By Danny Gautama
As a 5-11, 240-pound man, if you saw me on the street you would not think anything is wrong with me. The truth though is far different — I have endured Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression and anxiety for most of my life.
My first incident occurred when I was just four years old. I watched Thriller and saw Michael Jackson turn into a werewolf. It traumatized me. When I started kindergarten, I would hide underneath tables because I was afraid my teacher would turn into a werewolf. I started seeing a psychiatrist shortly thereafter (around five years old).
However, my behaviour didn’t get better. If anything, it got worse.
A couple of years later, I had just come up from my basement when I had the irresistible compulsion to go back down, this time with the lights off. I felt the need to repeatedly go up and down the stairs with the lights off, walking further and further into the basement each time. In my teenage years, I displayed other “weird” behaviours — when one ended, another new compulsion began.
Some activities started consuming my life — like when I needed to repeatedly wash my hands, check my car to see if I accidentally hit someone, walk backwards down stairs, take frequent showers or brush my teeth for nine minutes (and exactly nine minutes). I cleaned my body with Lysol wipes. I tapped the floor with my foot and a table with my hand nine times to protect people I loved. If something added up to a bad number then I would use nine to make up for it.
As I grew older, my compulsions controlled my life. When I went to nightclubs with friends I would stand in four directions irrespective of where I was.
I often had to ask if I could work from home (sometimes for weeks at a time) because my compulsions worsened.
I remember my first panic attack. I was walking in a mall with friends, laughing and joking when all of sudden I felt my chest tighten up. I had difficulty breathing. I started to sweat and told my friends I needed to go to the hospital. Very concerned, they told me to take deep breaths, since I was too focused on the fear! My next panic attack occurred while eating, when I felt food going slowly down my throat. I went to the ER, only to find out again I was fine.
I experienced many more panic attacks. Each time I felt drained and tired afterward. I eventually stopped going to public places, fearing another panic attack and worrying that my OCD would go out of control. Needless to say, my relationships started to suffer.
My friends would pick me up and I would have to duck to go to their house. I covered my face with my hands in the car so no one could see me. My girlfriend had to take me out when no one was around.
Depression followed. I isolated myself from everyone and stopped speaking to friends. I cried frequently. Yet, despite my struggles, part of me said, “I can’t give up.” I kept fighting each and every day.
Sylvester Stallone is my hero so I had to be a fighter.
The breakthrough came one morning when I finally addressed a scary fact: to change my life, I needed to change myself. I did not want to struggle anymore so I decided enough is enough. I had faith in God and most importantly, I had faith in myself. I walked outside feeling like a free man.
It was extremely difficult — my mind started playing games. I felt the further I walked from home, the more likely I would suffer a panic attack. But this time it was different — this time I confronted those thoughts. I continued walking. Every day I would walk — going further and further, slowly but steadily, taking deep, steady breaths every time.
After suffering agoraphobia for about four years, I eventually started going out more, socializing and meeting friends. I felt unstoppable. I was breaking free and making steady progress with depression, anxiety and OCD. Actively challenging my negative thoughts paid off.
Today I write inspirational articles and am happier and full of passion.
You deserve to be happy, too. Whatever you are going through, you will beat it. Nothing will bring you down and nothing can stop you. You are strong. You are loved, valued, worthy, and important.
You are not alone. I am not only a person with OCD, depression and anxiety, I am a fighter. And you could be, too.
Danny Gautama lives in Windsor where he writes inspirational articles for mental-health organizations and is working on an inspirational book.