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My Life With OCD
I’m trying to control it so it doesn’t control me
Anonymous
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Voices coming from our garden woke me in the middle of the night. I heard a car door open, and someone putting suitcases in the trunk. I looked out the window and saw my father getting in his friend’s blue car. I ran outside; I only had a moment to hug him. I had known he was leaving our home in Istanbul, Turkey, to get a job in the United States, but it didn’t hit me that he was really leaving until then. I was 6 years old.

My father was leaving my mother, my brother, and me to go to New York. He told me he’d be back with Barbie dolls. I didn’t know he’d be gone for five years.

My father had had a successful business importing electronics from the U.S. and selling them in Turkey. He had built the business over many years, but his partner stole a lot of money from him. So my father moved to New York City to find work, but all he could get was a job driving a taxi.

I missed him and dreamed about having him back. At school, I felt like an outsider whenever we got report cards. My friends’ fathers and mothers were there to congratulate them, but I only had my mother.

It was also hard to see my mom try to handle everything on her own. My older brother was moody and difficult and I complained a lot about missing my father. I sometimes heard her crying in the bathroom. I wished my father would come back.

Two years later, three of my grandparents died within a few months of one another. Soon after that, we almost lost our house due to some illegality with our mortgage contract. My mother worked it out with a lawyer but, for a few months, she was stressed out all the time. Even though she never took it out on me or my brother, I found myself worrying about her a lot.

Too Much at Once

All of these things happened one after another over five years. I started to develop irrational fears about my family and concerns about needing to stay safe. For instance, when I was 11, I would touch the floor and think that I might get an infection from those germs. Then I’d be convinced that those germs would pass to my family, so I would wash my hands three times in a row, because I’d heard that Allah’s lucky number is three. Sometimes that would happen every day.

I thought doing this would prevent anyone in my family from dying, or being sad, sick, or separated from us.

I also feared that a stranger would break into our house. So before I went to sleep, I would go into each room and pray three times. That would help reduce my fear. I would put a chair in front of the front door so if somebody tried to break in, I would hear them. I also slept in my mom’s bed with her because I was having nightmares about losing my dad.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a mental illness that causes you to have “obsessions” (recurrent thoughts) and/or “compulsions” (impulses to do things over and over). Even though you know they are excessive, you can’t stop.

Stressed and Anxious

This constant obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior made me stressed and anxious. I knew this was all in my mind but I couldn’t control it.

A year later, when I was almost 12, we were all able to join my father in New York City. But after a month, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition where your spine curves into either an ‘‘S’’ or ‘‘C’’ shape.

I had to have surgery to correct it, which was successful. But while I was recovering I became preoccupied with my health because I had to be careful about my movements while my back was healing. I was also stuck in the house bored for three months with not much to distract me, so my obsessive thoughts took hold.

One day, for instance, I saw a pimple on my lip, immediately Googled “pimple on lip,” and read I might have lip cancer. I got so upset my mom had my aunts and uncles call me to reassure me that I was perfectly healthy. These kinds of recurrent, worrisome, obsessive thoughts are part of having OCD.

Find Me a Doctor!

One night, I felt like I was in a locked box and I couldn’t get out. I went to my mom and dad and said, ‘‘I need a therapist!’’

‘‘We know you’ve been through a big surgery and that’s normal for you to be scared, but why do you think you need therapy?’’ they asked.

‘‘I feel like these constant scary thoughts are taking over me,” I said. “I am not myself. I want the old me back.’’

image by YC-Art Dept

A month later, my dad found me a psychiatrist. I was late for my first appointment because having OCD makes it difficult for me to be ready at a specific time. I couldn’t touch a lot of things without washing my hands over and over, not even myself, because even though my mom cleaned the house every day, I only saw germs and disease.

I cried a lot when I met my doctor and it felt so good to say everything that was buried inside of me. He told me I had OCD and what that was. He said I may have developed it because I had a past with hard times piled on top of one another. People who have experienced childhood trauma have an increased risk of developing OCD. It can also be inherited.

The psychiatrist put me on the anti-depressant medication Zoloft. After a few weeks, I started feeling better. It didn’t make me forget about OCD thoughts, but it made me calmer and my thoughts less intense, so I had more control over them.

Seventh grade started soon after and school seemed cleaner to me than home. I was comfortable there. Maybe it was because of the medication, or maybe it was because I was reunited with my friends again so I actually had something else to think about rather than OCD thoughts.

Getting Better, With Setbacks

In each session, the psychiatrist asked me what I was afraid of. Then he’d come up with a strategy to help me overcome the particular fear. For instance, I told him I was scared of touching the subway poles because I see that everybody touches them and think they must be full of germs.

‘‘You are right,” he’d say. “But how about if you touch it for a second and then you clean your hands? Trust me, once you do that you will realize that yes, you do get germs, but the soap kills them.’’

‘‘OK, I’ll try.’’

The next time I got on the train I looked at the subway pole as I sat down. Then, I got up and touched it for a second. But then I thought, ‘‘Wow, I was scared of this?’’ Then I touched it again and again.

Once I arrived at school, I told myself not to go to the bathroom to wash my hands, and I was able to do that. I didn’t think about this for the rest of the day and don’t even remember if I washed my hands when I got home.

I Am Doing My Best

The next time I was with my psychiatrist, I was very excited to tell him that I touched the subway pole.

‘‘It took me 15 minutes to be able to touch it, and I didn’t feel the need to wash my hands afterward.’’

“Very good! Next time, try to touch it after only 10 minutes,’’ he said.

The doctor also had me write down everything I was afraid of, how much it bothered me on a scale of 1 to 10, if I overcame the fear, and if so, how long it took. He also wanted me to record if I washed my hands afterwards, among other observations.

I wasn’t successful every time. OCD doesn’t always have the same intensity. Sometimes I feel good and can control my compulsive behavior. But other days it holds me back from doing what I’m capable of and that really hurts.

About six months after I started therapy, I was late to a math test. That day my obsessive thoughts kept on coming to my mind and bothering me while I was taking the test. I wrote all of my answers three times hoping that would help me erase bad thoughts I have like dying, having a disease, or losing someone I love. I got a bad grade because I took too long, ran out of time, and couldn’t finish. I went to the bathroom and cried without any sound because it was too much.

Learning to Live With It

Now it’s been four years since I started therapy and medication and I’m still trying to learn how to live with OCD. I know how to handle it much better, but there are times when it all comes back. Sometimes I feel like my family expects me to be cured. I wish it was that easy to get over it. But I believe I can never beat OCD because it’s part of me.

I wanted to write this story to give people an idea of what having OCD is like. I am not always able to push away my obsessive thoughts. I want people to understand that when this happens, I need their support instead of them telling me, ‘‘How could you not do it?’’ Saying those things makes me feel weak. Instead I want to hear, ‘‘It’s OK. I know you are doing your best.’’ And that’s it.

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(NYC-2016-05-07)

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