Ever since I could remember I have had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety.
I recall being only ten years old, in my fourth grade classroom, trying to relieve a strange feeling in my mind that could only be soothed by a ritual that only made sense to me. I colored a pencil with different colored pens and wrote “M” for mom, “D” for dad, and “A” for Ashley. Under the initials I drew a line, and on that line I scraped the pen back and forth underneath the initials a certain amount of times until this unsettling feeling in my mind was gone. It was not until later did I discover that my special number was 4.
This, my friends, is only the beginning of my struggle with a mental illness that has no logical explanation whatsoever.
No one had a clue that I had a mental illness until I was thirteen years old, when I had to see a family therapist because my father moved to Africa when I was only three years old. He decided to move back when I was ten, and thus, “triggered” my mental illness.
When I was very little, ages one to three, I loved my father more than anything and when he left for a job opportunity at the Embassy in South Africa, it shattered my unconditional admiration and trust for him. My younger sister (who is two years younger than me) and I would travel to Africa every year for one month in the summer, for the seven years that he lived there. We did not know him anymore and nor did we know his girlfriend at the time (our step-mother now), which was not easy for a three year old and a one year old.
Although going to Africa was one of the best experiences of my life, it triggered an abundance of mental health problems with being the older sibling to take care of my little sister, and being old enough to know what is going on. I have so many memories of Africa that I will have to make a separate section on that.
Going ahead in time, when I was diagnosed with severe OCD and anxiety at age thirteen, I remember being at home on the top of the stairs talking to my mom about how I thought the way I think and how much I think was just what everyone does, I knew no different.
I have spent countless nights awake in my bed not being able to sleep because of all the thoughts continuously racing through my head. One of my doctors that I had seen from the very beginning, my psychiatrist, helped me tremendously. She had OCD as well, and her number was five. She prescribed me Zoloft, and I eventually got to the highest dosage a person my age could take, as well as some other medicines like anti-psychotics to go along with the Zoloft.
The anti-psychotics did not work because I would fall asleep in class, at the wheel, and my limbs would fall asleep (when walking to school, I couldn’t move my legs properly and I felt like I couldn’t walk). I have had pretty much every worry, every thought, every OCD tendency, every anxiety you could think of. I used to obsess in counts of four. I would put on my clothes four times, put on deodorant four times on each arm pit, I even had a ritual for putting on my make-up that included counting (there is so much more…..).
At my father’s house, when we would have to visit would be the most gruesome for me. I would walk up and down the stairs, go through the doors, shake my head, touch something; all in counts of four. When I say shake my head, I mean shake my head to get the disturbing thoughts out of my mind.
To be brutally honest, I would think of killing myself, so just the image of knives disturbed me to the point that I had to use a therapy technique from my therapist to relieve myself of this fear. I ended up putting one of the knives to my chest and pressing it hard enough to scare myself and overcome the fact that I knew inside that I did not want to kill myself.
I am too stubborn to give up like that.
Fear of dying has been a theme with my mental illness; I have worried about having cancer in multiple places, including brain cancer. I have worried about needing glasses, going blind, deaf, having a heart attack, stroke, seizure, you name it… One of the most major anxieties that I have had is weight. When initially diagnosed, I was 156 pounds at age thirteen.
Both my mom and sister were skinny and beautiful, and being the daughter of a model, I became self- conscious of my weight because they said I wasn’t fat, I was “big boned”, which is very reassuring for someone who analyzes everything.
I began copying everything they ate and my sister became extremely frustrated with me. I would starve myself and become dizzy, and have passed out numerous times. I counted calories vigorously of all morsels consumed, by writing down (sometimes even in my journals, that I spent all the time writing in).
Eventually I got down to be 113 pounds, which is not ideal for my height of 5’7. My family then complained of my bones showing and that I looked sickly.
Luckily, I joined water polo in high school, ate more, and got to a healthy weight of 126. Weight was a constant obsession of mine, and although it was not healthy to be overweight or underweight, I finally lost my fear of food.
I will explain my weird obsession and rituals.
By far one of the craziest obsessions I can recall is in middle school, there was a girl I thought to be diabolical and someone I would never want to be. Of course, I watched the Freaky Friday movies during that time, and guess what? I thought that if when I hugged her, our souls would switch. So when she hugged me at school, I had to make sure I hugged her at least two time….but no….I had to hug her four times. It was the most embarrassing ritual I felt like I had to do.
If you have seen the movie “Ella Enchanted”, that is exactly what it feels like to have OCD. Other weird rituals I had to do include playing with my hair, and poking it into my skin and tongue in multiples of four. I have played with my hair since I was a toddler but later in life, it is more of a comforting tactic when I am thinking, uncomfortable, sick or tired. Everyone at least once has said, “Don’t eat your hair!”, that is embarrassing as well because it has become such a habit, something I have done since I was five. I still have to work on that one.
Another weird obsession or obsessions was when I would shake my head or blink to get unwanted thoughts out of my mind. I would be in my own in little world, with disturbing thoughts that enter my mind, and all of a sudden shake my head or blink in multiples of four.
Last but not least, I have always had separation anxiety from the people that I love the most. I had a terrible time with separation anxiety with my mom when I would have to go visit my dad. I would fear that she would die, and ironically, I would even get unwanted thoughts about “hating her” and being the one that wanted to hurt her/ kill her.
Of course these thoughts are not true; these are the type of unwanted thoughts I would get on a daily basis.
I would think that she would be getting in a car accident or anything dreadful that you could possibly think of. I would constantly repeat in my mind, “I would rather die than my mom” because that was the ritual I would have to do in order for her “not to die”. I worry about the people I get close to leaving somehow, I guess that goes back to childhood with my father.
Although I am still troubled with a loud mind, I fight for peace every single day. I have tried all that I can for my mind, and by far the most beneficial has been yoga, meditation, being outdoors, writing, and cannabis.
I have done yoga, meditation and writing for as long as I can remember, but cannabis was brought to me by an angel whom I call my boyfriend (someday husband). I have been smoking cannabis for almost 4 years and it has been the only medicine that works.
The best way to explain it for me at least, is that when you dream, your mind is relieving itself from the anxieties and teaching you how to handle certain situations in your waking life; that is what cannabis does for me, it has helped me see situations through a different/healthier eyes. It also takes away the knot in my chest that I always had from the constant anxiety.
OCD and anxiety are both curses and blessings.
If I hadn’t been born with mental illness, I wouldn’t have learned what I have learned or become the person I am today. I refuse to let this overcome me, so I am learning to overcome it.