Imagine waking up one morning and immediately closing your eyes.
Don’t do anything.
Just…keep them closed.
You may grant yourself some time to involuntarily wake up, but after that, your thoughts kick in. You have to close your eyes in the morning and keep them closed for most of the day.
Yep, that means for all of your daily activities, such as getting dressed, eating or even walking around in your own house.
My name is Rebecca Ryan, I am 16 years old and that was the reality for me during my worst episodes of OCD.
I’ve had OCD for as long as I can remember. I can remember symptoms of my OCD as a four-year-old. Some people think I was born with it, some think I developed it as a child. I’m not completely sure either way. All I know is, for the time it had a reign over my life, it was almost as if there was somebody else controlling me. OCD dictated my thoughts and actions and therefore, my life. If OCD told me that if I looked at the number four, my father will die, then I would avoid the number at all costs.
And I did.
In maths class, in business studies, in every subject that uses numbers. I am a secondary school student you see, and although I am in Leaving Cert now, I was thirteen then and being in a new secondary school was daunting enough without an explosion of anxiety symptoms.
But this is the reality for many kids out there with anxiety. Not everything runs smoothly. Sometimes your brain screws up a little bit and requires help, just like any other part of the body. It is nothing to be ashamed of.
Even with this knowledge, I didn’t have much confidence in school. I couldn’t walk on cracks, I avoided the number four and the colour blue, plus the brown spots in wood because OCD told me that if I looked at one while breathing, somebody in my family would get cancer. This meant that to avoid all the compulsions I had to do (tapping my nose and thinking of a certain thought) I would just keep my eyes closed. It was easier. I had countless compulsions besides these, and to list them all out would be ridiculous, but believe me, I had a LOT. This made school and life in general very hard. I couldn’t keep up with my friends or my schoolwork and everything seemed really dark.
That is, until I asked for help.
And I know a lot of people say “ask for help and that’s all it takes” and “it will be better if you tell somebody” and a lot of people don’t believe that, because they feel like they may be a burden to a person if they tell them what’s happening in their head. But it is true that there are so many people out there who can help if you just reach out to them.
For me, it was my parents that I initially told about my worrying symptoms. They knew I had symptoms, but they didn’t know much about OCD and thought I would grow out of it. After a long conversation, we agreed to go to the doctor.
But for so many people out there, parents may not be an option, or they may have to turn to other resources for support. That is why I like organisations like the Shaw Mind Foundation. These foundations are vital to providing information about mental health to people who need it most. This includes people with diagnosed mental illnesses, their families and friends, people questioning or people who just what to learn more. The more information we circulate about mental health and how to take care of it, the less of a stigma people with issues will face, and the more people will reach out if they need help.
Today I am almost completely OCD free, something I thought would never happen. With the help of therapy and medication, I have been able to return to my schoolwork and do pretty well in my exams, and I hope to continue doing so.
If you want to know more about my story, I wrote a book called “Dictatorship – My Teenage War With OCD” detailing my experiences with symptoms, daily life and recovery.
If there is anything I want people to get from my experience, it’s that help is out there and that you CAN win the war in your head. You are way stronger and smarter than you think, and there is no shame in asking for help. I hope to continue my good work with regards to my mental health and wish everybody reading this a good day, and good luck in anything they wish to pursue.
Thank you to Shaw Mind Foundation for allowing me to write this blog entry.