Editor’s Note: If you struggle with self harm, the following stories may potentially be triggering. You can contact Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741 from anywhere in the U.S.
I'm giving all of myself in this story that I'm going to share about my life. I've always sugar-coated parts of it, never giving in full detail my truth, being in fear of judgment and ridicule. I want to feel free and give endless hope that it can get better. This quote I would like to share can perfectly sum up my life and how I have tried to conquer it everyday.
"I don't pay attention to the world ending. It has ended for me many times and began again in the morning."
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an anxiety disorder, and depression. I guess God knew I could handle this, which explains why throughout my life, I’ve been able to overcome such obstacles. I was officially diagnosed with OCD in 2012, but before then, I just felt like something was wrong with me and never knew what it was. Looking back now, it all makes sense. I felt so different and separated from everybody else. As I got older, it was very difficult for me to be in school and interact with kids my age. I always felt like the outsider; I never really fit in.
My anxiety also increased as years went by, and I wasn’t able to even be around kids my own age. Whenever my mom would pick me up from school, I would get in the car and just burst into a puddle of tears. The whole day, I would hide my anxiety and fear. I almost felt like I wasn’t even a person anymore, almost robotic, allowing my thoughts to control my every move. When I’d look in the mirror, all I saw was worry. I never felt confident in making my own decisions because I thought I was incapable of making the right ones. I couldn’t trust myself, I walked on eggshells around myself, afraid to make a mistake or do something wrong.
I was always afraid others were judging me and thinking of me a certain way. I got very good at hiding my feelings from people. On the outside, I pretended that everything was okay, but on the inside, I was screaming. My OCD made me feel like I was trapped in a prison every day. I never felt free. OCD has taken so much from me and I’ve lost many opportunities because of this disorder, so I became angry. I was mad at my OCD; I hated it and just couldn’t understand. I thought, Why me?
My OCD made me feel as though I could never be happy. Every time I was in a good place, I would have thoughts that told me I didn’t deserve the happiness because of all the mistakes I’d made. I would start to feel guilty and believed I was unworthy. I thought, I’m not good enough. I found myself in such a dark place, and I became very lonely and severely depressed. I wanted so badly to feel loved and have that attention I craved, which eventually led me to talking to strangers on the internet. Being a 13 year old girl and already having an extremely difficult time making friends and navigating middle school, I resorted to talking to people online. I don’t know how it happened, it just happened. I didn’t think what I was doing was wrong or bad — I thought I was making friends. What I didn’t have in my real life, I created on the internet. However, the people I was talking to began using very sexual language and as I got older, those memories became very traumatic for me. I felt violated and extremely regretful. I was blaming myself for putting myself into such a vulnerable state and thought I was a terrible human being. Instead of giving myself empathy and comfort, I was beating myself up for something that was a result of me feeling unworthy and unloved. I was searching for love anywhere I could...but ended up hurting myself even more in the process.
That’s when the OCD started to kick in and affect the quality of my life. I was not living in reality and believed every thought that crossed my mind. There was no rationality to these thoughts. I tied everything bad happening in the world to me. I could never watch the news or certain T.V. shows because it would trigger my irrational thoughts which I would fixate on for days on end. I couldn’t go out and live my life because all I could do was worry and obsess that I was going crazy. There were times when I could push these behaviors aside and try to function normally within my day to day life, but it reached a point where I couldn’t keep it together anymore. I became isolated from loved ones because there was no way I could talk to someone and tell them what I was going through. I felt such immense shame and guilt. I would constantly envy being any other person but myself. I couldn’t face the person that I saw in the mirror.
I would obsess over whether the people I had been talking to were responsible for terrible events like school shootings, etc. I worried that somehow their crimes would get tied to me. My intrusive thoughts weren’t based in reality...my mind made up stories of every worse case scenario. My thoughts became so irrational that I would go to my mom and have to get constant reassurance from her that everything was okay. I began doubting everything about myself. Thoughts would just pop in my head and terrify me. I thought I was a terrible person for thinking those thoughts. Later on, it seemed that my OCD just got bigger. I often looked out to the front of my house anticipating bright flashing lights of police cars coming to arrest me. I was constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for something bad to happen to me.
My parents were at a loss; they didn’t know what else to do. We looked everywhere to find help for me. My parents and I just kept putting band-aids over my issues, but we never dealt with the problem. We got pretty good at pretending everything was okay, but it wasn’t. It seems we tried everything — different types of therapy, different schools, even moving to Dallas — but nothing seemed to work, so we decided to just go home to Nevada. This is when my depression started to get really intense. I had lost all love for myself and didn’t like who I was. I just didn’t want to be here anymore. Deep inside though, I knew that I wanted to get better for myself and reach my full potential. There was a part of me that wasn’t ready to give up.
My family and I decided that I needed to get help and go to treatment. We did some research and found the Houston OCD Program. It was the hardest, but best decision I’ve ever had to make. I was in residential treatment for two months. To help explain what Exposure and Response Prevention is, I’ve gotten resources from the International OCD Foundation to help me explain it in the best possible way:
“The Exposure in ERP refers to exposing yourself to the thoughts, images, objects and situations that make you anxious and/or start your obsessions, while the Response Prevention part of ERP, refers to making a choice not to do a compulsive behavior once the anxiety or obsessions have been “triggered.” All of this is done under the guidance of a therapist at the beginning — though you will eventually learn to do your own ERP exercises to help manage your symptoms.”
That said, this strategy of purposefully exposing yourself to things that make you anxious may not sound quite right to you. If you have OCD, you have probably tried to confront your obsessions and anxiety many times only to see your anxiety skyrocket. With ERP, the difference is that when you make the choice to confront your anxiety and obsessions you must also make a commitment to not give in and engage in the compulsive behavior. When you don’t do the compulsive behaviors, over time you will actually feel a drop in your anxiety level. This natural drop in anxiety that happens when you stay “exposed” and “prevent” the compulsive “response” is called habituation. Unfortunately, with OCD, your brain tells you that you are in danger a lot, even in situations where you “know” that there is a very small likelihood that something bad might happen. This is one of the cruelest parts of this disorder.”
Part of my therapy was to do exposure response prevention and self-directed exposures. For example, I had to write worst case scenarios, make them sound like they were actually going to happen, and read them over and over again. I had immense fear of really anything bad happening to anyone. During this time, school shootings sadly became a norm in our country, and it just added to list of things I was terrified of happening to my loved ones or friends. I had to watch documentaries of school shootings and re-watch certain parts that made me especially nervous. I worked on being more independent and less dependable on my parents. I started going to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping by myself and making my own dinner. I dealt with my social anxiety by going up to strangers and having conversations with them, which gave me the opportunity to meet people.
My biggest exposure I had to conquer on the last day of my treatment was to go and tour a county jail. I did not think my therapist could pull it off and find somewhere that would allow that.. but she did. The most irrational thought I had was going to jail and never seeing my family again. My counselor came with me for support and I remember going down the elevator to the cells and I seeing men in orange jumpsuits staring at me. It gave me the chills but I knew I had to be there to push through those intrusive thoughts in order to not be restricted from living my life anymore. I had to go and stand in a cell and truly feel what it would be like in there. I cried and had so many thoughts running through my head, feeling so overwhelmed with embarrassment that I had these thoughts. These exposures were so scary but something I won’t ever forget because they led me to break free from those fears in order to truly move on.
Doing this type of therapy made me face the things that I had been running away from for so long. I’ve been able to grow and become a stronger person. I still have intrusive thoughts and struggle with anxiety and depression. Just because I finished treatment doesn’t mean I’m magically all better. But deep inside of me, I found this strength and determination in myself that I never really knew I had. I know now that if I can face things that I’m afraid to do every day in treatment, then I can do anything. I’m incredibly grateful for the Houston OCD Program for helping me take my life back. There are no words to express how appreciative I am for the support and guidance they’ve given me. I’m forever thankful. I had to find that little light inside myself that I thought I had lost forever. The funny thing was it was never gone…it was just locked away waiting for me to find it again.
4 years later and I'm 22 years old. I'm in a new chapter and phase in my life, dealing with new life obstacles and how I see myself. Right now, I will be honest and say I'm stuck and struggling with my self-worth. I've dealt with self-harm on and off for about a year. This is not something I’m proud of nor want to glorify in anyway. It’s not something that’s easy for me to come forward with because realistically I know that self-harm is not the answer to my problems. It’s a dark and slippery slope but my thoughts about myself became so overwhelming that the only way I felt that I could get immediate release and gratification was through taking it out on myself. In the moment, I felt that this was the one time I was in control and could dictate what I was doing. I wasn't worrying about anyone or anything I was only focused on what I was doing in that moment. My thought process looking back was that this had become something that was mine and no one could take away from me. I knew this was a quick fix that wasn’t going to make my pain go away because the guilt and shame were feelings that would always come back. Self-harm was not going to fix me. I knew I had to reach out for support or help because nothing good was going to come from this. Sadly, part of me knew if I told someone that this time I’d have to stop, and I was scared that I wasn't ready.
I finally reached out and have not cut myself for almost a month. This is something I'm scared to share and admit because how could I let myself get to this point? I've worked so hard to get to where I am now... At times, it can be a lonely journey, trying to figure where all of this is coming from and to detach from it — I had to go through every emotion in order to lead me to where I am today. I will continue to struggle with and work on learning to be okay with not being in control. That’s where a lot of my anxiety, obsessions, and depression come from. When I feel like I have a handle on everything, quietly in the back of my mind I’m thinking I can’t fully give in and be happy because my progress could all be taken away, so I have to be prepared and cautious. My mom has told me that’s where your faith comes into play… All you can do is pray, hope, and surrender to the possibility that everything happens the way it’s supposed to, even when it’s not fair and we don’t understand it. Mental illness is a battle I will face for the rest of my life. It’s okay to fall apart as long as you start to pick up the pieces and work to put them back together. To be beautifully unbroken. Through it all, I will make the conscious effort to continue choosing myself over and over again.
Written by Emily Mannikko