I was 11 years old the first time it happened. The thought popped into my mind – What if I’m pregnant? – I couldn’t shake it. I had never been sexually active but this menacing feeling that somehow I may have gotten pregnant possessed me. I spent hours combing the internet reading everything I could find about pregnancy. At 11, I knew every pregnancy symptom by heart. Like a broken record I’d ask my friends for reassurance that I wasn’t pregnant. I even convinced my friend’s older sister to buy me as many pregnancy tests as my elementary school allowance could afford. The negative test results, information on the internet, and reassurance of my friends could not convince my mind that I wasn’t pregnant. An intense anxiety had seized me – something must be wrong. This would be my first episode with OCD.
Over the next decade I was intermittently consumed by new obsessions for months at a time. I didn’t know what was happening to me and was terrified to find out. I could’ve Googled my symptoms, but that was too scary. What if the search results tell me that I’m a monster or “crazy”? I was 22 when the heights of my desperation reached past my fears of what if. I finally searched online for my symptoms and the internet responded with article after article pointing to OCD. I balked – How could I have OCD? I’m not a clean freak! I don’t wash my hands all the time! On top of that, how could I have a mental illness? I’m happily married, raising a family, getting straight A’s in college, and surrounded by amazing friends. My preconceived notions about OCD and mental illness (fueled by media misrepresentations) made me highly resistant to the idea.
I decided to educate myself. After some time, I was able to relinquish my prejudices about mental illness and decided to seek treatment locally on Guam, where I still currently reside. I sought help from three mental health professionals, two medical professionals, and even pastors. To this day, I believe that all of these people were well-intentioned and did what they knew to help me. However, I didn’t receive the treatment I needed; and unfortunately, this is a very common experience for people seeking treatment for OCD.
Without proper treatment, I was 27 and suicidal as a result of a particularly harrowing episode. Simultaneously, something in me was desperate to live. I decided to seek treatment outside of Guam and began ERP with an OCD specialist in New York over Skype. I know with absolute certainty that treatment saved my life. This is why I am pursuing my doctorate in clinical psychology and have become a licensed mental health professional. It is my purpose to transform this suffering into something life giving. I share my story here because I have hope. I have hope for myself and while I struggle at times, I know there is a solution. I have hope that together we can eliminate stigma surrounding mental illness by coming out from the shadows. I have hope I want to share with you, just as others have shared with me. You are not alone. There is a way out.
Thank you for sharing your story Jacquelin!
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