I was always a worried kid. A “worrywart,” as my parents put it. But it wasn’t until I was about 11 years old that I realized something was different about me, and that my peers didn’t worry the same way I did. It was also around this time that I began experiencing frequent panic attacks—laced with horrifying dissociation that made me dread leaving the house.
I developed little routines that gradually became necessities. These routines didn’t prevent me from worrying; if anything, they made me worry more. I was anxious when I couldn’t do these rituals, and I was a wreck when I couldn’t do them just right.
Stepping on all the correct wood panels—and none of the wrong ones.
Singing the safe songs and turning the radio off to avoid the uncomfortable ones.
Washing my hands the right way, the right number of times, in the right bathroom.
(And then maybe again in the kitchen too—just in case.)
What would happen if I didn’t partake in these compulsory routines? I didn’t know for sure, but I did know I didn’t want to find out. Slowly but surely, the rituals quietly crept into every part of my life.
I remember sitting on the couch one night while half paying attention to an episode of MTV’s True Life. As I tuned into the words and actions of the people depicted in the episode, my stomach sank.
I will never forget how I felt when I asked my mom to come watch True Life: I have OCD. I was terrified. These young adults were counting, washing their hands, monitoring their footsteps—and it was controlling their lives. They were unwell.
That same night, my mom and I began to unpack my concerns. Opening up was difficult and filled me with deep shame, but the relief that accompanied it was more than welcome. For the first time, I was able to name some of the things I was struggling with and answer some of the questions we both had:
Why was it so hard for me to get through a book or an assignment when I was a straight-A student?
Why did I hate school all of a sudden after being a well-liked, happy kid?
Why did I feel trapped in rituals that I created, without any clear intentions?
That conversation was the start of the healing I so desperately needed.
I saw my first therapist when I was a freshman in high school after being dropped from two of my classes. I had exceeded the “acceptable” number of absences to remain enrolled—as a result of one, being so absorbed in morning rituals that I was consistently late, or two, begging my parents to let me stay home because I couldn’t handle the anxiety that the day would inevitably bring. As I sat in the Dean’s office with my mom, we made a plan. We talked about how, even though my grades were fine, I needed to be in class. What would make it easier for me to come to school? I wasn’t sure, but it was clear that I needed help.
That help arrived and unfolded from the couch in a psychologist’s office where I described the life I had been living for the last few years. “I think I have OCD,” I managed to get out with hesitance. Shortly after my first session, I started taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that did exactly what we hoped: it took the edge off of the anxiety that had been ruling my life.
Taking medication was only the first step in gaining stability when it came to my anxiety, panic attacks, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Gradually, my head surfaced above the water for the first time in ages. The better I understood my mental illness, the more I was able to free myself of the restrictions it imposed on my life. I played sports, made friends, and graduated with honors. I had my life back—but I still had so much work to do. And for the first time on this tumultuous journey, I was eager to do it.
In college, I started seeing a therapist regularly. That’s when I began breaking down the barriers that I thought would remain in place forever. Therapy brought relief, answers, and unwavering support. It gave me tools, and the work I did with them gave me freedom.
For so long, I felt like I was drowning, but today I’m proud of where that difficult journey has brought me.
I love the life I live.
I love my family, my boyfriend, my friends, and my dog (all dogs, for that matter).
I have a wonderful job, an incredible therapist (who I see every week), and a future that I’m approaching with grace and gratitude.
I also have OCD.
I have anxiety.
I have bad days.
But I have joy.
I have determination.
I have hope.
And above all, I have freedom.
You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.