What I want you to know about having OCD

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Julia.

My name is Julia, I'm twenty-three, and I have a pretty great life that I'm very thankful for. But for ten years, when I was between the ages of 11 and 21, I had OCD, and it quickly materialized from a minor quirk to a severe handicap. I hope that telling my story will help moms looking to identify OCD tendencies in their children- because it starts early!

My OCD started out when I was still in elementary school. I would worry about my young brother dying, and I would tell myself that if I didn't make it to a certain door before I counted to nine, or choose a certain plastic fork in the cafeteria, that he would be killed. I didn't share these thoughts with anyone, because I didn't consider them important. I always had a morbid, creative view of the world and I didn't think it was anything to concern people with.

Flash forward: 9/11 hits in 2001. People were anxious enough to begin with, but living in a suburb of New York City, and having undiagnosed OCD, I could barely deal with day-to-day life. I no longer wanted my parents to go to New York City, and would do almost anything to get them to stay at home with me. I didn't want anybody flying, either, and I missed out on numerous class trips because I didn't want to be killed in a hijacking. When I finally agreed to fly on a plane, I would spend the whole ride thinking of which passenger might be the terrorist. I have to say, catching moments of Fox News did not help.

Then it was food: I was afraid all food was poisoned and/or rotten to the point of killing me if I ate it. I once cried for about an hour when I found out my mom ate turkey meat that was one day past its "sell by" date. When my dad got food poisoning in New Mexico, I thought he was definitely going to die. I felt that I was living in a world where nobody cared about safety except for me, and I felt entirely out of control. I repeatedly had nightmares that my whole family was dead and nobody cared but me. In retrospect, I probably drove my family nuts.

I also worried about car crashes, especially in my teens, and it was a major reason that I chose not to learn how to drive. Once, when my father was taking a plane to go on a business trip, I told my friend that I was worried about his safety. She said, "Well, he's more likely to get into a car accident than have his plane crash!" I clarified to her that it wasn't the plane I was worried about; it was the car from the airport to the hotel. At least twice a week, I was completely convinced that a family member of mine was dead.

Then came the real OCD--the typical OCD. When I got to high school, I became deathly afraid of catching all forms of STDs from public bathrooms. I dated boys, but was usually too scared of sex to get physical (truth be told, this was a blessing in disguise--high school sex sucks!) When a girl in my dance class had a wart on the bottom of her foot, I refused to sit on the floor for the entirety of the class, mistakenly thinking I could get HPV from her wart. I heard that herpes could be asymptomatic, so I wouldn't let anyone share drinks with me. Someone once spat in my eye by accident, during a conversation, and I was all-too-eager to rinse my eye with burning antibacterial soap.

This was when my parents noticed something was seriously up, and they were smart about it: they sent me to a CBT therapist in New York City, named Dr. Steven Josephson (if you're in the area, he's highly recommended.) He gave me "assignments", like writing down my fears on paper, or keeping track of "triggers" (things that trigger the anxiety- some of mine were HIV public service announcements, Valtrex commercials, and anything showing needles or blood). It took a while, especially given that I was resistent to the therapy, but eventually, the fears subsided. I was put on a very low dose of Luvox, which is an SSRI meant for treating anxiety and depression (I was never depressed, but it manages to work for either/or).

Today, I still have anxiety. Most of my friends would describe me as a high-strung, energetic, nervous person. (But hopefully they'll add "funny" and "awesome" to that list). I can use public bathrooms, share drinks, and have a relationship (my boyfriend is all-too-aware of my anxiety, and it drives him nuts sometimes, but I try to keep a lid on it). When my mother doesn't call me back, my first thought isn't "she must be dead". I'll probably always be an anxious person, but as I've gotten older, I've learned to control it--and if it weren't for CBT, it would have been impossible for me to get here.

If you think your child is playing "mind games" with him/herself or doing any of the things that I did (ie: favorite numbers, counting, tapping things, checking to see they locked the door), consider doing something about it. My parents were great to help me, and I think all parents want the best for their child. And even if you can't "cure" anxiety, I way prefer my life of mild nerves to being unable to participate in life--because life is great!

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