What I Want You to Know is a series of
reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their
personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the
unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to
this series,
click here. Today’s guest posts is by Julia.

My name is Julia,
I’m twenty-three, and I have a pretty great life that I’m very thankful
for. But for ten years, when I was between the ages of 11 and 21, I
had OCD, and it quickly materialized from a minor quirk to a severe
handicap. I hope that telling my story will help moms looking to
identify OCD tendencies in their children- because it starts early!

OCD started out when I was still in elementary school. I would worry
about my young brother dying, and I would tell myself that if I didn’t
make it to a certain door before I counted to nine, or choose a certain
plastic fork in the cafeteria, that he would be killed. I didn’t share
these thoughts with anyone, because I didn’t consider them important. I
always had a morbid, creative view of the world and I didn’t think it
was anything to concern people with.

Flash forward: 9/11 hits in
2001. People were anxious enough to begin with, but living in a suburb
of New York City, and having undiagnosed OCD, I could barely deal with
day-to-day life. I no longer wanted my parents to go to New York City,
and would do almost anything to get them to stay at home with me. I
didn’t want anybody flying, either, and I missed out on numerous class
trips because I didn’t want to be killed in a hijacking. When I finally
agreed to fly on a plane, I would spend the whole ride thinking of
which passenger might be the terrorist. I have to say, catching moments
of Fox News did not help.

Then it was food: I was afraid all food
was poisoned and/or rotten to the point of killing me if I ate it. I
once cried for about an hour when I found out my mom ate turkey meat
that was one day past its “sell by” date. When my dad got food poisoning
in New Mexico, I thought he was definitely going to die. I felt that I
was living in a world where nobody cared about safety except for me, and
I felt entirely out of control. I repeatedly had nightmares that my
whole family was dead and nobody cared but me. In retrospect, I
probably drove my family nuts.

I also worried about car crashes,
especially in my teens, and it was a major reason that I chose not to
learn how to drive. Once, when my father was taking a plane to go on a
business trip, I told my friend that I was worried about his safety.
She said, “Well, he’s more likely to get into a car accident than have
his plane crash!” I clarified to her that it wasn’t the plane I was
worried about; it was the car from the airport to the hotel. At least
twice a week, I was completely convinced that a family member of mine
was dead.

Then came the real OCD–the typical OCD. When I got
to high school, I became deathly afraid of catching all forms of STDs
from public bathrooms. I dated boys, but was usually too scared of sex
to get physical (truth be told, this was a blessing in disguise–high
school sex sucks!) When a girl in my dance class had a wart on the
bottom of her foot, I refused to sit on the floor for the entirety of
the class, mistakenly thinking I could get HPV from her wart. I heard
that herpes could be asymptomatic, so I wouldn’t let anyone share drinks
with me. Someone once spat in my eye by accident, during a
conversation, and I was all-too-eager to rinse my eye with burning
antibacterial soap.

This was when my parents noticed something
was seriously up, and they were smart about it: they sent me to a CBT
therapist in New York City, named Dr. Steven Josephson (if you’re in the
area, he’s highly recommended.) He gave me “assignments”, like writing
down my fears on paper, or keeping track of “triggers” (things that
trigger the anxiety- some of mine were HIV public service announcements,
Valtrex commercials, and anything showing needles or blood). It took a
while, especially given that I was resistent to the therapy, but
eventually, the fears subsided. I was put on a very low dose of Luvox,
which is an SSRI meant for treating anxiety and depression (I was never
depressed, but it manages to work for either/or).

Today, I
still have anxiety. Most of my friends would describe me as a
high-strung, energetic, nervous person. (But hopefully they’ll add
“funny” and “awesome” to that list). I can use public bathrooms, share
drinks, and have a relationship (my boyfriend is all-too-aware of my
anxiety, and it drives him nuts sometimes, but I try to keep a lid on
it). When my mother doesn’t call me back, my first thought isn’t “she
must be dead”. I’ll probably always be an anxious person, but as I’ve
gotten older, I’ve learned to control it–and if it weren’t for CBT, it
would have been impossible for me to get here.

If you think
your child is playing “mind games” with him/herself or doing any of the
things that I did (ie: favorite numbers, counting, tapping things,
checking to see they locked the door), consider doing something about
it. My parents were great to help me, and I think all parents want the
best for their child. And even if you can’t “cure” anxiety, I way
prefer my life of mild nerves to being unable to participate in
life–because life is great!