Upon starting college, Mollie Albanese found herself in an uncomfortable situation: an unfamiliar dorm room, with two unfamiliar girls, in an unfamiliar place.
Mollie had social anxiety, which made living with two party-happy roommates difficult. But what she was also discovering was that the newness of it all was hard. Between moving into a new dorm, finding a new routine and a new way of living — it all became a bit too much. “There were so many things that I was used to doing a certain way because I was in my home, where I was comfortable,” she says. “And then I went to college and you’re thrown in with strangers. So I felt like things kind of got worse, in large part because I was not in my home.”
As a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, Mollie says, she had a constant feeling of not being present. “I just remember that I was not really able to enjoy the things that were happening around me,” she says. “When I was young, I would always ask my parents, what’s coming next? I would always need to know, what was the schedule for tomorrow? What was tomorrow going to look like? Even if we were on vacation, I needed to know what was going to happen next.
My parents would say, ‘Why can’t you just be present right here and worry about today?’ And I just wasn’t able to. I was always worrying about the future, thinking about the past, just kind of stuck.”
That stuck feeling was exacerbated in college, and in fact, being there constituted a low point. Everything was different. The routines and structures she built growing up vanished overnight. “It was so lonely,” she remembers. “I was just terrified to leave my dorm room. I wouldn’t want to go to class. I would, but then I’d come right back. It was only then that I felt safe, that I was free from other people.”
While sitting in her “closet” of a dorm room, thinking about the fear that came along with leaving the room and having to encounter new routines in a strange environment, Mollie realized that something was wrong. “It was a breaking point,” she says. “I was not doing what I wanted to be doing. I needed help.”
However, when she went to her college’s counseling services they treated her as if she was a typically stressed college student. They asked her questions about her childhood and declared it as simple anxiety.
But that diagnosis didn’t help Mollie — in large part because it wasn’t primarily anxiety she was dealing with. It was OCD, specifically experiences with moral scrupulosity, “just right”/symmetry and somatic/sensorimotor OCD.
“Talk therapy is just not effective for OCD,” she says. “You’re trying to get to the cause of the anxiety and talk therapy just gives you more fuel to ruminate on it.”
For Mollie, it was the start of a nearly 10-year journey to get properly diagnosed with OCD. One doctor asked her if the messy desk in the room bothered her. “I was like, that has nothing to do with how I’m feeling,” she says. “It was those sorts of things that made it not a good match and hard to find one.”
It wasn’t until she found NOCD that her treatment began to really take hold.
“My therapist was really educated, and she just got OCD,” Mollie says. “It was all she dealt with. She was well versed in it. She knew ERP (exposure and response prevention therapy). I felt like I got my life back. I could actually focus and be present for the things I wanted to be present for.”
For Mollie, it was a lightbulb moment. It underscored just how much she was struggling. “I just thought it was anxiety,” she says. “I didn’t know it was OCD. I didn’t know what was right. And so, looking back on my life now, I realized I was impacted by OCD. And I had no idea. For NOCD to be so non-judgemental, so understanding, it was just such a good experience.”
Because of the virtual nature of NOCD, Mollie was able to show her therapist her triggers in real time, creating a real-world ERP environment. “I literally took her from room to room,” she says. “And she had me practice my exposures right over the computer during my sessions.”
Mollie’s treatment was so effective that it’s inspired a change in career. She has a degree in special education, and in August 2020, she started a new job at a clinic for kids with autism. Even though she had just begun, when a friend told her less than a month later about a member advocate position at NOCD, she leaped at the chance, even though it meant holding down two jobs.
“I just felt I couldn’t pass it up,” she says. “It was a weird feeling because I just started at this new place, but it just felt like there was something that I needed to do. I got so much out of (NOCD) as a patient that I would love to be able to give back.”
After six months in that role, Mollie decided to fully jump in. She’s now a full-time peer advisor at NOCD, helping patients go through their treatment and be an advocate alongside their treatment.
Mollie wants to be able to help break the stigma of OCD. She’s an active advocate on Instagram and hopes to show that OCD is not necessarily what’s portrayed in the media. “The media wants you to believe it’s just like this quirky little thing that people do, that they clean more than they should,” she says. “And it really has nothing to do with that. Unfortunately, it’s just this really common thought that that’s what OCD is. So growing up, I had no idea it was more than that. I was thinking like I’m the only person that’s ever gone through this, that there can’t be anyone else that has these feelings. And that’s obviously wrong.”
Now, she is in a position to change that narrative, helping patients on their healing journey. “This therapy gave me my life back,” she says. “It just blows my mind that I can make a living out of that. Because I remember what that’s like. I know what it’s like to be struggling and to not know where to go and to now know where to proceed. So when I speak to these members, they are lost. I can remember what that’s like. And it’s been so rewarding to be able to give back and be the person that I wanted and needed for somebody else.”
Mollie is new to her full-time position. But already, she says, this career change feels like a calling.
“I don’t know if I believe in fate or anything,” she says. “But I definitely think this is where I belong. I don’t know what the future holds — but I think it’ll be here.”
If you or are living with OCD and are looking for help, please schedule a call with our care team. It’s free and they will help you get connected with a therapist who can help you to feel better.