Remind yourself of how strong you really are
Not long ago, Leslie stepped away from a long and successful corporate career. She went back to school to obtain her master’s degree in clinical social work to help children with anxiety-related disorders. It’s important for Leslie to help these kids—because she was one of them herself.
When Leslie was eight years old, she was sick, so her mother took her to the pediatrician’s office. While there, she threw up in the waiting room.
I don’t remember being upset by it or it being a traumatic experience. I’m not sure I even cried after it happened.
The next day, while she was recovering from what turned out to be a stomach bug, she had her first experience with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
She remembers that when she entered the bathroom in her home she had to step over the threshold in a specific way and then step onto a certain tile on the floor. She did it over and over again until it felt “just right.” An intense fear developed, a fear that made her believe if she did not do it “just right,” she would throw up again.
Over time, she continued her bathroom floor ritual, and she developed more rituals. Leslie never hid her rituals, as she was too young and unaware of what mental illness, let alone OCD, even was. Eventually, her mother noticed her rituals and took her to a therapist, which began a long journey to come to terms with her diagnosis and find the right treatment.
I don’t think my parents told me why I was going. My therapist did play therapy—I just remember playing card games with her—but I didn’t know what was going on, and nobody told me what was wrong with me. I was really unclear on the issue until I was in high school.
In college, Leslie’s OCD became more intense as did her emetophobia (fear of throwing up), which made the rituals even more intricate and involved. She had trouble getting in and out of bed, going to work on time, showing up for class, keeping plans. She was mentally and physically exhausted and ready for change.
In college, it got very bad, so I started therapy again. But I didn’t go on to medication right away. I was afraid of all the possible side effects that come with medication, such as nausea and vomiting. After some time, my doctor convinced me that medication was the best thing for me because nothing else was working. I’ve been on medication for over 20 years now.
Growing up, Leslie became more aware of OCD and educated herself with as much information as she could get her hands on. She saw the way OCD was depicted on television and movies and in the media, and she did not like what she saw.
When I’d see OCD represented in movies or television, it really bothered me. Too often, it’s portrayed as simply a peculiar quirk someone has. We need to expose it for the incredibly manipulative, shameful, and draining mental illness that it is.
In addition to medication, Leslie benefited from exposure and response prevention therapy, which helped her confront her obsessions and compulsions. Now, in control of her OCD for more than 10 years, she is focused on starting her new career in social work and helping children struggling with the pain, frustration, and uncertainty that can accompany anxiety disorders.
When I look back, I see that I was a productive member of society with a good job and a social life. It was exhausting keeping all that up despite having crippling, debilitating OCD. I will never not have OCD. I have accepted the fact that it’s best I remain on medication for the rest of my life. Battles against my OCD still happen, but now they take very little effort for me to fight—and I always win.
Most of the tattoos I have are dedicated to my battle against OCD. They’re constant reminders of how strong I am and continue to be every time OCD rears its ugly head. I think people with this disorder need to be reminded just how strong they really are.