Life before knowing about OCD was very confusing, I didn’t know why I experienced such intense guilt at times. I couldn’t understand why it was that at times in my life, when something would happen, I would become consumed by it. Whole days would be taken up worrying endlessly. Questions of ‘Why” and confusion over my feelings were just the tip of the iceberg. My days felt as though they were being ruined. I couldn’t understand what I was feeling or why I was feeling it. I fixated a lot on death and Hell, worrying about how I should and shouldn’t act. I was raised in a religious family so this became something that I was hyper-focused on. Good versus evil, morals, what was considered okay and not okay?
I longed for a community, something to believe in
Socially I would become overly concerned with my interactions. In school, I wondered if I had said or done something to upset a classmate. I just wanted the feelings to go away. It seemed like nothing I said or did was ‘right’. Going through school I was picked on and felt bullied. I was overweight for many years. This definitely contributed to my self-image and self-worth questions. I never felt good enough and had severe issues with my confidence. I was trying to find my place in this big world. I wanted a belief system and a community. I needed this.
In 2021, at the age of 18 years old, things came to a serious head. I went from 220 lbs. To 160lbs. I had been heavily involved in wrestling at this time. I was engaged in this throughout the day. I put all of my self-worth into wrestling. I would vomit before my matches. It was like I was metaphorically throwing away all of my feelings, the nervousness, the doubt, everything. This would allow me some temporary relief from my emotions. It really became a way of self-harm for me. The feeling that came just afterward was like nothing I had experienced. I began to do this in other situations. If I felt anxious or uncomfortable I would throw up. I became very thin, my mom started to worry. She began to suspect that I had an eating disorder.
During this period of my life, I would cling to every new idea and was intrigued by philosophical ideas at that time in my life. I spent my days diving into literature about politics, social morality, and religious texts, I was searching for relief. I was looking to feel safe and secure. I was looking for reassurance and certainty. I desperately wanted to feel less scared. I had been throwing food up as a means to cope with anxiety and intense emotions. It all came crashing down when I attempted suicide. My girlfriend had broken up with me. This was the very first girlfriend that I ever had. It brought back all of the past emotions of not feeling good enough. After confiding in my mom about what I was experiencing we were able to quickly get me into a residential program to treat disordered eating.
The initial part of treatment was intensive and you lived on campus. I was the only male there and felt very alienated. Eventually, I attended a Partial Hospitalization Program or PHP. This was where I spent half of my days. I was involved in group therapy sessions. Again I felt isolated, even in the group. I eventually just stopped attending the groups altogether. I felt frustrated. During this time I was changing my medications with the psychiatrist and trying to find what worked well for me.
Finally a diagnosis of OCD
It was towards the very end of my treatment that a treatment provider suggested that I may have OCD. I had always felt in my heart that the eating disorder, for me, was a symptom of something else. I just didn’t know what that something was.
I was able to return home, still not being treated for whatever was underlying my behaviors. I started to research OCD behaviors and symptoms. My psychiatrist did an assessment and determined that I did indeed meet the criteria for OCD. I now knew that I had a diagnosis, a reason why the things that bothered me did and did so intensely. I learned about the most beneficial treatments for OCD. I went on an SSRI that was centered more on treating OCD. I began looking for a therapist who specialized in OCD and ERP. I was also interested in learning more about meditation. During this treatment, I was able to explore past traumas and other issues that were related to my behaviors. I am about 1 year into treatment currently.
I learned that years of searching for meaning in the world so intensely and excessively were part of OCD. I felt the need to unlock all of the mysteries of the world. All of the time spent laying on my floor with research articles and endless books to try and find the ‘truth’ was a symptom of this disorder. I was experiencing Existential OCD and Religious OCD.
In a way, OCD opened a door up for me. It allowed me to find tools to help with my feelings of distress and discomfort. Treatment has led me to live my life in such a way that will benefit me. In some ways, it has put me on a path toward purpose. I find value in helping others who are going through this. People reach out to me now who have struggled with OCD and similar issues and this is so helpful to me. I now have that sense of community and purpose that I had searched so long and hard for. Just knowing that my story, my journey, has touched other people’s lives in such a positive way has made it worth it. I am especially grateful for the advocacy I have been able to provide to men who often suffer in silence from mental health issues. This is not a topic that is talked about as much. Men struggle too. I am in a unique position in that I am a MMA fighter- a mixed martial arts fighter. I can be the epitome of a man by much of society’s perception and still struggle with disordered eating and OCD. I can also be brave and bold and talk about it, shining a light on this important issue. This opens the door to trust and mutual understanding.
It has been extremely rewarding to see my journey come full circle. Although every day is a new experience to grow and live in recovery, there has been so much progress made. I have been able to go into wrestling and not put my entire self-worth into it. I have learned to see myself as many things, not just tie all of who I am into one thing. I work in the martial arts field and find this work to be extremely rewarding.
My friends and family have all mentioned how far I have come and how I am an inspiration to so many. They can see how much I have worked to change my life. My parents are elated that I am not on the edge all the time and that I am living in recovery. Friends who knew me in high school see how far I have come. That, to me, is gratifying.
My advice if you are struggling
I would say that you have to make a choice. Commit yourself to the choice, become a slave to that choice. Make the choice to try and get better and don’t let anybody or anything stand in the way. Don’t get stuck in the loop. Don’t lower your standards for yourself in spite of OCD. I once had a coach tell me, everyone is operating under adverse conditions, whether they are real or perceived and you still have to keep going. You can’t quit. If I’d quit, I’d be dead. I don’t think that everyone has to experience the lowest of the lows to get to this place. You don’t have to be almost drowning to seek safety.
I would encourage anyone and everyone who isn’t aware of just how serious of a condition OCD can be, to educate themselves on this. This is a real disorder and a debilitating one for so many people. Be open to what others with lived OCD experience have to say about this. It may be difficult to understand or to put yourself in their shoes, but that’s okay. What they need is your support, just knowing you are there for them and care enough about them to be there for them can mean a world of difference.