My OCD Story and Tips for You
DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or therapist and never will be. I highly, highly recommend that if you think you or someone else has a mental illness that you get appropriate medical and mental health help. If you feel you are in a life-or-death emergency please call 911 for help or the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255. This page should not be considered medical or therapeutic advice. It should simply serve as a support to the qualified help you are already getting or seeking.
** Please know that no monetary compensation was provided for any of the products I suggest. Many, but not all links provided are affiliate links. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases but it doesn’t cost you any extra money.
How It All Began
7 years into my marriage and we were finally adding a baby to the family.
I was beyond excited.
In fact, I was much more scared than excited.
What if I did something wrong that hurt the baby? I couldn’t let that happen.
[TRIGGER WARNING: If you currently have OCD I do not suggest reading the rest of my story. I will be detailing a lot of my obsessive thoughts and these are likely to trigger similar thoughts in your own brain. Have a loved one read this article for you and give you a summary!]
So began my battle with OCD.
Except at first I didn’t know it was OCD. I thought I was being a careful, cautious, good mom. I thought it was normal to research every single thing that went in your mouth before you took a bite. I thought it was normal to change clothes after going inside so that “outside” germs couldn’t get you sick. I thought it was normal to check every single symptom you had with every single book and online resource available, just to make sure it wasn’t a sign the baby wasn’t thriving.
I thought I was being a good mom.
I was actually letting the OCD take over my life.
I thought for sure that the anxiety would decrease as soon as the baby was born and I could hold it in my arms and see for myself that he was healthy.
I was wrong.
That moment was definitely amazing. In fact it was one of the happiest moments of my life holding my healthy, 11 pound baby in my arms. But the worries didn’t go away. In fact, they got worse.
When Things Got Worse, Not Better
What if I didn’t feed the baby enough and he failed to thrive?
What if I used a chemical in the house that would harm him just by inhaling it?
What if I didn’t read him enough books and he didn’t reach his full potential?
What if I took him out in public, he caught a horrible virus, got so sick he ended up in the hospital, and . . . I still can’t even type the potential result of that one.
What if? What if? What if? My life was bound by “what ifs” and it was awful.
A Lightbulb Moment That Hurt
It wasn’t until my second baby was born and my mom was visiting that I realized something was wrong.
I still remember the moment when my mom was sitting in one of my dining chairs, holding my second baby boy, while I washed my hands.
At this point I was washing my hands for about 2 1/2 minutes every time I washed them . . . and I washed them every time I touched something other than my baby.
As I stood at the sink washing the soap into my red, raw skin my mom sweetly said, “You know Kristen, washing your hands a lot can be a sign of OCD.”
It was a shocking lightbulb moment that finally put a name to what I had felt in my heart for years: something was wrong. Now I had an idea of what it was.
I went online and found a book that changed my life: The OCD Workbook.
This book finally helped me realize what was wrong, and it gave me tools to start fighting against it.
But I refused to go to therapy (my one experience was awful and I didn’t want to go back), or to talk about my struggles with anyone but my husband.
And so things continued to feel awful, though they finally weren’t getting worse.
But I still hated waking up every morning.
I hated living inside my own head.
I hated being me.
And I was sure that my family would be better off without me. And though I blessedly never had suicidal thoughts, I can distinctly remember the moment I was driving to Target and a semi-truck was coming from the opposite direction. In my heart and mind I thought, “I wish so much that that truck would swerve into my lane and kill me.”
Luckily it didn’t.
Because after the birth of my third baby and a move to Northern California, I finally decided to try therapy again. And I hit gold. My therapist was absolutely amazing– helping me see the spiritual battle I was in.
She helped me see the truth in 2 Timothy 1:7 . . .
Letting Jesus In . . . Even Though I Was Mad at Him
And for the first time I started to bring Jesus into my mental illness battle.
I had felt angry at Jesus and God for so long. Why were they doing this to me?
I tried to be good and righteous and this was what I got?
I couldn’t understand it, so I started looking for answers.
Which brought me to the second book that made all the difference in my OCD battle. The day I started reading Between Two Minds: Healing from Depression and Anxiety for LDS Women was eye opening to say the least.
This book was packed with spiritual insights into mental illness that set off a hundred lightbulbs in my mind.
But it was one particular exercise in it that started to flip things around. The author challenged me to make a list of blessings that were coming because of (not in spite of) my mental illness.
At first I was shocked and angry.
This woman had no idea what I was struggling with. She didn’t know how OCD was destroying me and my family.
She didn’t see the time I held my baby on my lap and made my toddler sit on the ground while I read him a board book, turning the pages with my foot because I couldn’t make myself touch the book with my hands.
She didn’t see how I literally sobbed myself to sleep on most nights and woke up disappointed and terrified every morning.
But for whatever reason I decided to take her challenge and started to write a list.
What happened next shocked me.
I know that sounds like clickbait but it’s true. I started writing and felt stumped. But then I found one thing to be grateful for, and then another, and then another. Finally I had a list so long I was shocked.
Was this horrible experience actually a huge blessing in disguise?
Reconsidering the Medication Option
Things again got a little bit better. But I refused the one option that everyone kept suggesting to me: medication.
I was determined that while I was in my pregnancy and nursing years I would NOT put medication into my body. Even though hundreds of thousands, probably millions of women safely used anxiety medication while pregnant and nursing I just wasn’t willing to risk it. Typical OCD black and white thinking.
But after my third baby was finally eating solid foods I went to the doctor for a physical checkup.
It was a new doctor and I told him about my OCD struggles. I thought he’d offer me an “Oh, I’m sorry,” but instead he absolutely infuriated me by saying, “You know, you’re never going to get better if you don’t use medication.”
I gave him a steely eyed gaze and said, “I don’t do medication.”
I went home absoltuely certain that the doctor was wrong and I was right.
Until a video suggestion popped up on YouTube that, again, changed my life.
For the first time I realized that medication could be a tool God wanted me to use, not a sign of weakness.
And so I started to pray.
Suddenly I began to see some of my own OCD behaviors in my children. I saw them avoiding things, washing their hands too often and for too long, and showing fear of things that little kids shouldn’t be afraid of (like playgrounds).
And I knew what I needed to do.
I went back to my doctor and humbly asked for a prescription for medication.
And that is when everything finally, beautifully, wonderfully changed.
I recently described to a friend that what medication did for me was to create a gap in between stimulus and response.
How Medication and Therapy Provided the Perfect Combination
Most people think medication is supposed to heal you, but it doesn’t.
It simply created a moment where I could decide whether or not I should act on my obsessive thoughts.
Instead of feeling like there was no option but to do my compulsive actions, I had the option of choosing not to do them.
It was amazing, and liberating, and wonderful!
But it wouldn’t have been of much use if I hadn’t done years and years of therapy as well. Because it was my therapy tools that made it possible for me to effectively use that gap between stimulus and response.
It was the exercises I’d been trying to do for the past 7 years that suddenly became my superpower.
So did medication work? Yes! But only because I had the tools necessary to make it work.
Getting Un-Embarrassed About OCD
My OCD slowly got better, but I was still very private about it. I thought it was embarrasing and that people wouldn’t like me.
So I would make excuses (aka lie to people) about why I didn’t want to eat food at parties (germs!), or go to the movies (germs!), or do a playdate at the park (germs!).
Until one day at church while talking with a group of women one of them said something like, “Oh man, my OCD has been so bad lately. I’ve been super anxious about . . .” I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped to the ground. This was one of the coolest, happiest, most fun women in the ward and she was talking about her OCD openly?
Could I do the same?
Shortly after that experience I moved states and joined a new ward. I decided to try being totally honest with my new friends, and so I started talking openly about my OCD.
I would make comments in Relief Society sharing about my experiences. When friends invited me for dinner I would explain that I would love to come but because I was a germaphobe I might not eat much. When someone asked me to come to the park for a playdate I would tell them that sure I’d come, but I’d be bringing a gallon of hand sanitizer with me.
It was so liberating.
And no one hated me. No one rejected me. My friends still wanted to be my friends.
And I even discovered that I could help other people. Friends started coming to me with their hidden problems, their struggles, their fears. They knew I could understand and empathize because of what I’d been through.
And I loved that.
For the first time my OCD became my superpower.
And it has continued to be.
OCD is still a struggle. I still have panic attacks, intense anxiety, and am working on not avoiding certain public places (hospitals and doctor’s offices are on the top of that list).
But my OCD is also my strength.
And I wouldn’t take it back for the world.