As a child, I was gregarious, outgoing, and happy-go-lucky. Then something went horribly askew at about age 12. I did not know why I was unable to focus when I had been the best reader in school. I had been talkative, but I kept to myself, remained silent, and let bullies pick on me. I hadn't the slightest idea what was going on with my body and mind. Eighth-grade was probably my worst year because I was taunted, harassed, and bullied.
Meanwhile, I was panicking inside, and I did not know who I could confide in besides my parents. I kept having intrusive, unwanted thoughts about not being good enough. I stood in front of mirrors, combing my hair over and over, trying to get it just right. I did not eat much, but I made myself feel better by eating bags of chocolate. I did not join any after-school activities; I kept to myself and just went through the motions.
In college I had a series of panic attacks based on my fear of failure and rejection. One specific attack came on during final exam week. During one exam, my heart rate soared to 160. I had to leave the room and take an incomplete for the semester, and I was devastated.
Fortunately, I went to an in-treatment hospital nearby, where a specialist diagnosed me with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder. This was back in 1991, when many in the community knew little about these disorders. It took me about a month to realize that I was not crazy and that I had nothing to be ashamed of. I continued to see my psychiatrist for the next several years.
While the drugs Prozac and Klonopin did their job of keeping away my intrusive thoughts and panic, I experienced weight gain, lethargy, and slower reflexes. This became a challenge that I decided to accept.
Even though I could function in society, I did not know how to handle my emotions or how to be assertive. My current medications have helped me overcome many recent health problems that stemmed from my inability to handle conflict.
Sometimes I felt as if all my thoughts were leaves in a pile on a lawn, and a huge gust of wind would blow them all around. My compulsion would be to pick up each thought (leaf) painstakingly and focus on it. Thanks to treatment, I realized that I no longer had to focus on every little intrusive thought so I could focus on what is real and important.
Today, almost 19 years after being diagnosed with OCD, an excellent psychologist is treating me with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which was missing from my treatment during the previous 18 years.
OCD is a monster, but I've beaten it. And, in addition to receiving professional help, I continue to fight it with exercise, good eating and sleeping habits, and being active.