I wish I had control over my hands. I feel like I do, and then I wash them until they’re raw. I’m afraid of dying. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never experienced this. I don’t know when it started, probably around seven years old. I was afraid of getting sick. I didn’t want to hold hands with my partner in second grade. Mrs. Goldstein asked me to stand next to James and he had a perpetually runny nose. It freaked me out. But, she forced me to hold his hand, despite my fear of germs. I was seven so I didn’t know what OCD was. All I knew was I didn’t want to die. I was convinced if I touched his hand, he would give me whatever sickness he had and I would somehow die. I asked to go to the bathroom when we got back to class. She didn’t let me go. It was horrible. I wanted to wash my hands. But I couldn’t, she didn’t let me leave class. So I picked at the scab on my right hand. It was the only thing I had control over.

For a long time, I held this secret inside. I was a nervous kid. I waited anxiously for my mom to come home from work. She always had meetings. Finally, around 12 I finally told her. She was in the kitchen making dinner.

“Mom,” I said. “I’m scared.” She asked me why. I started crying. I was hiding my hands behind my back and shaking. I slowly took my hands from behind my back and showed them to her. They were red and raw from washing them. Her eyes widened. She asked me what had happened to me. I told her about the thoughts that wouldn’t stop. I was scared that I was going to catch something, that I was dying and I didn’t know. She listened, finally, someone heard me.

That was when I finally got help. It was slow going but I started seeing a therapist and he helped me face my fear. It took me years to finally realize why…why I was constantly washing them raw. I didn’t know. By the time I graduated high school I came to terms with those three letters “O-C-D.” They used to haunt me, but now I know they don’t own me. I will always struggle with the fear of dying, but now when I look at my hands, I’m not afraid anymore. They’re just hands and nothing more.

If you’re struggling with OCD there’s help. There are resources to find a therapist on Psychology Today. Learning about different kinds of therapy that treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is extremely important. This article on BetterHelp talks about Behavior Therapy, which is a common treatment for OCD. And remember, you can read stories about people living with OCD on Stigma Fighters and feel less alone.