My name is Zach, I am 20 years old and I have struggled with a rather severe case of OCD over the past six years of my life. It has taken the soul out of me, bringing me to my knees, begging God to make it stop. I have contemplated suicide on numerous occasions and have wound up in a psychiatric ward as well as in rehab. I have ruined friendships, blew academic and athletic opportunities and cried up to a thousand times because of this dreadful disease.

I could list you most of the symptoms I have experienced over these past six years but it would be too time-consuming. Initially one of the big symptoms was feeling and touching people, items or animals. I would touch or rub something or someone for hours because I never felt I had did it "correctly". Writing and reading became significant issues because I was never content with the handwritten words. It would take a day to read a page of a book. My academic grades began to drop at an exceptionally swift pace. I couldn’t take notes in some of my classes because of OCD, which became incredibly impactful. No matter what I had written down on my sheet of loose leaf paper, it was never good enough. It occasionally took me about forty-five minutes just to complete one handwritten word. Taking tests obviously became an issue because even if I knew exactly what to write for an essay, it would take me much longer because I would be erasing and scribbling out sentences, and words, the whole duration of the essay section. I never informed any of my teachers of the problems I was dealing with because I felt ashamed. Consequently, I failed many tests because I couldn’t finish writing the essays.

Reading started to become a monumental annoyance as well, which also directly and negatively impacted my academic performance. It would take hours just to read one page of a book or school textbook because I had to slowly scan every word of the text. I would say out loud every letter of the word then be able to define the word before I moved on to the next word. Clearly this was extremely stressful and time consuming. I reached a stage where I no longer took notes, read, completed homework, successfully finished tests, etc., because of my OCD.

My life slowly became very number oriented and what I mean by this is exactly what it sounds like. During a period of time the only numbers that sat well with me were five, seven, eight and nine; any other number bothered me to a high extent. I began to fail math tests and quizzes because my brain wouldn’t allow me to use certain numbers. The worst part was I knew all of the answers but if I were to write down the correct numbers, I would panic. I specifically liked those four numbers because I applied each one to members of my family: nine for my mom, eight for my dad, seven for my youngest brother and five for the two middle brothers. Anytime I would use any number besides these four, I would feel as if I was disrespecting my family and even firmly believe something drastic would happen to any of them. I began to frequently count the steps I took and would incessantly turn around and walk back to a certain destination because the number of steps I took wasn’t “right”. My liking for numbers became a little broader when I began to also use multiples of the four specific numbers; but even then it was still immensely torturous. For example, I would leave class and walk to meet up with a group of friends, intently counting the steps I took to reach them. I couldn’t engage in a conversation because my mind would be so consumed with anxiety because I knew I didn’t take the correct amount of steps to reach them. I would walk back and forth up to twenty times at school, home, practice or anywhere in general.

OCD is usually misconstrued as an adjective people use to describe their neat and clean tendencies. I’m sure there are plenty of people who deal with the same symptoms as I do and take great offense to how often the term “OCD” is tossed around. I’m not going to lie and say this has been a cake walk battling OCD, but I also do not often tell people my story or symptoms. I did not write this to expect sympathy; I wrote it to reach out to the thousands of children and adults who unfortunately must battle the same disease on a daily basis. I wrote this in order to help these intrepid and lionhearted people understand that they are not alone, that they are not freaks. People need to start speaking up as I just did in writing this essay so the world becomes better educated on the disease and will hopefully begin to show a little more empathy for it. This disease has tormented my life the past six years: ruining friendships, opening the door for drugs and causing too much emotional torture and anguish. I will continue fighting this mental battle because I know I’m strong enough and I know I have the support of family, friends and God; I will not let it commandeer my life.

In conclusion, I’d like to reach out to the millions of people who struggle with OCD around the globe. This battle is one of the most distressful and hurtful experiences you’ll deal with in your lifetime. It will bring you to your knees, begging God or another higher power to take away the pain. You will debate with yourself whether or not you would like to continue living or not. In these times of discomfort and agony, consider this: defeating this plague will only make you stronger. God chooses his strongest soldiers to fight the biggest battles. Never give up because the world needs you and your perseverance. One day you’ll have full and utter control of the disease and will be able to help others who are just beginning the horrible journey. The people who are skeptical of our struggles and the disease itself are just blind to the capabilities and power of the human brain. Reach out and speak up about your disease because it will only help. Be strong and whether you believe in God or not, know there is some sort of higher power that has your back through it all.

Zach (Buffalo, NY)