My mind was my own worst nightmare.
It was telling me I was going to die if I didn’t perform the tasks it told me to do with acute detail.
I didn’t understand. My parents didn’t either. I was lost, confused. I needed help.
I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder at the age of 9 — a time when I was going through countless changes in my life.
It became apparent I needed help after a family trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, had to be cut short because my compulsions were virtually taking over my life. Minutes, even hours, of my days were being spent performing repetitive tasks as I succumbed to my mind’s every demand.
Birgit Amann, medical director at the Behavioral Medical Center in Troy, said there is a certain point when an individual should come in to receive help for the disorder. At age 9, I was at that point.
“In general, the biggest reason (to seek help) is it’s gotten to a point where they (people with OCD) are unable to function,” she said. “Clinically, it’s when it gets to the point where you’re missing out on things, you’re not getting to school or getting to work, and that type of stuff.”
Luckily, I was able to receive the therapy I needed and to realize I am not the only one with this disorder.
Others just like me
Indeed, the hardest part in the early stages of my OCD was that I felt like I was completely different from everybody else. I felt like I was being punished for some reason. I felt like I was the only one who was wasting hours in a day, so engulfed in my rituals that everything in the outside world was oblivious to me.
But as it turns out, there were plenty of others just like me, with about half a million children in the United States suffering from OCD, according to ocfoundation.org
Understanding that OCD was a relatively common disorder was a big first step in my battle against my brain.
However, I still didn’t understand why my mind was telling me to turn the lights on and off a certain amount of times, why I had to keep closing and opening drawers until I did it just right, why I had to put the dishes away in a certain order.
I knew it was stupid. I knew it was pointless. I knew there was no sane rationale as to why I was doing these tasks. But if I didn’t perform these tasks exactly how my mind told me, then my anxiety level would increase drastically.
And it wasn’t just the compulsions. The obsessions were equally destructive. I was so afraid of germs and getting sick that I would wash my hands so many times in a day, my hands would turn raw.
I hated myself.
When I first began therapy, my psychiatrist tried to explain to me what was causing these symptoms.
She said it was because of an imbalance of a chemical in my brain called serotonin, and that parts of my brain were overactive. In order to increase the serotonin levels in my brain, I was prescribed Prozac right when I began therapy.
Being so young, I didn’t really understand the clinical part of OCD. I just wanted to feel normal — not just for my sake, but for my family’s as well. As hard as the disorder was on me, it was equally hard on them.
“As a family, you’re a team as much as possible, but this (OCD) gets in the way,” Amann said. “Not only does it (OCD) make you late for things, but it can make your family late for things.”
And boy, did it ever. I can’t even count how many times we were late to places because I had to finish performing my compulsions. I hated it, but there was nothing they or I could do about it.
Tamar Chansky writes in his book, “Freeing Your Child from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,” that punishment does not help anxiety — it makes it worse, so punishment was not an option for my family.
All they could do was support me as much as possible.
places I felt safe
Despite the pain and anxiety that this disorder brought me as a child, there were always two places where I could escape my symptoms.
When I was in my psychiatrist’s room, I could put my mind to rest. She made me realize that this disorder was all in my head and if I didn’t perform one of my compulsions, nothing bad would happen to me.
The other place was at school. As I walked among my peers, I was afraid of them thinking I was different. I didn’t want to be thought of as the “weird kid,” and I didn’t want people avoiding me because they felt uncomfortable in my presence.
So, I fought as hard as I could to hide my disorder from my classmates.
Why I had it
OCD is interesting because there is still no definitive answer as to what causes it.
Most research suggests that people that have close relatives with the disorder are much more likely to develop OCD. Also, according to Chansky, an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of cases of OCD in children are said to be triggered by strep infections. This subtype of OCD is called Pediatric Autoimmune Neurological Diseases Associated with Strep (PANDAS).
“It’s not like everyone with strep is going to end up with OCD, but there are definitely cases of it,” Amann said.
However, I most likely developed the disorder because of my grandpa. Although he was never officially diagnosed with OCD, my family said there was a good chance he had it.
I am now 21 years old and have been off medicine for three years and have not needed to see a psychiatrist in four years. My symptoms have dissipated to the point where I feel like I don’t even have the disorder anymore.
Sure, I still have to set the timer on the microwave as an even number, along with other little rituals, but that is common even in people without OCD.
I am curious now to see how many of my peers suspected me of having OCD. For so long, I was so afraid of people finding out, because I felt like I would be treated differently. I only told a handful of my friends, and I don’t think any of them understood how severe it was. But after my battle with OCD, I am able to understand what people have to go through, not just with OCD, but with other disorders as well. I know it’s not easy, but there are always people out there to support you.
I don’t have a definitive answer as to how I outgrew OCD. I think two major factors were my therapy and the support of my family. I still don’t know how my parents and brother handled my situation so well, because, looking back now, I know there were times I was absolutely unbearable to be around.
I also think I just became old enough to realize that the voice inside my head wasn’t real and that nothing bad would happen if I just stopped doing what it said.
I was sick of it.
I just wanted to live my life, and finally, that is what I have been able to do the past four years.
Ryan Zuke is a student at Central Michigan University and was a part-time sports writer at the Daily News this past winter and spring.
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