It is difficult to say when all of this began. All I remember is having fears that people around me didn’t experience, or at least never talked about. These were fears that would haunt me everyday since around the age of 8. I would go to sleep every night with the thought of something catastrophic happening in my sleep and would wake up with the feeling that I was going to have a terrible day. Going to school was the worst because I feared something happening to my family while I was away from them. To cope with my fears, I created mental compulsions or “rituals” that I believed would keep my family safe. At this age, I had no idea what OCD was so all of my mental behaviors seemed normal to me. Some of these compulsions included touching things repeatedly, whispering prayers until I felt calm, and asking my mom “Am I going to be happy?” everyday before being dropped off at school. When I would forget to ask her this particular question, I knew I was going to have the worst day at school. Forgetting rituals caused major panic attacks and multiple visits to the nurse’ office. No matter how many times I visited the nurse, I never found a proper way to describe my anxiety for her to understand. I continued having these uncontrollable panic attacks for a few years and it wasn’t until I reached the sixth grade that I finally spoke to my parents about it. I told them that I would get these strange attacks every now and then but I had a difficult time describing it to them as well. My parents became extremely worried about my health, mainly because they were unaware that these mental disorders existed.
The doctor visit that followed was one of the most traumatizing moments in my childhood. Hearing the words “mental issues” come out of the doctor’s mouth made me fearful of my thoughts and who I was becoming. As a little girl with no education on mental illnesses, I would envision psychiatric wards and straitjackets when I would hear these words. For several months, my parents insisted in taking me to see a therapist that the doctor referred but I always refused. My biggest fear was being told that I was mentally ill.
By the time I got to middle school, I somehow managed to fight off the OCD on my own but lost control of my anxiety. Not knowing what was wrong with me, I isolated myself and got my first hit of depression. Most of the depression originated from being bullied in school because of my weight and extreme shyness. My fears now included being name called and getting my hair pulled during class. It was hell. I would hide in my room during panic attacks and would smile to cover up signs of depression.
I continued my silence for years. My insecurities, the bullying, the panic attacks-everything worsened. I started eating less and over exercising. I lost motivation in all aspects of life and started creating thoughts in my head that I had never thought of before. For a moment, I thought I was crazy.
High school was the same story, except by this time, I became a master at hiding all feelings and emotions from everybody. I remember getting complimented on my cheerful spirit and thinking, “if only you knew”. For years, I prayed for healing and asked for miracles. It was during my junior year that I started thinking about the people around me and wondered if anyone else was like me. Unexpectedly, I got my first lesson on mental health from a TV show on MTV. I will never forget the day that I watched “True Life: I have OCD” because it was the first time I learned that I wasn’t alone. The show introduced people with mental illnesses, who experienced fears and thoughts similar to mine. It’s so crazy to look back and think how much my life changed from watching this particular episode. I sobbed as I watched the show and felt so much gratitude towards these people. The show gave me hope and taught me that I just needed to find the strength within myself to start reshaping my life.
Knowing that college would be a completely different world to me, I used it as an opportunity to improve my life. I was tired of being sad and fearful and made it a personal mission to start challenging myself to grow. Little by little, I faced fears in college by doing things that I never thought I would have the courage to do. I joined a sorority to fight off social anxiety, started living a healthier lifestyle, moved out from my parents home, and signed up for multiple public speaking courses to fight my fear of public speaking. For the first time in my life, I did not let anxiety stop me from living my life. I started gaining control.
Now at the age of 24, I FINALLY feel strong enough to share my story and continue my journey of self-improvement. Yes, it has taken me more than 16 years to find this strength and yes, I still struggle with anxiety on a daily basis but at the end of the day, I am proud of the battles I have been able to get through and I will only continue fighting. I am thankful for the people that shared their stories with me and now it’s my turn to let others know that they are not alone.