A Teen’s Life with OCD
Reprinted with permission from the OCD Newsletter Volume 23 Number 3 Summer 2009, Published by The OC Foundation, Inc.
I have endured OCD off and on for over 4 years. I am now 15 years old and have had major OCD symptoms for about 1½ years. I am told that I had some symptoms even earlier on, but I was too young to really understand them. As many know, OCD is a terrible and painful mental experience that can leave a person and their loved ones broken until they are strong enough to stand up and fight what they fear the most. OCD has caused me so much mental pain and anxiety that at times I wanted to give up and cease to live; however, I always kept in mind that if I did, I would be giving in to this bully. I also would be leaving those who have fought so hard for me, a situation that is hardly fair. Instead, I have decided to work hard to rid myself of OCD.
My OCD took a fairly common turn. I obsess about sexual things that most people would find pleasurable and completely normal. Having obsessions about sexual things makes me sound like some kind of pervert, although I know I am definitely not. I worry about harming small children or about getting “dirty” from touching my genital area. Another fear that I have is coming into contact with semen. I know that my obsessions make no sense to others. I am friends with extremely typical teenage males who are not afraid to talk about this topic and I stand out a bit because I don’t. Most people find sexual matters pleasurable and just continue on with their lives. But for me, it is torture. At times, I am anxious to a level incomprehensible by most. During these episodes, the only ways that I can find to lessen my anxiety is to either “confess” to someone or to clean myself (i.e., multiple hand washings or showers). I can’t find the words to explain this feeling to others, but it is somewhat like not being able to find something extremely important after just getting off a plane: you would fear you left it on the plane and would not be calm until you found it. This is how it is for me and OCD.
There came a time when my OCD was so bad that I needed help. For this, my mother turned to both a psychiatrist and a therapist. The psychiatrist just minimally listened to us and then handed us a prescription for pills. Overall, the psychiatrist only made me annoyed and did not help me feel better. From what I can tell, the medicine didn’t play that much of a role in helping me. I did not notice any changes, nor did I feel anything different. However, my mother has noticed a lot more than I have in the medicine area. She thinks that the medicine did help me seem less anxious. As far as going to therapy, I think it helped me little to none. The only benefit that I can see is that it gave my mother some ideas on helping me. It seems that a lot of psychologists, at least in our area, don’t have that much experience in treating OCD. My therapist just didn’t seem to know the correct ways for helping me, and I really needed the help.
Even though the medicine and therapist didn’t help as much as I would have liked, there was one thing that did: exposure and response prevention therapy. My mother had read a lot about this therapy and decided that we needed to try it. I have found that this therapy is the most helpful. Over one particular Christmas break my mother and I used this therapy and worked hard to get me over a lot of OCD symptoms. Since my obsessions concern sexual matters, we used things like human sexuality textbooks and movies to expose me to what I feared the most. The movies we watched had explicit scenes that related directly to my “bad thoughts.” I then waited a while before I washed my hands or took a shower (my most common compulsions when exposed). Because of all of our therapy, I can now go the entire day and take only one shower. Also, I no longer wash my hands as much as I used to. This Christmas-break therapy session was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. I really didn’t want to do it, but my mother knew that it was very important for me. To get me motivated she told me that I would receive a cash reward at the end of the 2 week break for my hard OCD work. I admit that I was motivated to work hard for the money. I know that some people would have discouraged this approach, but for us it has worked and I now feel so much better (and a bit richer!).
Even though going through exposures helped me the most in dealing with OCD, there were other things that I used. I found that small pleasures in life can distract me from OCD and that if I engage in small projects I can feel more confident in myself and thus fight OCD better.
I am doing well now and hope to continue making progress. Looking back, though, I can see mistakes that both my mother and I made along the way. Most of these mistakes came up when my mother thought I could do something that I couldn’t. I would have a lot of trouble explaining to her that I did not have the ability to do something that was OCD related. Because of this, we would argue and get annoyed with each other. At times, this caused me to get so mad that I would destroy things. It took us a long time to actually realize that our approach was not getting us anywhere and that we had to go slow and steady and to have lots of healing time between hard pushes of working on OCD.
Another thing that held us back was a lack of communication. Many times my OCD caused something to happen, but I would not tell my mother that it was because of the OCD. She and I would argue about whatever had happened and would get nowhere. For example, there were times that I threw away my homework and got a bad grade because it had somehow gotten “contaminated.” During these times, I didn’t want to tell my mother that my OCD had gotten in my way because she would insist that we talk about it. Even though I knew that it was important for me to handle my OCD there were times when I just couldn’t face it.
There is no doubt that I hate my OCD and that I would not wish it upon anyone. However, having OCD has taught me some valuable things which I carry with me wherever I go. I now know that if I meet somebody who seems a bit strange that they may have a personal problem and are just trying to get through life like me. I do not make fun of people any more because of what I have learned through OCD. I have also learned about empathy. I can emphasize with others because I have felt extreme guilt and sadness that may be similar to what others have felt. Because of OCD, I can better understand someone else’s pain. I hope to someday help others who are struggling just like me and who are going through similar things that I have. I want to show others that having OCD is not the end of the world even though it is certainly a distinct hindrance to a good quality of life. Life can be ruined by OCD if it is not treated but, once OCD is recognized, it can be halted and a life can be made better.