I've had OCD most of my life. My first memory of it is from 1992. I was eleven years old, and it was late spring or summer.
I had befriended a neighborhood cat, and he in return had bitten me on the ankle. Since nobody in the neighborhood would claim him, my parents had to keep him in the garage for two or three days to make sure he wasn't rabid. He showed no signs of rabies and was released back into the neighborhood. I got a tetanus shot, and all was well and forgotten.
Then, one day I started to panic, believing I had actually contracted rabies. And tetanus. For the first time I did the very thing that continues to be my response to anxiety and worst habit. I researched the conditions I feared I had.
I pulled the old PDR book out of the cabinet, and I read about tetanus (lockjaw) and rabies. And I panicked more. These illnesses were terrifying, and chances are we wouldn't know I had them until it was too late.
The panic reached such a peak that one night I sat in my room listening to Brian McKnight's "One Last Cry" and writing a will leaving all my belongings to my family. An early moment of clarity told me I was being ridiculous, and I crumpled up the will, left my room, and moved on with my life.
Until I hit sixth grade and became scared I had AIDS. I battled that fear off-and-on until I got to high school, and the blasphemous and just plain terrible thoughts began. I couldn't stop them, and I felt horrible. I believed I was horrible.
Through all this, I lived at home with my parents and brother, and they were as supportive as they knew how to be. During those years, they were my sanity, my rock when I started to move too far towards irrationality.
Then I went to college. The first semester was fine, until I read a student newspaper article worrying about ebola. I didn't have time to worry about it when I first read it – college is a lot of work, it turns out – but when winter break came around and I'd had a chance to recover from the freshman fall semester stress, it hit.
Full-on panic. Once, sleep-deprived, heart racing, sure I was not only going to die of ebola but that I had spread it to my family, I fainted. My sight went black, and I fainted, in the middle of the kitchen, while my dad was cooking breakfast.
The return to school for the spring term was supposed to be an escape, but it wasn't. Anxiety dictated everything I did, from showering to eating to what clothes I could wear. Counselors suggested I withdraw from school. I could barely function. It was then that someone put a name to what ailed me, and it wasn't rabies, tetanus, AIDS, ebola, or any other terrifying sickness I'd imagined having. I had OCD.
I'd considering this possibility previously but had always dismissed it. I'd already had counseling for low self-esteem in high school, and I refused to be put on medication that would turn me into an emotionless zombie. All I needed was to fight harder. I believed this up to the day I was diagnosed.
Diagnosis was, in a way, liberating. Even in my strongest fits of fear, I knew somewhere deep down that my worries were irrational. I was just a freak. A freak who couldn't stop, who couldn't help herself, who couldn't get better. Diagnosis changed that. Sure, I was still a freak. But at least I was a freak who was no longer alone. I had a label, I had a group.
Spring term was one of the most difficult and rewarding times of my life. I ignored the suggestions that I dropped out of school and finished the semester with decent grades. I learned to fight the OCD and its symptoms. By May, I was back to functioning at full capacity. That May was heaven.
Eleven and a half years later, I find myself struggling the same way I did when I was a freshman. I'm not back to square one: I can still wear what I want, eat what and when I want, and shower as needed. But I find myself circling my apartment complex six times to ensure I didn't run over anyone without noticing. I panic over issues that were resolved nearly two years ago. I terrify myself by imagining what prison, unemployment, or losing my health insurance is like. I am not back to square one, but I am dangerously close.
I am sick again, and I don't want to be. And so it's time to start again. Time to plot out a strict routine that requires me to exercise daily, to re-develop healthy eating habits, to set aside time every day for de-stressing, and take my meds at the same exact time every day. It means no more internet searches on symptoms of pregnancy and no more allowing myself to drive in circles looking for mangled corpses of people I didn't actually hit with my car. It means actually attending that free anxiety support group in town. And, especially, it means no more lying in bed, avoiding it all as much as I can.
I have to start again, and I am so scared. In nearly twelve years, I've slacked off in honing my healthy coping skills. I sometimes haven't needed them, but more often than not, avoidance just hasn't been harmful enough to, well, avoid until now.
It's time to beat this thing, once more, to the best of my ability. I feel terrified, hopeful, ambitious, tentative, and strong. But I will not fall victim to this again. I will be better. I will be me again.