I was born wide eyed and inquisitive. A natural extrovert who held the deepest compassion for all living things; from the most annoying of pests to the smallest weed growing on the front lawn. I lobbied against animal cruelty even before hitting my pre-teen years and read far above my grade level. It seemed to others as though I was the type of girl who would really make her way in life. But this was all before the alien thoughts began to consume my mind. The funny thing is that most people who suffer from this disorder don’t remember a time when everything was clear for them, a time when they were in control of their thoughts. Yet, I do; which is probably why I had such a hard time dealing, because I wanted my old self back, and for the longest time I did not know what was wrong, or why I had changed so much over such a seemingly short period of time. This is my story; my story of obsessions and compulsions that started off as small childhood worries and soon grew to consume my life, and my sanity.
I remember the first thought that triggered my relentless disorder as if it were yesterday even though it took place a staggering 11 years ago, back to the tender age of seven. It was 1997, the year the Rugrats were still a popular television program and children still spent the majority of their days outdoors. I had just gotten over my first bout of stomach bug, it had lasted three days, and I couldn’t remember ever having been sick like that before. In my opinion, this was my trigger. It must have been merely a few days since my recovery when I got up early in the morning to watch my favorite cartoons and eat a steaming bowl of oatmeal. I looked down into one of my all time favorite breakfast foods and the thought pushed its way into my head.
“There are worms in that oatmeal” my brain hissed.
Terrified at the prospect of ingesting the slimy insects I dug through my oatmeal with my spoon for a few minutes until I was satisfied that my food was completely insect free. I then proceeded to approach my mouth with the heaping spoonful of oatmeal. My brain reacted again;
“There are worms in that oatmeal, you just can’t see them.” I felt nauseous. I didn’t see the worms, but I felt they were there. So I dropped my spoon back into the bowl and didn’t hesitate to interrupt my mother in her bedroom.
“Maman, I think I’m sick again,” I stated with my heavy French accent. This was the beginning; the beginning of my obsessions associated with food contamination and illness. After that day, every particle of food that was to enter my mouth had to be thoroughly examined, sometimes even tested by the closest person next to me. On the outside it must have seemed as if I was merely just a picky eater. But so much more brewed under the surface.
Although for awhile, I could eat all the time as long as I checked my food before hand for contamination, my brain suddenly went into overload, and the tyrants in my mind sometimes wouldn’t let me eat at all.
Imagine a seven year old telling teachers and parents that her food had been poisoned. Every time I went to a birthday party or pizza party, I couldn’t eat the food.
“That food is old and spoiled” stated my brain, or, “those parents poisoned your food, don’t eat it, you’ll just get sick again”. To cover up I would always make up excuses as to why I couldn’t eat the birthday cake or pizza all the other kids seemed to be inhaling. Either my food was too hot or too cold, or a fly landed on it. These were among the excuses I once used.
My mother quickly got wind of my new quirk and continuously attempted to encourage me to eat. But quickly the anxiety associated with eating escalated to the point where I tried my best to avoid eating in fear of getting ill. My mother was at wits end, trying to deal with her daughter who refused to eat and feared illness more than anything. The food obsessions stayed with me for a few years; although I learned to manage them best by seeking reassurance.
“Is my food poisoned?” I would ask.
“No,” the subject of my taunting would answer.
“Are you sure it’s not poisoned?”
“Yes, I’m sure”
“There aren’t bugs in it?”
“No. Just eat your food please.” The person would usually respond, exasperated.
“But I can’t!”
“Why not?” The person would demand steadily growing angrier.
“Because there’s a worm in it!”
I would usually interrogate the servers of my food for awhile. After I felt reassured enough, I would carry on eating. Only to be interrupted by another thought some minutes later, followed by another need for reassurance. My frustration usually ended in tears.
But my obsessions with illness did not stop at food contamination. If I pricked myself with a needle I assumed I was poisoned. If I got a paper cut, I was bleeding to death. And a cough meant a serious illness was in the midst. Up until I was maybe ten my life revolved around Illness and contamination, and how it could be avoided at any cost.
Dreams often became obsessional also. I would have vivid dreams of people screaming at me, screams so horrible they scared me more than anything. I would wake up clutching my mother crying steadily asking her repeatedly to reassure me that it was nothing but a dream. I often attempted to avoid sleep in order to stop these terrible dreams. The only way I could calm myself enough to go to sleep was to watch certain movies repeatedly in the same night.
After about three years (although I still obsessed over the food contamination) my fears of contamination took a backseat to my new obsessions of my parent’s demise. Most children my age could spend the night at a friend’s house; sleepovers were a popular thing. Although some children couldn’t tough out the night, my anxiety was no match for theirs. I would be fine until everyone went to sleep. I would lay there; wide awake with my mind reeling inside my ten year old head. Images I couldn’t control of my parents at gunpoint, my parents in a severe car accident which could have been avoided if I had just been home that night. I would attempt to survive the night, wanting so badly to be like the other children my age. But my mind would keep nagging at me until I gave in;
“Your parents are going to die, it will be all your fault. Can’t you see them laying there dead?”
Eventually I would begin to cry, inconsolably until my friends parents either brought me home or I woke my parents up and made them come pick me up in the middle of the night. Sometimes the terrifying thoughts hit me when I was merely spending a few hours without my parents nearby, especially when I was being babysat by my grandparents. I had horrible thoughts of abandonment or death so vivid I would spend the whole visit crying and feeling ill. But at the age of ten; you don’t notice much is wrong with your thoughts or actions especially since your mind isn’t attuned to the world around you yet.
It wasn’t until I hit middle school that I began noticing and attempting to hide my symptoms the best I could. Middle school is a tough time for any teenager, it is a time where fitting in, and how others perceive you will decide the fate of your future High School experience. I was the complete outcast, I became ostracized socially. Either my hair was too funny or my clothes were too original. The harder I tried, the less I fit in. My actual school work would suffer since my thoughts were too consumed to pay attention to the math on the board or the reading in my text books. Teachers began to give me failing grades for my binders since my papers were so disorganized. Soon I had accumulated so much matter in my lockers and purses that the very opening of my locker door would spark an avalanche of papers, books, and various other objects. Teachers would get angry when I had over twenty various papers stuffed inside my text books, not to mention the occasional crushed chips and crumpled doughnuts I refused to throw away.
My parents would have meetings with teachers about my inability to pay attention or complete my homework, and when progress was made towards my organization it was backtracked two days later when I suddenly accumulated a different mass of random objects. Even a piece of paper with the most trivial doodle would not be discarded. Every time my hand was clutching a wad of paper and nearing the trashcan my mind would scream;
“What are you doing! You may need that! Put it back, what if you fail because you needed that paper and you threw it away!?” So, reluctantly I would place the paper back to its original area and seek out another mass of paper to calm the anxiety caused by almost discarding the original piece of paper. Eventually I ceased using a locker all together, mostly because nothing else would fit in it. It seemed as though my compulsions and obsessions had no limit. Avoidance became my number one compulsion, and every time one obsession or compulsion would wane, another would take its place.