Growing up, I had really bad health fears. My mom would watch a lot of medical shows and things that came up in these shows became obsessions and compulsions. I remember my grandma being sick and she couldn’t lift her legs in the hospital. I would feel the need to lift my legs throughout the day to make sure I still could. I also saw someone with shriveled-up fingers and I would check mine constantly to make sure they remained normal.
I remember hearing about people dying in their sleep when I was young, so I registered that as a normal and random occurrence that happens to people. I would say goodnight a certain way and make my bed the same way every night because I thought if anything changed, I’d die in my sleep. I’ve been so afraid of death and the fact that I’m alive for as long as I can remember. I would ruminate on what would happen after death and what it meant to be alive before I could even spell my last name. My family thought that it was funny. I would go to Mom with tears in my eyes and tell her I thought I had cancer. I remember being in 4th grade and telling my best friend that I thought I had kidney failure because my back hurt. I was so consumed with the fear of getting sick or dying that it was almost impossible to focus on anything else.
It got to a point where no one seemed to care about my fears and thought they were ridiculous. They were completely irrational, but to me, they were so real. I would just stop saying why I would do the “weird” things I did. I’d open doors a certain way to avoid getting stabbed by a random person I believed was on the other side waiting.
I developed emetophobia after I threw up in the middle of the night when I was 10. This reinforced all the compulsions I did before bed because I didn’t think I said goodnight correctly that night. In 6th grade, someone threw up on the bus on the way to school. I was mortified. I thought myself or someone else would throw up again and I didn’t want to risk it. Instead, I would walk 2 miles to school every day. I just told everyone I liked walking. While walking, I began thinking I would be in a drive-by shooting. I’d hold my books in front of my chest and wear the same necklace every day because my mom told me it was supposed to represent protection.
I started therapy around this time and communicated to my therapist that I felt paranoid. He told me that I didn’t understand what being paranoid meant. This became a pattern for mental health professionals to overlook what I was going through.
I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 13. That didn’t feel right to me. My sister and my dad had anxiety, and they would have trouble sleeping or they’d throw up before big events in their lives. For me, it was just very vivid thoughts in my head and things I did to cancel those thoughts out. I think part of me just didn’t want to have anxiety because I thought it meant you threw up a lot. I was kind of in denial.
As a teenager, I was frequently hospitalized at psychiatric inpatient facilities. I honestly liked being there, I felt safe. There were nurses if anything bad happened with my health and I was behind so many locked doors that no one could come in and hurt me. When I was 15, I was in a residential treatment facility for most of the year. Around this time, I was diagnosed with OCD but it felt like for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t believe that the psychiatrist who diagnosed me really understood, but again I was only 14 and didn’t know what OCD was. I didn’t care about things being clean, so I decided I didn’t have it. One of the things that stuck out to the psychiatrist was the fact that it would take me 10 minutes to tie my shoes. I had to tie them the exact same way every time. I remember the staff at the residential treatment center would tell me 10 minutes before we went anywhere so I’d have time to tie my shoes.
In February of 2023, I was officially diagnosed with OCD for the second time. This is when I finally began the correct treatment after seeing a therapist for anxiety for 3 years and just getting worse. I thought I was experiencing agoraphobia, I was so scared to leave my house. Looking into it, I realized that OCD consists of very specific fears and can present in many different ways.
I had purchased a book called “Untangle Your Anxiety” and the way that OCD was described hit very close to home. What really made me begin to notice that it was OCD was the compulsions that seemed more obvious. I would knock on wood, tap on things, or wipe my hands in an effort to “cancel out” the thoughts that scared me. This was around the time when my OCD became worse. I was hospitalized again around this time and I couldn’t stop engaging in compulsions long enough to eat. I would sit there just knocking on the table trying to cancel out every thought that came through my head. At the height of it, I had to knock or tap 54 times anytime I had a disturbing thought. 3 times for every thought I knew was bound to come up once I got started. I was hospitalized for 6 days. I was started on medication that began to help.
After being released, I had my first appointment with a therapist that ended up leaving NOCD shortly after. I ended up getting a lot more out of my sessions with the new therapist anyway. We worked on things that I really wanted to get control over and focused on what my values were. I had a lot of trouble with driving, I hadn’t driven on the freeway in 2 years. I slowly did exposures with my therapist that began as just imagining myself leaving my apartment to get in my car without doing compulsions. Now, I drive on the freeway every day, without trouble.
I have danced most of my life. At one point I had quit because performing would give me intense panic attacks. I came back to it and experienced all new problems. I would do compulsions while dancing, like wiping my hands to cancel out the thoughts. I did these compulsions in 3s while also trying to count the music in 8s. I also would count the number of times I stepped on cracks so I could cancel it out after. Needless to say, there was way too much counting going on in my head for me to focus. I ended up dropping out of college because it was so hard.
Over this past summer, I started dancing professionally and getting paid for the first time. I no longer needed to do compulsions the entire time. I could get through rehearsals without doing a single compulsion. Some days were harder than others and I’d do some compulsions, but it was nowhere as bad as it once was.
Now, I am 22 years old. I have come a long way. I am still working with my NOCD therapist and I continue to make progress. Not even a year ago, I had a constant feeling of impending doom that controlled every move I made. Now I can do pretty much anything I want to do.
One of my biggest accomplishments lately was going on a trip with my friends to Las Vegas. I was terrified and felt like I needed to do everything right so that nothing bad would happen. I even bought a helmet to wear in the car. My therapist could not stress enough that this would just reinforce the belief that I was unsafe. I ended up wearing it for not even half the trip. It was uncomfortable, but nothing bad happened. The trip was truly a turning point in my life, considering a few months before I struggled to go to the mailbox.
I am very grateful for the people close to me who understand my struggles with OCD. My boyfriend is very understanding, considering how much my fears have affected him. He has learned to not reassure me, but he has been so supportive in helping me through exposures and dealing with me when I’m going through a very hard time. I also have a lot of very supportive friends. A few even cried tears of joy when they saw me drive the freeway after so long of seeing me struggle.
Returning to dancing has been my greatest accomplishment. The fact that I can take multiple gigs and get through rehearsals without doing compulsions still amazes me. Staying focused on the movement rather than canceling out the scary thoughts is a huge change.
This year I danced in a full-length feature film and several dance showcases including one with almost 1,000 people in the audience. I get through performances without doing a single compulsion backstage.