My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder developed around the age of seven. I noticed myself doing things that weren’t normal: compulsively spelling out words, praying the same things over and over, in a very inflexible order, checking locks and doors many times before I went to bed. This continued for years on end, with varying amount of interference in my life, as the anxiety levels went up and down. Then from ages eleven to thirteen, I experienced the worst mental health state I could possibly imagine. It was a difficult time; my grandma died of cancer when I was twelve, my dog (who was also my best friend) was getting older and I was terrified of her dying, I started high school at a place where none of my friends were (which subsequently triggered my social phobia), my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and I was in that painful hormonal process of tweenhood, which is mentally and emotionally distressing enough as is. Somewhere in my head, I got the idea that I needed to say an exact set of words as a goodnight to my dog, before I went to bed every night, or else she could die. I checked locks and stovetops and windows. And then there became a certain very specific order that I had to do these rituals. And then I was only able to do these rituals in multiples of six. And then I was continually having doubts over things I had obviously done: “did I say the right words to my dog?”, “Did I flick the light on and off 30 times or only 29 times? Because numbers in the twenties are bad.” It had escalated so quickly, without me knowing it, and suddenly what once took ten minutes took forty-five minutes, then an hour, then a few hours, then I was spending up to seven hours a night performing these extremely strict rituals, breaking down crying when I lost count of what 100th time I was at for closing the window, and running on about 12-15 hours of sleep a week. I was doing horrible in school, I was extremely depressed (in the adjective sense, not in the mood disorder sense) and all the while, my family didn’t know. They noticed things, but I have experience in acting.

I remember pretending every single night to sleep talk and walk just so I could have something, anything to keep me up until my family was in bed and I could start my rituals. I remember hiding behind the living room chair as I heard my mother step into the kitchen after hearing noise, scared that she was going to get mad at me for being up at 3 am again. I remember when the loss of sleep caused me to hallucinate, and I was 100% certain that there was a car-sized badger walking across my front lawn.

After two years of this it stopped without letting anyone know of my struggles. It was a mixture of trusting in God and the thoughts of “all the things that could happen are probably better than what I’m doing to myself right now”. But the OCD didn’t just disappear, I’ve constantly struggled with it and various other anxiety troubles—extreme religious obsessions and compulsions, disturbing intrusive thoughts of violence, constant checking for symptoms of illness, sometimes resulting in multiple panic attacks a day. When I was sixteen, I read a webpage about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and, realizing the whole page seemed to be describing me, I decided to talk to my doctor. Not only did I owe it to myself, but I owed it to my family, who I had lied to and, with my complete lack of sleep, been unfairly mean to for years. I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and I have been dealing with various sorts of treatment for various issues.

I have greatly suffered from an illness which is a punchline in today’s society. It is what people say they have when they correct grammar or organize their room, it’s a cute quirk that people assume must be akin to having freckles or being left-handed. This is not the case and this perception, not solely about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder but every other mental illness that is stigmatized, romanticized, or minimalized, needs to change. I am fortunate enough to have a fairly good understanding and grasp on my OCD now, but I still struggle with a couple other diagnosed mental disorders and I have to see therapists and take medication. I am naturally a very closed-off person but I hope and pray that others will not be hurt by the stereotypes that come with mental illness and, with this, will be able to seek help and feel no shame in dealing with an illness that is never, ever, a choice.

Cheryl (Sherbrooke)