It was not until I was 28 years old that I realized what was wrong with me. I was watching 20/20 on a Friday evening and the show was about OCD.
“Oh, my God,” I thought. “That is me; that is totally me.” I finally was able to put an identity on this shameful disorder that had imprisoned me for most of my life.
I visited the local library to do a little research, fingering through the card catalog, checking over my shoulder to make sure no one could see what I was searching for. I found a couple of titles and quietly walked, hopefully unnoticed, to the area of the library whose shelves held books on very “voodoo” topics. I located the books and turned the titles toward my chest. I was so embarrassed to be checking books out on this issue, so I walked around for a few minutes and finally gained the courage to approach the desk and check them out. I took them home and hid them under my bed so my family could not find them. The following Saturday, I took the books to one of the kids’ basketball games, which was being played at the school I worked at. I took them down to the day care center I directed and read the majority of one of the books. I swear the book had been written after an interview with me. My obsessive-compulsive disorder was very textbook—very classic. I felt somewhat at ease knowing I was not alone, other people also suffered from OCD.
Soon after I finished the book, I talked to my husband about my OCD. He was somewhat surprised, but he certainly was aware of my odd behaviors. We agreed I needed to see a psychiatrist. I called a number which assisted people in finding doctors to fit their particular needs, and we located one in Milwaukee, just an hour away, who accepted our insurance. I was very nervous even thinking about talking to someone about my issue, an issue that I still felt very ashamed of. I could not even discuss some aspects of my OCD, since merely talking about certain issues would contaminate me. I will never forget his office; the building was an old brick building off the busy city streets, up a tree lined road. It was back far enough where you no longer felt like you were near a city. I recall entering the timeworn building which housed several very tall wooden windows, adorned with long, gold, heavy drapery that held within them a musty smell which wafted throughout the huge waiting area. For some reason this is exactly what I pictured a psychiatrist’s office to be like; dimly lit, stuffy and quiet—very quiet. I only visited the doctor three times before our insurance changed and I was no longer able to see him, unless we wanted to pay out of pocket. With four small children, I was not about to spend that amount of money on myself, and I was not about to start over with a new psychiatrist and tell my story again. Instead, I lived with it for another sixteen long, tiring years. He had touched a little bit on behavior therapy, but I was too afraid to face these terrible fears. He prescribed a medication after the first visit, but it made me feel as if I were in a complete fog. I had children to care for at home and at work and needed a clear head. I did not give them a chance to work. I also feared that if I took a medication I might not be able to perform my “life-saving” rituals and the drugs might mask the contamination and that frightened me. I couldn’t bear to live in a world where I was not in control.
While in treatment for my eating disorder in the spring of 2005, I was tested for the severity of my OCD. I was asked to complete the Y-BOCS (Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale). This rating scale is designed to rate the severity and type of symptoms in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. With 40, being the most severe, I scored a 36, which is considered extreme. I always enjoyed getting high scores on my tests, but I would have been happy with a zero on this one. I was not surprised at the results since my OCD had been a huge part of my daily activities for the past 34 years. The controlling voice in my head held me captive and fearful by threatening the lives of those I treasured most. It had me convinced that I had no control and no choice but to do as I was told.
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