I was 12 when the furnace blew up at my parent’s house. It wasn’t a huge fire. The only thing it damaged was our old broom. I vividly remember my dad waving it around like Indiana Jones with a torch. That was when I first started checking stove nobs.
I was 19 when the apartment complex my fiancé and I lived in had a break-in. The guy was caught pretty easily, and the people got their stuff back. No one was hurt, but I stopped feeling safe. That was when I started checking windows and door locks.
I was 19 when the plane I was on had an electrical fire. The oxygen masks dropped down and black smoke filled the plane. When the system shorted, the plane free-fell for two seconds at most, but I was terrified. I couldn’t get out of my seat; and even if I could, where would I go? People were screaming; I was praying; the nice stranger next to me was comforting both of us by pointing out stuff outside our window until we emergenct landed. That was when I started having anxiety about being trapped.
I was 20 when my fiancé and I rented our first single-family house. I loved the privacy of it, the fact that I could finally get that dog I’d been missing since I left my parent’s house, and I felt more adult in a house. But, the house was ancient and rickety. It made weird noises. It came with an old gas heater that sat in the middle of the house and heated it like a fireplace. I didn’t have close neighbors to cushion my worries about break-ins. That was when I developed serious OCD.
I checked the stove nobs at least 20 times a day, and I had to count each nob out loud while touching them a certain way in order to feel satisfied that they were off. I checked the windows every time I left and every night even if I knew they’d never been opened. I started organizing things from big to small and everything had to be straight, label facing forward. I looked at my heater like it was an armed murderer waiting to attack. When I left the house, I would stand at the door nob, twisting it back and forth, feel confident that it was locked and start toward my car before that little voice told me to check it one more time. When it got to the point that I was counting, straightening, taking more than ten minutes to check everything, I knew I had to just stop.
I’m not a medicine person, never have been, so I took conquering OCD as a personal battle. It took a lot of online research, a lot of introspection, and sheer willpower to learn how to understand, stop, and retrain my thinking patterns in order to let go of most my ticks.
It came down to the realization that I was wasting my time worrying about things that I couldn’t control and doing all these habits I had formed to trick myself into thinking that I could. I had wasted countless minutes, hours, and days where I was stuck in the paranoia of OCD. And then I just stopped. It sucked. I left my house constantly consumed with the thought of having forgotten to check something. But, after a while, I started mentally shoving those worries out of my head. I became deeply aware of how my mind processed fear and how the reasoning side of my brain could be used in order to smother that fear to a level where I could function happily again.
There’re still days where I have flare ups. I still have to check the stove nobs a certain way every night, but I only do it once. I’ll never be completely free of it. When my stress is high, my OCD is more active, but never to the point of where it’d been. I know how to counteract it. I am comfortable now that I can stop my impulses and stop the anxiety of the fall out.
Of course, right after I conquered OCD to the best of my ability was when I had my first panic attack completely unrelated to those old fears. I’m still dealing with that fallout. But the point is, help is there if you look for it and are ready to receive it. OCD and anxiety play off fears and until you’re ready to confront those fears, you’ll never be free of them.
**I know some people with mental illness cannot personally control their illnesses. I don’t think there’s any weakness in that. If you present a real danger to yourself or others, I applaud your use of the medical community in order to eliminate that danger. I don’t think how you treat something makes a person any better or any worse than how another person does. Anyone actively seeking treatment, no matter what the form, is fighting the same battles and receives the same level of respect from me.**