Everyone in the classroom enthusiastically answered the question as we went around the room. I noticed that the knees of my pants were wet now after wiping my palms on them over and over as my turn to talk approached.
Everyone is looking at me.
‘Chrissie. Chrissie? Do you want to share with us what you want your career to be after college?’
I had already been accepting into Georgia Southern University with a full academic scholarship, thanks to the HOPE Grant that had been implemented this year. I had no idea how I would even survive college, much less graduate and go on to have an actual life? High school had been absolute torture maintaining grades, a social life, and these horrible intrusive thoughts that plagued me everyday. I knew that in a matter of days all of it could disappear if the thoughts took over my world and forced me to kill myself. Managing my brain seemed like a full time job, I hadn’t even begun to think that I could take on any other real life responsibilities.
I thought quickly. I remembered the pharmacist at Publix where I was a cashier told me that I’d make a great pharmacist because I had such good rapport with customers. Yes, that’s it!
‘Um…I want to be a pharmacist when I graduate’ I said awkwardly.
‘Wow, that is impressive, Chrissie!’ she said with a hint of disbelief in her tone.
Well yea, I’d say it is impressive considering I have no idea what it would even entail to be a pharmacist.
I stuck with that pharmacy story for the rest of my high school career and even into my first year of college. It seemed fitting to me because it was unknown and foreign, just like what life would seem like outside of the monster in my head. It seemed like an unreachable goal, just like the idea that I could ever live a life free of the demons I battled every single day.
Up until my suicide attempt and OCD diagnosis at age 20, it was painful to listen to my classmates, cross country teammates, and sorority sisters talk incessantly about their ‘lives after college’. I was so envious of them. Since age 8, I had been solely focused on managing the horrible thoughts and fears that had latched onto my brain like a giant talon. There was no time to think about what I wanted for my life. There was no hope to even believe that I could have a life outside of the mental compulsions that took place for hours everyday. And somehow I knew that I couldn’t live forever this way, and eventually I would become overtaken by the intensity of the thoughts and would have to end my own life. It was heartbreaking, but it was a necessity. My 24/7 ritualistic behavior was all that I knew. Before my diagnosis, the obsessions and compulsions defined who I was as a human being. They bore into my psyche as a reflection of my character and a definition of my individuality. I had no reason to believe that there was an entirely separate entity of a being from the unwanted thoughts and the irresistible compulsions that I structured my life around. The fear embedded inside of me ran too deep to even begin to untangle. I was too terrified to believe I had a future, but too paralyzed by the unknown repercussions of guilt and fear to reach out for help. I adapted to treading the waters of agony and fear, and managed to fool even the closest people around me for years.
When I began to sink and feel the cracks in my image start to shatter, I took control by attempting to end my life with dignity by suicide. The brain disorder OCD is so convoluted that I actually believed that dying by suicide would be less tainting to myself and my family than actually exposing the debilitating obsessions that plagued me. To comprehend obsessive thoughts to the fullest, you have to understand that the fears OCD places in your mind feel larger than life itself if they were to come into fruition. In reality, the fears are non-existent and a farce, but OCD places just enough doubt into you that you will never be satisfied with certainty. The doubt is what fuels the fire of the deadly cycle. And I do mean deadly, as in the midst of an OCD cycle, death can seem like a viable and relieving option.
After a whirlwind of a year and a half of diagnosis, treatment, and stabilization, I found myself sitting at the precipice of an unknown world of possibilities occupying only a shell of a human being. Everything I knew about myself, had fostered, and carefully maintained for the majority of my life had been exposed as a lie. The life as I knew it was stripped away. I was trapped in a Stockholm syndrome of my previous life with OCD.
You’re better, Chrissie! You don’t have to pretend anymore, Chrissie! You don’t have to live in fear anymore, Chrissie! You could actually be a Pharmacist if you want, now! You can do anything you want now! You can have a ‘life’ like everyone else! You can be anything or anyone you want, now!
But I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know who I was. I had never thought about what I wanted because OCD never allowed me that luxury. I felt as if I were facing the entire world as an adult in my 8 year old body. The last time I understood reality without my illness dictating my thoughts was 13 years prior. Even though the misery of OCD chaos was anything but desirable, it was all that I knew about who I had become. The conundrum of wanting to run back to the comfortable fear was convoluting. Why can’t I just move on? Why can’t I just forget about all of this and get over it? It seemed daunting to me to take any steps into this new world and begin to learn about who Chrissie was without OCD. And, it took many, many years to work through the fears that came along with navigating life without OCD calling the shots every minute of every day.
I turned 38 a few weeks ago. I wish I could tell you that I have untied all of the knots of pain, sorrow, and confusion that I’ve held so tightly to because of OCD. I wish I could tell you that there is a magic formula for ‘getting on with life’ after OCD. I cannot. What I can tell you is that it is okay to grieve the person that you were with OCD. You don’t have to hate who you were because you hate how OCD made you feel. I can tell you that it is okay to feel afraid about life without OCD. This doesn’t mean that you somehow want to have OCD. This simply means that you do not know just yet how to live outside of the confining nature of it.
After 30 years of the onset of my disorder, I am finally learning to allow myself to feel happiness without guilt. That is something most individuals innately experience, but I learned early that I did not have permission from my brain to feel anything good without fearing the repercussions. Resting into happiness, feeling comfort in hope, and relaxing into who Chrissie Hodges really is outside of OCD without catastrophizing everything is perhaps one of the most difficult and painful processes I have experienced outside of my disorder. But, I believe I deserve it.
The tears began to drop even as I typed that last sentence. Guilt is a difficult opponent.
Wherever you are in your journey and recovery, give yourself permission to love who you are and where you are with it outside of OCD. I wish that this disorder was cut and dry and there was an easy equation that always equals peace and happiness, but that isn’t a reality. You do not have to have all the answers right now. It is okay to feel angry, sad, and grief about what OCD put you through. And, it is okay to feel fear without the disorder as well. Nothing about OCD is a reflection of who you are as an individual. You are not your illness. You are not your obsessions. You are not your OCD. You are a unique individual fighting a twisted and difficult battle that is OCD.
Don’t ever stop fighting.
Keep reaching for happiness. You deserve it.
Thank you for taking the time to read,
Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support Specialist;Behavioral Healthcare Inc; Radio Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’/blogtalkradio.com