up, so did my OCD. I, once again, was retyping things. The thoughts of the book I had read earlier that year did not really bother me anymore, it was more so thoughts in general of letting God down and God not loving me. I had also developed a perfectionist tendency and thought that all of my assignments had to be perfect before turning them in.
I kept on meeting with my therapist once a week which was not going very well. I was still keeping my fears to myself and, well, how can a therapist really help you if she does not know what is going on? She tried her best, but I was not much help.
In late 2016, my OCD had gotten so bad that I saw a psychologist, and even though I was apprehensive, tried medication. However, the medication did not work for me and I was soon off of it.
In the beginning of 2017, I stopped seeing my therapist. She could not really do anything for me as I was still experiencing shame and guilt over my thoughts and fears and had not told them to her. She had helped some with my generalized anxiety, but OCD was really the biggest problem.
I had kind of come to terms with the fact that this might be my life from here on out. I thought that there was no way I would be able to get rid of my intrusive thoughts and I would have to live with ritualizing who knows how many times until I got rid of my bad thoughts. It was exhausting but I thought that was how I had to live.
OCD is an isolating disorder and it can make you feel like you’re crazy or you’re the only one who has these thoughts. It had begun to do that for me. Even though I was told that I wasn’t alone, I often felt like I was. At school I felt like there was no one who knew what I was going through or could relate. I had begun pulling back from my activities and began isolating myself. Spoiler alert, this is not a good idea.
In the spring semester of 2018, OCD had really begun to control my life. I couldn’t write notes without rewriting them. I had begun working on writing a book which I had to stop because I could not type without retyping. I could not close tabs of my computer without having to reopen and close them. I couldn’t even pick up things without having to put them down and pick them up again. I didn’t want to do anything but sit on the couch because even getting up would require me to repeat the process until I got rid of the bad thoughts.
I stopped being able to function well. I would put off studying for tests until the last minute because I didn’t want to have to zip and unzip my backpack multiple times or pick up my books and notebooks multiple times. I would repeat basically anything I was doing. I would neutralize the bad thoughts in my head and try and reassure myself that God loved me. These would lessen my anxiety in the moment, but the next moment I would have another thought and I would have to do it again. Of course, I knew that these rituals were irrational, but again, it was the “What if” factor. “What if these thoughts came true?” That thought would cause me so much fear and I engaged in rituals to prevent that from happening.
I was so relieved when the spring semester was finally over, and I had, by the grace of God, made it through. School is always a huge trigger for me, and so my anxiety levels went down a little bit as summer started. But I think my parents and I both knew that things could not go on like they were going.
As summer started, my Mom and I watched a video of Dr. Liz Mcingvale sharing her story. It the first time I think I actually realized that I was not alone. That there were other people who have OCD and were experiencing similar things like myself. I related so much to what she was saying. She talked about how there is always help available for people suffering with OCD. She talked about how treatment worked with her and how treatment for OCD works. She talked about how there are only a few intensive treatment centers for OCD and one of them “happened” to be in Houston.
My parents and I looked up this treatment center which is called the Houston OCD Program. I immediately was apprehensive and unsure, as it was out of my comfort zone. I wanted to go back to going to therapy on a weekly basis, but I think I also knew deep down that I needed something more.
We took a tour of the Houston OCD Program and I had to admit that it looked nice. Not like a hospital at all like I had been picturing. My parents and I agreed that it looked nice, but I was still unsure.
Finally, my parents and I talked and they told me that they thought that we needed to give this a try. We had run out of options. They said that we would give it two weeks and see how it went. I was terrified, and I told them that I would do it for them, but I think I agreed because I really knew that I needed to go and try this.
So, June 20th, 2018 was the start of one of the most impactful times of my life. I entered Houston OCD Program’s intensive outpatient program. I was scared to death. I was so quiet and shy and really had no clue what I was getting into. For the first time, I was surrounded by other people who had OCD like me. Suddenly, the thing I had been trying to hide came to the forefront of my life.
I was placed with a therapist and, for the first time, began to open up about my fears. I started making hierarchies ranking my biggest fears. Then I was introduced to something called Exposure and Response Prevention. This is known as the worldwide treatment for OCD. I had heard of this before, but this was the first time I felt like I was actually doing it. Basically, it’s what it sounds like. I expose myself to my fears. If intrusive thoughts come into my head, I let them be there. My tendency is to want to get rid of the thoughts, but in the long run, it makes my OCD worse. So instead, I would prevent the response that I do to get rid of my obsessions, which for me is usually repeating things or neutralizing the intrusive thoughts. It was so difficult. I still remember my first exposure and I think at that point I asked myself, “What am I getting myself into?”
The beginning was tough. Being surrounded by other people who were not family and I did not know took some getting used to. I had been diagnosed with social anxiety, and this was definitely heightened at first. My OCD was definitely high as well. For the first time I was actually exposing myself to my fears. Some days were harder than others. Some days I felt so motivated to do exposures and then others all I wanted to do was sit on the couch because I did not want to expose myself to my fears.
However, as time progressed, I began to realize that I did not have to hide my OCD. I met people who loved God like me, and knew that He did not give us our OCD. He is good, and we knew that He would bring good out of our situation, even though it often felt discouraging in the moment.
That is something that I was scared about. Maybe it was my OCD, but I feared that my faith in God would diminish by my going to the program. I should have known that God wouldn’t let that happen, because my faith in Him only grew stronger. I started seeing people as Jesus does and He showed me how to love people more like He does. It’s amazing what God does. He is so good.
God used the people at the program to help me during one of the hardest times of my life. They helped push me to do hard things. I am so grateful for them.
With God as my strength, I was able to stand up to fear. Being able to do things like read my thoughts out loud was something I never thought I would be able to do going in. But God showed me that He doesn’t make losers, He makes warriors. By God’s strength, I was able to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do going into the program. I am so in awe of the things that God helped me do.
I did not stay at the program for two weeks. I went for seven weeks. And as more and more time went by, I realized how much I was going to miss the program. Something I never thought would happen when I first started going. On my last day, I cried. I was leaving the place where I had gained tools to take back my life from OCD. I finally had learned how to manage my OCD, something that I did not think was possible for the longest time. I realized that I was not crazy. Many people have OCD, and it’s something we would all get rid of if we could. For the longest time I had felt so much shame over my disorder. OCD often attacks the things that mean the most to you and it definitely did that for me. I love God so much and I would do anything not to have thoughts about letting God down. No one wants their OCD, but through treatment, we are able to manage it.
Since then, I am not going to say that everything has been great or easy, because it hasn’t been. After that summer, I went back to college in the fall, which was a big trigger for me. I had to really use the tools I had gained to be able to manage my OCD during the school year. Now, a year later, I still ritualize sometimes and want to get rid of my intrusive thoughts. But my OCD is nowhere near the level that it was before. I am now able to do exposures, even when I don’t want to. I am now able to lean into my anxiety and discomfort. As I approach college graduation, I know it is by the grace of God alone that I have made it through college.
If I could say a couple things to people with OCD like me, I would say this. You are not alone. I often felt so isolated with my OCD and felt like there was no one who could understand what I was going through, but know that there are many other people that have OCD. Also, OCD doesn’t define you. God does. You are a child of the living God. Mental illness can often cause people to feel shame. However, just like people can get physically sick, they can also get mentally sick. So, please don’t feel shame for struggling with mental illness. Since I do have scrupulosity OCD, I would fear often that God was mad at me for having all of my thoughts. But guess what? God knows you better than you know yourself. Even when other people do not see your struggles, He does, and He will never leave you. He is not angry with you for struggling with mental illness. In fact, He will work everything for the good of those who love Him. He will use your testimony to help others. The Lord loves you unconditionally and that’s never going to change. Also, don’t be afraid to get help. Go see a counselor, therapist, or more intensive treatment if you need it. This can help give you the tools you need to battle against OCD.
For people who do not have OCD, you may not understand it. That’s okay. There are many resources that describe what OCD is. The Peace of Mind Foundation is a good website for anything and everything OCD. OCD is not an adjective. It’s a real and debilitating disorder. I would definitely recommend researching OCD and finding out more about it. We can end the stigma of OCD together.
I know this a very long post and thank you so much if you took the time to read. My OCD journey is a very personal time in my life, but I wanted to share my testimony. My hope by sharing my testimony is that I can help people know that they are not alone and point them to the unchanging and faithful God who sees them and loves them unconditionally.