Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Ashley Brockman
*Trigger Warning* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Death
I was four years old when I saw one boy smack into another at playtime. I saw him later at lunchtime and watched intently as he bit into his sandwich. When he bit into his sandwich, his mouth began to bleed, in result of losing a tooth from the collision earlier with said boy. I watched in horror as the teacher wiped away the blood and took him to the nurse’s station. I looked at my lunch that once looked appetizing and in return, saw blood. I tried to eat, but I was convinced that my mouth would bleed, too, because four-year-old me didn’t understand that his mouth wasn’t bleeding because he ate something, his mouth was bleeding from an injury.
After that day, four-year-old me didn’t eat. I would hold my food, all soggy in my mouth, all day at pre-school until I was able to find a place to spit it out without getting in trouble. I distinctly remember eating dinner with my family one night, just to excuse myself and head to the restroom where I then flushed down the food I had been holding in my mouth. I was severely underweight, and my parents didn’t know how to help.
I was six years old when I stood at the bottom of the stairs in my house, unable to walk up them because I feared death. I thought about death constantly; what happens when someone dies, what it feels like, how my family would feel, and much more. My mind was consistently overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop thinking about death, which made me feel like thinking about it so much will cause it to happen. I would force myself to stay awake because I feared death would come for me while I slept, because I went to bed thinking about it. I stared at the stairs, wanting so badly to walk up them and cuddle up with my Mom, but walking up the stairs caused more scary feelings than even Mom could make better.
I was 15 when my Mom handed me my daily cup of coffee as I took off for school. I drank coffee nearly every day, but for some reason, that changed. When my mom handed me my coffee, all I could see was a poisoned drink. This wasn’t because I feared my Mom would ever hurt me in anyway. It was because I feared death so much that my mind took my weaknesses and used them against me. I trust my Mom more than anyone in the entire world, yet my mind was telling me the coffee she just handed me was going to kill me. So, every morning, she handed me my coffee, and every morning I drove to school and spilled it into the garbage.
I was 16 when I began using the same bowl and same spoon at every meal. I ate cereal with a pink plastic bowl, with a silver swirl-designed spoon. I finished eating, I washed them, and I placed them back in the cabinet for the next morning. Every morning was the same: pink bowl, silver swirly-designed spoon. Sure, I liked the design and the color of the bowl, but that wasn’t why I insisted on using it for every meal. I insisted because bad things would happen if I didn’t. The house would catch fire, I would die in a car accident on the way to school, my siblings would be caught in gunfire, my mom would lose her job. If I didn’t use that bowl and that spoon, I would cause a disaster.
I was 17 when the worst year of my life occurred. I was 17 when I stopped eating, yet again. Every meal I looked at was infected with disease, filled with poison, raw and undercooked, covered in bacteria that would kill me. I hated going to restaurants because I knew the waiter was going to hand me tainted food. I ate what very little I could with a fork because my hands were toxic. My Mom buttered my rolls on Thanksgiving Day because I couldn’t touch them myself; she was the only person I trusted to prepare any meal. I went multiple days in a row without eating more than a jelly sandwich (with a fork). At school lunch, my friends would gather, talk, laugh while I stared at them eating their infected meals, while they secretly wondered why I never ate. I lost too much weight, down to a weight I hadn’t seen since early middle school, and I cried in the bathroom. I cried because what I was doing felt so SAFE, but I kept losing weight, kept getting sicker. I thought I was saving my life: I was obsessed with saving my life enough to kill myself doing it.
I was 19 when I cried myself to sleep because I was so thirsty yet couldn’t drink any water without carrying it every single step I took, worried that someone, somehow was going to poison it; even if I was all alone. I was 19 when I drove to work so tired one morning due to the lack of sleep the night before, because all of a sudden, the candles in the house were dangerous. I paced back and forth for hours trying to decide: “do I risk someone breaking in to set the house on fire or do I hide the candles in my room? But, if I hide them in my room, what if I accidentally set the house on fire in my sleep?” I was 19 years old when I began obsessing over the locks in my house. I checked every window lock, every door lock, every closet door, behind every shower curtain. I was obsessed with the thought that someone would get into my house and hurt me. I would be almost completely asleep and then think, “Did I lock the door?” and I’d replay it a million times in my head, rationally knowing that I did, but my mind would not rest until I checked. So, I would, again, and again, and again, and again.
I was 19, almost 20, when I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I was 19, almost 20, when I bawled in my therapist’s office as she told me I fit above and beyond the criteria. I was 19, almost 20, when I became obsessed with reading others’ stories, desperately trying to feel less alone. I’m clawing, trying with every fiber of my being to accept this diagnosis, to move forward, to find the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it feels like it will never appear.
The worst part is there are limited individuals in this world who will ever understand the obsessions I have. The obsession that if don’t wash my hands a certain number of times or dowse my hands in hand sanitizer that something bad will happen. The obsession with door locks and unplugging items from the wall so the house won’t catch on fire, killing my family and pets. The obsession with not littering because it will draw an animal to the road and cause an accident. The obsession that all food, even my most favorite ones, are dangerous and evil; that death will occur if consumed.
It’s an extremely lonely feeling, living with OCD. Living with OCD means constantly wishing all it meant truly WAS just being tidy and organized, or irritated that a picture frame is slightly crooked instead of straight. But sadly, it doesn’t mean that – not even close.
I’m waiting to see the light at the end of this dark, dark tunnel. I read the recovery stories of others struggling with OCD and I dream of the day I get to write mine. Hopefully it’s the next blog entry I post.
Your friend living with OCD