By Jason McClary
“If you have OCD remember that it is nothing to be ashamed of. This disease doesn’t reflect who you are; it is just a disease. Don’t be afraid to get help.”
It all started one brisk fall day in September of 1989. I was 12 years old. It was the end of class and I couldn’t get my locker to open up. All of the other students had gone on to their other classes and I was left alone trying to get my locker to open. I went to my teacher and asked him if he could help me. He said “No problem.” He came over and jokingly said “Let’s make sure no one is looking”, and opened the locker. I thanked him and went on to my next class. As I left the classroom I had this horrible feeling that I had just been “molested.” This wasn’t possible. I just needed my locker opened up. I tried to shake the feeling off, but couldn’t. I went home and played the scene over and over again in my head. I was almost certain that nothing had happened, but couldn’t be 100% sure. This was the beginning of my journey into the hell known as OCD.
Almost overnight I was horrified that I had AIDS and was spreading it everywhere I went. I knew I was contaminated. I started calling the national AIDS hotline numerous times a day telling them that I thought I had given someone AIDS because I sat on a toilet seat and then they did. I would tell them that I might have gotten some saliva on someone inadvertently and thought I had given them AIDS. They would reassure me that people couldn’t get AIDS from toilet seats or saliva. I would feel better for a while and then I would get anxious again and start calling the hotline looking for reassurance. I didn’t know that I was enabling OCD because I didn’t know I had OCD.
I started to wash my hands until they bled. I didn’t want anyone to get sick because of me. I refused to use my towels more than once. I tried my best not to touch people. If I was going to be around people, I would make sure to wash my hands to get rid of my contamination. The germ phobia lasted until I was about 13. Then the disease morphed.
I was helping my dad mow the lawn. It was a nice summer day and I was feeling pretty good. I was taking the lawn bag from the mower to empty it when my world went empty. The feeling I had was almost indescribable. I felt like my soul was lost and I didn’t have a way to get it back. The thing that made me have this feeling was I questioned the existence of God. I had grown up always believing in God and that was all there was to it. Now I was questioning if God existed. I went and asked my dad how I knew if there was a God or not and he told me that was a decision that every person had to make for themselves.
Now I had a whole new thing to worry about. I started to read my bible obsessively. If I didn’t read my bible a certain way then I would send someone I knew to hell or something bad would happen to them. I would spend hours reading my bible at night. I started to have to read the sentences a certain number of times or something bad would happen to someone I loved. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t tell anyone about these rituals I was performing because they would think I was crazy and lock me up.
Suddenly when I read my bible, I had to put it on my nightstand table at just the right angle. If it was not at the right angle I would not be able to go to bed. I tried to fight this by lying in bed and trying to go to sleep without thinking about moving the bible, but the anxiety would be too much. I really thought I was going crazy. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I thought I might be better off not being in this world. Somehow I made it through and continued to function.
On top of everything else, I thought I was secretly trying to poison people whenever I would eat with them. One of the worst times of my life was when I was staying over at my great grandmother’s house. It was a Saturday and we were making fried chicken. It was my favorite thing that she cooked. The smells the came out of the kitchen when she cooked were incredible. She asked me if I would like to help her and I jumped at the chance. I loved spending time with her and loved helping her cook. She gave me the chicken and flour and I shook the chicken in the bag. Out of the blue, I had this terrible feeling that I had just poisoned the food because I had touched it a certain way. I tried my best to keep it together, but came up with an excuse and went into the living room. I stood there shaking and in a panic. How could I be having these thoughts? Was I turning into a monster? I looked in the mirror and looked myself in the eyes and said “You are not trying to poison anyone!!!” I managed to pull myself together and continued to help with dinner. As we were sitting at dinner, my great grandmother and great uncle and I talked about how my life was. I told them everything was great and I was looking forward to going into high school. The whole time I was thinking that this was going to be the last meal I had with them because I had poisoned them. As we went to bed that night, I knew they would be dead in the morning. When I awoke to the smell of bacon, I was really relieved. While I felt good, it wouldn’t last for long.
One morning when I was 16, I awoke to a horrible thought. What if I sexually abused a child? Where did this thought come from? It seemed like it appeared out of nowhere. I had never even thought about this before. I was now convinced I was a monster. I didn’t know how I could go on with my life.
I was in high school at this time and needed to keep it together. I couldn’t let anyone know about the thoughts that I was having. I hated having these thoughts. I didn’t know where they were coming from. I was sure that I was some sort of deviant that needed to be put away for the safety of others. Normal people did not have the thoughts that I was having. I somehow managed to keep it together and act as if everything in my life was normal. One day I decided I needed to tell someone about the thoughts I was having so I thought I would tell my girlfriend. That didn’t go over too well. She told me to just stop thinking those thoughts, so I tried. It didn’t work.
When I went to college things seemed to calm down for me. The thoughts were there, but not as often. I finally thought I was free of all these terrible thoughts once and for all. Things were going great. I was getting good grades, being social and enjoying life. Then, my girlfriend broke up with me. I had a panic attack and the thoughts started coming back. I moved to Florida for a couple of years and then moved back to Colorado to start over.
Things went well in Colorado. I finished college, got married and had a good job. One day I was in the book store looking at books trying to figure out what was wrong with me when I found a book on OCD. I started reading it and it sounded just like me. I finally had a name for this disease and it was OCD.
I found a doctor who put me on an SSRI and things started to get better. I thought medication would be the answer. Things were going great. I thought I had finally beaten the disease and all would be well.
My wife got transferred to Chicago. I was pretty excited to move to Chicago. I was doing fine there until one day I was in a Target and was in the bathroom when my worst fears came true. I was stuck in a bathroom with a child, and I was alone. I immediately froze and made my way out of the bathroom. I made it out of the bathroom but was in a complete panic. My head was spinning and my hands we clammy. I immediately thought that I had tried to check him out at the urinal. I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. I played the scene over and over again and couldn’t be sure that I didn’t try and check him out at the urinal. I didn’t know what else to do so I got drunk and blacked out. The next day I called a doctor again.
I went to a therapist who didn’t specialize in OCD, but did help me with some of my anxiety. I was starting to do really well. I was reading about OCD and getting better. I was on a different medication and was in good shape. Then we moved to Nashville.
I wasn’t looking forward to another move, but it was the right thing to do. I quit my job and we moved to Nashville. I did okay for a while, but I had too much time to sit and think. My thoughts started creeping back in and pretty soon they took over my life. I was at the lowest point of my life. I was ready to give up and then I found a therapist who specialized in OCD.
My therapist saved my life. When I told her about the thoughts I was having, she said that she could help me. I have never had anyone tell me this before. She said it would be a lot of hard work, but I could get better. I have been seeing her for over a year and my life is completely different than it used to be. I have learned through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that I suffer from a chemical imbalance. My brain sends out faulty signals. I have learned how to resist doing rituals and compulsions. I have learned that OCD is not who I am. OCD is something that I have.
I still have thoughts and when I am stressed out my symptoms worsen, but I now have the tools necessary to wage war against OCD. I won’t lie, sometimes it gets the best of me, but for the first time in my life I am having more good days than bad days.
If you have OCD remember that it is nothing to be ashamed of. This disease doesn’t reflect who you are; it is just a disease. Don’t be afraid to get help. Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not easy and is a lot of hard work, but if you stick with it you can get better.
Keep up the fight!