When I was a little kid I was very shy, and I was very scared. Unfortunately, I experienced some significant childhood trauma. I grew up in a very emotionally strict household where some of my family were not very affectionate. I did great in school, I was a good student, and I made the honor roll every time. I was very intelligent and dreamed of attending Stanford University. I considered myself to be “nerdy”. As I got older I started dance and started to grow socially, ambition-wise, as a person, and find my passion.
Trying to be the “best”
Looking back, I can realize that I probably always had some anxiety. I resisted the anxiety in my own ways. I would actively work towards trying new things. I would climb trees just to purposefully prove to myself that I could do things that I was afraid of. I believed that if I could fight my physical fears then I could fight against other things that made me uncomfortable. When I was faced with social anxiety I reminded myself of these times when I had faced a fear head-on and was successful. This allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zones.
When I turned 19 years old is when I first noticed what I now know to be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was engaging in a lot of anxiety-driven checking behaviors. I would check the door locks 20 times and still worry that it was unlocked. I worried about someone breaking in and hurting me. I checked my alarms constantly, fearing I might be late. I felt like things needed to be perfect.
Things quickly spiraled into fears of dying, fear of harming others, emotionally, and intense feelings of guilt and responsibility. I felt as if I was responsible for everyone else’s feelings and emotions. I needed to be the best child, the best partner, the best friend that I could be.
I became hyper-focused on holding my core muscles a certain way. Having been a dancer my entire life, having “perfect” alignment became very important. I began to compulsively tighten certain muscles throughout the day. When I would dance I was keenly aware of how my body looked and moved, it had to be perfect. This is a common byproduct of many dancers, but I took it to the extreme.
I also began experiencing what I now know was likely relationship-themed OCD. I felt confused and had a lot of doubts. I wanted certainty. I wanted to know with 100% accuracy whether or not I was with the right person. Questions bombarded my head, “should I experience more?” I wondered “is it too soon to settle down?” Being a queer adult I wondered whether I should develop this aspect more. Should I develop my characteristics more and see what that meant for me? Even if I was happy in my relationship, could I be happier? It was a constant nagging feeling of what if, even though I am happy in this relationship, I wondered, if I was missing something. I could not feel sure.
Existential fears were also brewing alongside scrupulosity. I am not religious and yet I have had compulsions to pray. Things needed to feel “just right”. I also experienced some somatic OCD themes. I worried that if my day didn’t go “just right” things could be “ruined”. I lived in a constant state of heightened anxiety and discomfort. I still didn’t have a name for this enemy I was facing. I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t explain what exactly that was. The symptoms I was experiencing were like dancing on steroids. When dancing there is a certain pressure to be perfect, to do things in a “just right” manner. That had become my life, this idea had trickled into every part of my life and it had become debilitating.
A whole new world
In spite of these struggles, I feel I was lucky. When I was 20 years old I had heard of OCD a little. I started to recognize some of the symptoms I had heard about, in myself. At age 21, I met a friend who happened to have OCD. One day I finally opened up to this person and poured out all that I had been experiencing, all that I held in for so long. This process, painful as it was, opened up a whole new world. I resonated with their story so much. They showed me the NOCD app.
Initially, I was going to therapy but due to my income, I wasn’t able to get NOCD therapy on my own. Eventually, I was able to get my dad to help pay for the cost of treatment. Even with taking a break and then returning to treatment, I have made amazing progress. I continue to work with NOCD to manage my symptoms.
To be honest, I hate ERP. It feels like daggers in my arms whenever I have to do the really hard things that ERP needs me to do. But I also recognize that it is a necessary evil- to treat this illness that has wreaked havoc in my life.
My first exposure, I will never forget it, I had to stand in front of my mirror. I had to look at my abs and say out loud that I was going to lose my abs. When I did this exposure with my therapist I tried desperately to maintain my composure. I was crying and tears were streaming down my face. The abs represented perfection and to lose them was to lose a false sense of control, I think. The most difficult part is when I am alone and doing ERP, without my therapist there to support me. Sitting in discomfort and anxiety is one of the hardest things to experience. I had to practice non-engagement responses. Within my first couple of months of treatment, I started to feel some relief. It took a while, but about 1 year in, I started to feel really better. It’s been over 2 years now and I continue to make huge strides.
OCD symptoms are like shapeshifters. You feel like you are making progress and then all of a sudden OCD changes up the game. If I were to describe OCD to someone who has never experienced it I would say that it is a vicious cycle of doubt. It is triggered by intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety and stress. This leads the person to perform compulsions to gain short-term relief from the distress that the thoughts cause. Unfortunately, this cycle only leads to greater discomfort in the long term. It grows and festers in the most creative of ways.
The importance of self-compassion
I have learned how important it is to let thoughts be there. Let them be there and I don’t need to respond, I don’t need to do anything with them. For me, medication paired with ERP has been beneficial. ERP has helped me learn so much. One of the most helpful things, for me, has been finding balance. At first, everything was black and white, all or nothing. I needed to learn not how to not go from one extreme to another, to live in the in-between. I had to learn that nothing is certain. I could listen to my gut and it could sometimes be wrong. I needed to flush out what was OCD versus what was intuition. I had to learn how to not self-sabotage or self-sacrifice. Giving myself compassion was key. Having self-compassion is what has led me to find my path and my happiness. I have learned that compassion and accountability can co-exist in the same world. It is a journey. Every day is a step in that direction. It will never be a perfect journey, no bodies ever are. And it’s my journey.
I am currently a dancer and choreographer. I am a 23-year-old non-binary, queer who uses they/them pronouns. I have had multiple jobs. I have worked as a youth peer support person. I am also very into dance activism. I believe it is important to have an authentic relationship with the community, emotions, and societal issues as well as to challenge norms.