My experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) began in the summer I was seven years old. My father was planning a vacation to Florida with his girlfriend, my five-year-old brother, and me. I was so excited about seeing the beach and feeling real sand for the first time.
That excitement was short-lived. Once there, my father and his girlfriend began to argue, throwing plates and “bad words.” She grabbed a bottle of pills and took all of them. After more arguing with my father, she ran across a busy highway. Soon she was rushed to a hospital, where she stayed for the rest of our vacation.
My hand washing began soon afterward. I spent hours in the bathroom scrubbing my hands raw. I felt that if I didn't take part in this routine, my mother would die. I washed my hair without letting it touch the water in the bathtub. I forced myself to eat foods that I absolutely hated. I wouldn't allow myself to participate in the activities that most kids enjoy, including swimming in our new pool. I thought that something horrible would happen if I did. I didn't understand why I was like this. I constantly prayed the same memorized prayer. I thought God was talking to me. I was exhausted, very confused, and thought I was crazy.
Finally I told my mother, who took me to a psychiatrist. It was such a relief to find out that I wasn't the only person with this anxiety. I was given medications, but nothing seemed to work. After years of pills and therapy, I was put on a different medication. It was amazing that a little pill could make such a difference.
Seven years later, my OCD still hasn't gone away completely. In the beginning, it was difficult for my stepfather to understand my behavior. But as my family became more educated, their understanding increased—and so did their support.
To those of us who have a mental illness, I want to say that we should not be ashamed. To parents whose children are going through difficult times: Learn about your child’s disorder and be supportive.
I would like children across America to realize that they can conquer their anxiety disorder with the help of family and friends. There is support, and there is hope.