Hello my name is Zach Liberatore and I am a victim of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I was clinically diagnosed with it and prescribed medication during the end of 2012 when I checked into the psychiatric ward at ECMC. This disease dragged me to the brink of insanity and I had reached the point where I no longer wanted to live. I seriously contemplated suicide because I could never get away from the tormenting the thoughts and the compulsions that came along with them. Most of the opportunities I have blown throughout these recent years were due to my inability to control and fight the disease. I began to ingest drugs and alcohol thinking it would alleviate the symptoms; it turns out they only made things worse in the long run. I’ve ruined close friendships because I was no longer able to hangout with people without being consumed by these thoughts and compulsions. I’ve cried up to roughly one thousand times because I’d feel so alone and dejected. The world’s lack of understanding for our diseases is sickening because it truly does deteriorate our well-being and suicides often occur because of it. It’s time for us to start sharing our experiences and battles with mental illness in order to give society a better understanding of the cruelty and torture that comes along with mental disorders.

I have experienced thousands of different symptoms regarding the disease, consequently making it incredibly difficult for me to list every single one. But I can inform you of some of my most traumatic and disturbing experiences and symptoms. One incident I typically resort to telling occurred during the winter of 2012, the event which triggered the idea to enter a psychiatric ward. After being completely worn down from the thoughts and urges throughout a week during this winter, I decided to take a stroll into the woods behind my grandfather’s house. I felt as if it’d bring satisfaction and would maybe relieve the overwhelming distress. It had been snowing all week so I dressed up appropriately and set foot into the woods. Looking back I believe I travelled up to two miles into the woods without looking back. After being in there for a significant amount of time I decided it was time to return home. Along the way into the woods I had obviously made plenty of footsteps in the snow; this instantly triggered an obsessive thought. Even though it’s utterly irrational, my mind keep reiterating to walk backwards to my house and place my feet into every footstep previously made or I couldn’t leave. It sounds crazy but this essentially summarizes my life with OCD. I couldn’t even make it past the first few steps because I never felt satisfied with how my feet placed into the initial footsteps. I could’ve miraculously placed my foot perfectly but I still wouldn’t be content. I spent up to four hours in those woods, crying and considering the pain that would be go away if I were to kill myself.

This incident was only one of many experiences that triggered a loss for hope. I received exceptional grades throughout my life and was always motivated to do well in the academic field. When the OCD came upon me, my grades and motivation level progressively decreased. A lot of my symptoms were number oriented and I began to only rely on four numbers: 9 (which was for my mother), 7 (which was for my youngest brother, 5 (which was for my other two brothers between the youngest and me) and 8 (which was for my father). Anytime I used a number that was not 9, 7, 5 or 8, I would feel as if I was disrespecting my family and that even something tragic would happen to one of them. Even though I knew the correct answers for math tests, I would fail the tests because I wouldn’t be able to use any number besides those four. Writing and reading became huge issues which both directly impacted my grades. I could no longer take notes in class because it would take me up to an hour to write one letter. There wasn’t a specific way the letter had to be written, I was just never content with how I had written it. I would fail tests in every other subject because I wouldn’t be able to complete the essays and short answer questions. Whenever I was assigned a reading assignment I could not finish one line on a page because for every word, I had to say each letter out loud in my head then proceed to tell myself the definition of the word. This may not even seem so horrible but the thoughts would then transition into believing I didn’t say the letter the right way in my head, or I was pausing while telling myself the definitions.

I’ve nearly been into numerous car accidents due to OCD affecting how I drive. Everything I did, not just driving, had to be symmetric no matter what. I would touch something with my right hand and then proceed to touch it with my left. I’d shake someone’s hand then make up a lame excuse to shake their hand with my opposite hand. There are far more examples but I want to primarily focus on the driving. When driving down a certain road, the idea of symmetry would suddenly pop up in my mind. Therefore, my mind would tell me to drive across the double yellow line into the other lane. I would have to do it as soon as I was told which clearly would be an issue with incoming vehicles approaching. Anytime I saw a bum or crack in the road, or even the sidewalk, I would get the urge to run it over. If I had failed to do so, I would quickly turn my car around to do it. I noticed bumps or cracks on sidewalks and would sometimes drive onto the sidewalks just to run them over. It would take me hours just to go to a friend’s house or even school.

One of my most recent symptoms has been revolved around hurting or torturing animals and even insects. I know it’s irrational to believe that insects have complex brains and should be treated as humans or animals, but it doesn’t matter because my brain tells me this is how it is. I do landscaping for my father during summers which includes mulching and mowing lawns. Very often I would put mulch over an ant or a worm and would get tremendously distraught. Sometimes I would finish mulching a certain bed of soil then frantically dig through it in order to find the ant or worm I put it over. Rocks are commonly present in or on beds of soil which became another significant problem. Even though it’d be totally evident that it’s just a rock, I would firmly believe that I had just put soil over an animal and it was suffering. Mowing lawns was the same deal; I’d run over a bottle, piece of clothing, rock, etc., and my mind would tell me that I had just run over an animal. After finishing a lawn, I’d navigate the whole lawn to see if there was a suffering animal. The same issue occurs while I’m driving, so I am constantly turning around on every road I drive on just to see if I had indeed run over an animal.

Like I’ve previously stated, these are only a couple of symptoms out of the thousands that I have dealt with for the past six years. OCD is usually misconstrued as an adjective in which people use to describe their neat and clean tendencies. I’m sure there are plenty of people who deal with the same symptoms as I do and take great offense to how often the term “OCD” is tossed around. I’m not going to lie and say this has been a cake walk battling the OCD, but I also do not do this often: telling people my story or symptoms. I did not write this to expect sympathy; I wrote it to reach out to the thousands of children and adults who unfortunately must battle the same disease on a daily basis. I wrote this in order to help these intrepid and lionhearted people understand that they are not alone, that they are not freaks. People need to start speaking up as I just did in writing this essay so the world becomes better educated on the disease and will hopefully begin to show a little more empathy for it. This disease has tormented my life the past six years: ruining friendships, opening the door for drugs and causing too much emotional torture and anguish. I will continue fighting this mental battle because I know I’m strong enough and I know I have the support of family, friends and God; I will not let it commandeer my life. In conclusion, I’d like to reach out to the millions of people who struggle with OCD around the globe. This battle is one of the most distressful and hurtful experiences you’ll deal with in your lifetime. It will bring you to your knees, begging God or another higher power to take away the pain. You will debate with yourself whether or not you would like to continue living or not. In these times of discomfort and agony, consider this: defeating this plague will only make you stronger. God chooses his strongest soldiers to fight the biggest battles. Never give up because the world needs you and your perseverance. One day you’ll have full and utter control of the disease and will be able to help others who are just beginning the horrible journey. The people who are skeptical of our struggles and the disease itself are just blind to the capabilities and power of the human brain. Reach out and speak up about your disease because it will only help. Be strong and whether you believe in God or not, know there is some sort of higher power that has your back through it all.

Zach Liberatore
20 years old
Buffalo, NY

Zach can be found on Facebook and Twitter