Harm OCD, Existential, Religious
Victory Through OCD
By Shelby Parker
I think my first memory of having an intrusive, persistent thought was when I attended a church vacation bible school. There was a skit in which a fictional character hurt his back. They did not resolve the ending as it was meant to be a cliffhanger. It felt incomplete. I remember that for the rest of the day I could not seem to focus on having fun with my friends or engaging in activities. I felt such palpable fear about that kid being hurt in real life, even though I knew it was fictional. The thoughts crossed my mind, what if I was to get hurt? This was the start of a persistent theme throughout my childhood and young adulthood, something could happen to me and I could get very sick. I could be injured or even die.
Experiencing many themes
In college, I can recall struggling with the idea that the people that I loved would get sick and die. I had developed GERD and became increasingly concerned about having heart problems. It began to affect my ability to live the life I wanted to live. Then the worst happened, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. This rocked my life. It made me feel as if all of my fears were coming true. I prayed relentlessly. I tried to maintain my faith, I was filled with so much doubt. God is so good, though, and gave me peace that surpasses understanding through that journey and thankfully now she is cancer free!
I have also experienced the relationship OCD theme (ROCD). In my few dating relationships even before I met my, now husband, I became obsessive about the quality of the relationship. I would sometimes seek affirmation from my partners. I needed to be constantly assured. When my husband and I became engaged I began having nightmares every night about him being unfaithful. Sometimes my thoughts would become so loud that I would yell at myself while I was alone in my apartment. I cried out to God and eventually, this went away altogether.
It came to a head
In 2021, my world seemed to turn upside down. I was under a great deal of stress at work. I had a difficult and demanding workload. I started to notice that I was unsettled a lot about my health. I was also concerned about the health and well-being of my loved ones. Around this same time I suspected, I may be pregnant. I became extremely nervous at the idea of this, what if all my anxiety negatively impacted the baby’s health? It was an apprehensive time period in my life. My pregnancy test results were coming back inconsistently, so we were uncertain as to whether I was actually pregnant. It was confusing as we tried to grapple with what this meant and how to prepare for our future. It turned out that this was what is referred to as a chemical pregnancy. This is when nothing really implants but your body produces the HCG hormone as if it did. This week-long “almost” pregnancy left me physically and emotionally taxed. We were heartbroken. I told myself that many women go through this and even worse and that I would get through it too. I did get through it, but I failed to recognize that what I had experienced was traumatic.
Later in the fall, I found myself concerned over a small cyst that I had on my temple for many years. It had not grown or changed in any way, yet my brain was suddenly very much drawn to it. I was having tension headaches on that side and decided to go to the doctor. She assured me that it was just migraines. I expected to feel more relieved than I did. It was as if my obsessive tendencies were trying to find something, anything to attach to.
2022 came, I woke up one day and just felt like my joy was so distant. I tried to find relief in my work, but I couldn’t find it. When I got home, I distinctly remember that I was about to take a shower and felt like it didn’t matter if I shaved my legs or not because I would be gone soon. I remember thinking, what the heck? Where did that come from? I immediately panicked. No one was home and I wondered if I should call the suicide hotline. In an act of defiance against the thoughts, I shaved my legs anyway. I reassured myself that it was just a bad day. As the weeks passed on, I became scared of the knives in our kitchen, the bleach in the bathroom, and anything else that I could use to possibly harm myself. I was terrified and confused as to why my brain was going down these paths. I did everything I could to not be alone and even forced myself to face these fears, assuring myself that those thoughts were irrational.
My family had planned a spring break trip to Colorado, this is when I feel that my interior world collided with my exterior world. I broke down to my husband on the way back, I told him that I was scared that I was going to open the car door and jump out of the moving vehicle. I was convinced that was how I really felt and kept judging myself so harshly.
My amazing husband talked me down and my sweet mom came to stay with me for a few days. I went to the doctor and answered the routine questionnaire in a manner that I never thought I would. I had always answered a confident “no” to the questions of “Have you been lacking enjoyment in things you used to enjoy? Have you been feeling down, depressed or hopeless?” I felt like I was out of my body, watching myself admit to these awful thoughts. My doctor assured me that these things happen sometimes due to hormones and our synapses getting off track. She put me on anti-anxiety medication, which helped for a little while. I went back to work but still felt so on edge, especially when I woke up. Next, we tried antidepressants which also worked for a time but ultimately seemed to make me feel worse.
I took a medical leave from work to figure things out and began therapy regularly. I was able to return for the tail end of the school year. The thoughts returned at the beginning of summer. I decided to take myself off the medicine. I went to stay with my family one weekend when my husband was away; I was so scared to be alone. Not surprisingly, it did not help. I was reinforcing and believing the intrusive thoughts. I see that now. My compulsions of seeking affirmation that I would never hurt myself, writing out truths, looking through encouraging quotes on my phone, and excessive research only served to put a band-aid on the problem. The temporary relief never lasted long.
I became depressed again thinking about how Heaven would release me from these bad feelings and did this mean that I wanted to go there now? Even the harm OCD themes and feelings of detachment I had experienced was more tolerable than these new fears. With the weapon of my faith and God’s truth, He has reminded me that He has a great plan for my life and He is not holding back any good thing from me. With the help of my incredible sisters and friends, I have been developing a more healthy thought pattern. If my Father wanted me in Heaven, I would be there already. I will only be going there when it is my time. No sooner. Hopefully, this will be when I am in my old age when I have lived a full life and done the work that He planned for me long ago (Ephesians 2:10).
The newest theme has been existential/philosophical OCD. I have experienced some uncomfortable moments of being detached from my body and disconnected from myself. I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. I felt so anxious about having to be “a person” for the rest of my life. I was told that this can be a side effect of depression. I was seeking constant affirmation, and researching, I would write things down that I knew about myself all in an attempt to feel better. This all did little to assuage the discomfort that I felt. OCD is like a horror movie playing in your mind constantly. OCD feels like being stuck on a hamster wheel or in a dryer where your thoughts keep going round and round and you feel like you can’t get off. It feels like being in a prison inside your mind.
Would I choose to pay more attention to the turmoil in my mind or my life that was happening right in front of me? I felt this defiance and resilience rise up within me because I was sick of living this way. Sometimes it feels like having a devil and an angel on your shoulder. Most of the time, you can choose to listen to the angel telling you the truth, but sometimes the devil is really loud and you have to focus more in order to ignore him.
Finding the right treatment
As I embark on my journey through NOCD treatment I am hopeful. I have been in a tough season of my life. But I know that seasons change. I made a choice to listen to what God says about me and my life and not the lies in my head, that OCD tells. I really have to thank my family and husband for talking with me and reminding me what is true about myself.
Recently my mom mentioned something about obsessiveness and it got me thinking so I did a quick Google search of OCD and found a NOCD article about Harm OCD. It was like a dam broke in my mind and I felt understood for the first time in months. I had never heard of this type of OCD! People have always joked that I am OCD because I like things clean and get bent out of shape about certain things, but I never knew it could manifest this way. When I read “the condition of harm OCD is terrifying and painful but fundamentally different from actual violence: It is driven by a concern to protect oneself and others, rather than to harm them,” I literally jumped for joy. It seems like a funny thing to be excited about, but this was an answer to prayer, as it proved that I don’t want to hurt myself.
I actually value my life so much that I want to protect myself at all costs. The fact that OCD attacks my core values allows me to use it as a weapon against itself. Now, when I have an intrusive thought, it still causes me some anxiety, but much less. When OCD comes around, I am empowered to turn it on its head and say, “Thank you! You are reinforcing how much I value my life!”
My advice to others who are in the thick of it
Above all, don’t give up. That phrase used to be scary for me as I struggled with suicidal-themed OCD. I would think, what does that mean to give up? I would think, Oh God, why do I feel like I need to hear that? Does that mean something? Does it mean that I really want to give up on life? I have learned that that is not what it means.
Your OCD and your struggle are not a surprise to your Creator. He made you with the right stuff to get through every trial you will face. The victory you will have through the pain is well worth it. Trust me! He promises to bring beauty from ashes. And even if you don’t believe in God, please hold on to the hope that no distress lasts forever. You will get through this.
Keep showing OCD whose boss by filling your mind and your life with good things and words of truth. The most helpful fact for me is that my intrusive thoughts do not reflect the real me. The thoughts actually prove to me that the opposite is true; I value my life, I love my family and my people, and I love myself.
More about me
I am a twenty-six-year-old wife, daughter, sister, and former educator in the Austin area. I enjoy volunteering at the local animal shelter. I am an avid reader, so I love to have several books going at once. I am reading some nonfiction: Overcoming Harm OCD (Jon Hershfield), Live Fully, Love Freely with Mental Illness (Jared Cash), and Anxious for Nothing (Max Lucado). I love nourishing my mind and soul with these resources and they have helped me so much on my journey. I am also reading the Bridgerton series and am a new member of a book club! I recently quit teaching and am living my dream of working from home with an amazing company. My husband and I are hoping to start a family very soon and I know God has great things in store. This new job and starting ERP therapy is a huge, much-needed change in my life, so I am excited about this new chapter!