Welcome to the first week of Speak Up for Silence. If you want to learn more about this series, please read this. Today's post was submitted anonymously, but that does not make it any less important. I encourage you to read this story and leave a comment because I know the author of this will read them, even if they choose not to respond. There is such wisdom in what you are about to read, and I hope that you will all find it moving, encouraging, and helpful even if you do not share the same struggle.
Obsessive compulsive disorder.
Three words, often shortened to three letters, and used as a joke to describe what is actually just high maintenance behavior or enjoying your home being very organized.
Those three little letters in a joke are the most insulting thing to hear when you live with the actual disorder every day of your life.
Imagine this scenario.
You've just been given an extremely specific, highly detailed description of every worst case scenario that could possibly occur based on your next move. Beginning with complete dismemberment of your body, continuing to losing every belonging, further worsening to every single person in your world abandoning you, and ending in the world imploding. Now imagine you've also been handed a very detailed highly specific set of instructions of actions you must take to prevent those scenarios from happening.
That's my brain. My brain is highly compartmentalized. In one section, I store worry lists. In another, I store lists of actions I must take on a daily basis. In another I store lists of actions I must take if under extreme stress to prevent disaster from happening. If something has escaped its compartment in my brain, I must repeat one or several actions until order has been restored in my mind and the lids are securely fastened onto each thought compartment.
One of my compulsive behaviors I subconsciously do when stressed include scratching my skin on my face or scalp in one or two or ten spots until I realize I'm doing it when I begin to bleed. This is my least favorite (as if there is a favorite) because it's highly visible and occasionally leaves me with permanent scars, making my disorder glaringly obvious when I look in the mirror.
I also routinely find myself halfway to a destination only to have to return home and be late to check again that the curling iron I have already unplugged several times actually did get unplugged the last time I rechecked it. If I'm very very stressed I will often just pin my hair back because I know using any type of hot tool will only stress me out more. I'll also skip cooking anything if I know I'll have to leave the house after because I won't be able to stop thinking about the stove and worrying if it's on and I've inadvertently burned down my entire neighborhood because I was careless just this one time.
I also routinely straighten items, grouping them together in logical order, trying to make the outside world reflect the compartments I have set up in my brain. The way that I eat is highly structured as well, clockwise around a dinner plate, starting with vegetables and ending with meat. Sandwiches must be cut so that crusts can be eaten last, unless it is a sub in which case I must keep it wrapped in parchment paper so that it maintains its original structure and not let the contents fall out. Candies must be eaten in matching colors two at a time, one on either side of my mouth. Any deviations from these regular maintenance compulsions will lead to my regular worries becoming larger and larger until I am absolutely certain disaster is coming.
When I feel that a disaster is imminent I resort to other behaviors. I will refuse to sleep until I know for certain there is not a single germ left in my home. I will refuse to speak until I've finished every chore, checked every lock, checked every outlet, and every pipe. On my worst days I will deny myself food because I have failed at any given task I've assigned extreme importance in my mind.
Before I was diagnosed and began to find medications that helped to ease the constant stream of apocalyptic thinking and compulsive behavior, I developed severe eating disorders in my attempts to control the world around me. In my worst month thus far in my life I dropped 20 pounds in one month. I already weighed just 120 pounds because for several months I was having a maximum of five meals per week. That month, I allowed myself one meal per week, and if I ate anything else, I did not permit myself to digest it for longer than fifteen minutes. The severe weight loss nearly killed me, resulting in severely decreased liver and kidney function and causing my heart to weaken while at the same time having to work harder to keep my body going.
Many people in the Christian community believe that because I still engage in my "standard maintenance" compulsions and regularly turn over specific worries in my mind, I'm simply not a real Christian or I'm not praying enough or I don't have enough faith. That's a severely harmful misconception.
My brain chemistry is not regulated the same as someone without a mental illness. My body does not know how to regulate the parts of the brain like it should and needs assistance from medication to make my life bearable and help me be able to live in a mostly "normal" fashion. This is not a matter of lack of prayer, it is a matter of a body not functioning as it should, just like someone with diabetes is not suffering from a lack of prayer or faith, but a lack of a body that can self regulate properly.
I can't offer advice for you, really, on how to handle your own illness beyond finding a good psychiatrist you trust and can tell literally everything, and a therapist you can do the same with to help you learn coping mechanisms.
However, if you don't have a mental illness, I have some requests.
My illness is not a joke. As you read above, my daily life with OCD is much more difficult than liking my closet sorted by color. There is a constant stream of anxiety, a need for order at all times, and a reluctance to explain to anyone that I have OCD because I know the comments that will follow will be something along the lines of "oh me too I HAVE to have my room clean or my volume on an even number." That's not OCD. That's a personal preference. Real OCD isn't funny. It's not something to joke about. It's not something to belittle. I don't want you to feel sorry for me, but I do want you to understand what living with this is like. I've had this since I was a little girl and was fearful of many many things and needed a specific routine to provide comfort and a specific order of doing everything to ensure my world would not crumble. A little girl in fear of her house burning down, family dying, friends leaving if she doesn't routinely eat a specific way, and scratching herself until she bleeds as she turns over fears in her mind is not something to joke about. There's nothing funny about obsessive compulsive disorder.
I would also request that you not tell someone who has a mental illness they need to pray more or have more faith or lean on Jesus. They don't need to feel as though they aren't good enough for God, and these comments don't help. They just add one more catastrophic thought to add to the list: if I don't stop worrying, God will leave me. You can see how that fear would make every single aspect of living with this particular illness a million times worse rather than providing comfort.
Don't laugh about my illness. Don't tell me to pray it away. Hold my hand if you're next to me and I begin to scratch my face and ask me what my worry is at the moment. Help me to talk through it and talk myself out of disastrous thoughts. Help me by allowing me to complete one chore before asking me to discuss my stress. Ask me when I'm scheduled to see my therapist next, and suggest I maybe go sooner so we can work on developing more thought processes to help me ease my anxiety and have less overwhelming compulsions to engage in. For some people therapy might be financially unattainable, but is vital for their success in life. If you are able to, offer to pay for their therapy. Each session is usually between $100-$150 and is often not covered by health insurance, and during very difficult times, we may need to go to a session once or even twice a week. I'm fortunate to be able to afford my healthcare, even the parts not covered by insurance, but so many people can't, and you have no idea how much having a session paid for without worry will help someone have one less fear to turn over in their mind repeatedly.
This is simply a reflection of my life with OCD. Not every case looks the same. I have found some ways to help myself relieve anxiety without harming myself, like counting things until I find my heart rate has slowed and I don't feel so much like the world is going to end at any moment. I'm not crazy, I'm not a joke, and I'm not an example of a bad Christian. I'm simply a person whose brain doesn't work as it should, but I'm doing my best to keep the lids on my mental compartments and not let myself believe that the earth will implode tomorrow starting at the top of my head.
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