At 10 years of age, Genevieve Mora had a nightly “checking routine”. She’d look under her bed and behind her door, and make sure her bedroom windows were locked.
It sounds like a perfectly harmless, even practical habit, but it was motivated by an unsettling thought: Genevieve was convinced that if she didn’t do all her checks, she was going to be killed.
This was one of the early presentations of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder that affects two per cent of people here in Australia.
While the now-22-year-old’s OCD was manageable at first, she developed more rituals and compulsions over time.
“I started washing my hands ‘til they bled, and turning doorknobs a certain number of times convinced that if I didn’t myself or someone I loved would die … I had to do everything in the number four,” Auckland-based Genevieve tells 9Honey.
Genevieve’s mental health issues began when she was just 10. (Image: supplied)
“I was aware of how irrational it sounded, but it was easier to give into the compulsion than sit with the anxiety and fear that perhaps someone would die.”
Genevieve traces her years-long battle with mental illness back to the fear of death she developed at age 10.
“I clearly remember walking into the kitchen one night and catching a glimpse of the news. They were reporting a murder that had taken place in quite a lot of detail,” she recalls.
By the age of 12, Genevieve’s OCD had reached a point where she couldn’t leave the house – and if she did, she’d require a one-hour warning so she could complete all her rituals first.
“I actually had to drop out of mainstream school as my day was consumed with rituals and I was missing classes because I had so much to do, compulsion wise,” she recalls.
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Genevieve says the frightening reality of OCD, and the power of the mind, is impossible to understand unless you’ve experienced it first-hand.
“Your mind plays tricks with you … Nobody chooses to wash their hands till they bleed,” she says.
“I heard a radio segment the other day [that asked listeners to] ‘Call up with your OCDs’. I sat there thinking, ‘This illness nearly took my life. It’s not something to joke about’.”
Although Genevieve’s family sought professional help for her early on, she went on to develop an eating disorder – something she believes her OCD largely contributed to.
“My mind had full control of everything and I felt a need to gain that back. So I started controlling what I ate and how much I exercised,” she says.
“I would wake up in the morning and wish I hadn’t.” (Image: supplied)
“I felt power again and felt like I had achieved something. Little did I know it was the beginning of a whole new battle.”
By this point, Genevieve’s mental illness consumed her life. She’d spent as much time sleeping as possible, because it was the only time her mind would get a break.
“I would wake up in the morning and wish I hadn’t because the day ahead was so daunting. I was so over life,” she recalls.
At age 12, Genevieve was admitted to an outpatient mental health service, followed by the Eating Disorder Service. In 2010, she was rushed to the Children’s Hospital in a medically unstable state, a moment she sees as the beginning of her recovery.
“I was in there 12 weeks and was required to gain 1kg a week. When I left I still had a way to go, but was in a better physical state than when I was admitted,” she says.
These days, Genevieve says she’s feeling “so well”. (Image: supplied)
From there, Genevieve underwent two years of inpatient and outpatient treatment, supported each step of the way by her family, friends, school and medical team.
“We all worked together to get my life back on track,” she says.
These days, the 22-year-old is living in Auckland and working part-time in a primary school as she works out her next step.
“I eat freely again and my OCD no longer rules my life … I feel so lucky to be free again. It was a tough battle but worth the fight,” Genevieve says.
While she still experiences anxiety, her years of treatment have given her the tools to manage it.
“Whenever I am faced with a challenge that scares me, I tell myself that I have fought through so much more, I am SO strong and I can fight anything that is thrown at me,” she adds.
Genevieve and Jazz are using their experiences to help others. (Image: supplied)
Alongside her friend Jazz, who has also fought a tough battle with mental illness, Genevieve launched an online community called Voices of Hope.
Using their own experiences, the two young women want to help other people living with mental illness feel less alone and show them that recovery is possible.
“To someone who is fighting a battle, my advice to you would be to take it one day at a time. Remind yourself that you are not your illness and it will not define you,” Genevieve says.
“It takes a lot of hard work, a few steps forward, a few steps back, but as long as you keep heading in the right direction and fighting the voice in your head you will get there.”