The first time I can ever remember my OCD showing itself was fourth grade. My sister, only three years older, was showing me a rated R movie, and my mother walked in. As any typical mother would, she scolded us.
Something switched in me that day. I don’t really know what it is that just causes a seed of anxiety to appear, but whatever it was, it was planted. When she said that she forgave me, it didn’t sound right. So I said it again. And again. And again. For the next two months.
Since that day, I told my mother everything. I apologized constantly for things I didn’t even do.
A specific habit I remember was practicing my cello. I was supposed to practice 20 minutes everyday for the intermediate school orchestra, and if you did so, you got stickers on a chart. Every other kid got their parents to sign off on the paper without actually doing any work, but everyday, right after school, I set a timer and played. If I messed up a song, I had to start over until I got it perfectly. The stress of it all became too much. The truth was simple; I couldn’t fathom the idea of dedicating myself every single day. It got to be too much pressure. I began crying as I played. So eventually, after two years, I quit. I still regret that now; I was the best in my class. I can’t help but think of where I’d be musically now had it not been for my OCD.
We didn’t call it OCD then, though. We, like the majority of society, still thought that just meant being tidy. We called it my inability to let go.
Sixth grade brought my next wave, caused by being placed in advanced math. I skipped two grades. It was only natural my grades would struggle. I, however, had full mental breakdowns. It was fourth grade all over again, telling my mother about menial homework questions I couldn’t quite grasp over and over again. Looking back, however hard it was, I am so happy the solution wasn’t the same as that of the cello. I already lost one part of myself, and honestly, math is so important to me. I can comprehend it. The answer’s are easy, and it’s not up to me to craft them perfectly. I am so happy I didn’t lose that to my disorder.
My favorite memory associated with OCD is when my mother asked if getting me a hamster would solve the problem. An hour later, we went to PetSmart and picked up Ivy, a somewhat grumpy but sufficient chinese dwarf hamster. The OCD didn’t go away of course, but she was a pretty good hamster.
The third wave hit in ninth grade.
Originally, the third wave was pretty similar to the other’s. I identified my main problem as something I called intrusive thoughts, which I can best describe as having a twelve-year-old sitting in the backseat of your brain, kicking the back of your chair, and asking you if you took the wrong turn. You, as a conscious being, have no control over him. He often has the power to force me into believing I am truly thinking violent, awful things.
I began turning to a form of selfharm to help cope, pinching myself. If that didn’t get the job done, I’d move onto biting or hitting myself. It seemed harmless initially, since inflicting pain while trying to get a thought to seem right in my brain seemed to make it more impactful. Soon, however, the consequences made themselves visible. I remember going to school one day with scratches down my face, telling everyone I was attacked by a dog. Really, I had been stressed about a friend the night before.
See, I’ve suffered other mental illness, and nothing quite compares to that from OCD. Whereas panic attacks may feel worse in the moment, they are spaced out. OCD is a fulltime job. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, I have to distract my brain from thinking about everything else that has ever happened that maybe made me a worse person.
An average day has become, to a degree, manageable for me now. After brushing my teeth, I have to turn off the faucet 40 times, or 70 if that doesn’t feel right, or 110 if I really mess up, since I don’t want to waste water. From then, it continues until I go back to sleep.
It’s funny, because I know it’s all unnecessary. I know how much time I’m wasting in my head. I know how much easier everything would be if I could just let go.
My life isn’t as easy as it’s once been, however. People are coming and going. My anxiety is ruining friendships. I lost a lot of my family. I’ve lost so much I wasn’t ready to let go of.
So I hold my rituals in a tight grip, not ready to let go yet. They annoy me, but they aren’t going anywhere. I can lose everyone who loves me, but the door still will need to be closed. I hate my OCD, but it’s a part of me, and I’ve come to accept it.
So OCD is almost like an old friend at this point, but the type that you hate visiting. I know one day he could be gone completely, and while I know my life would ultimately be easier that way, it scares me. He’s been here forever, and I’ve just adapted to him. After all, at this point, all of his effects are just coping mechanisms to remind myself I’m doing the right thing.
I can’t let go yet. I know that. I’m not ready, and until the day I am, I’m surviving. I can get through each day, and sometimes, that’s all you need.
Savannah Tabor is a junior at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, where she majors in literary arts. She has previously been published in children’s anthologies and recognized regionally by Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is passionate not only about literature, but astronomy, philanthropy, and, most of all, birds.
Savannah can be found on Twitter.