Recently Janet at the OCDtalk blog posted about her friend whose obsessive-compulsive son had just committed suicide. The post broke my heart. It reminded me of earlier this fall in Boston where I met Denis Asselin, the winner of the International OCD Foundation Hero Award. Denis’s son Nathaniel, who suffered from intense body dysmorphic disorder (on the OCD spectrum), took his own life in 2011. It was beautiful but devastating to listen to him talk about his beloved son. My heart is heavy as I think about these families, now missing an important member, and about the horrific pain that these young men were experiencing that made them see no other way out.
It’s a dark, heavy topic, but tragically important to discuss.
OCD is so often thought of as simply being neat or orderly– or sometimes even anal retentive about certain things. Media portrays obsessive-compulsive disorder as a quirky, nitpicky, and sometimes comical disorder, but let me level with you: OCD is debilitating, devastating, and torturous.
Can you imagine feeling nothing but sheer, unadulterated terror for days, sometimes weeks, on end?
I remember some of my darkest, hardest, most terrifying days. I lived in the Brighton Village Apartments with Becky and Tricia. During the day, I was given the small grace of suspending my obsessions– at least enough to make it through work (most days– not all), for which I am grateful. In the evenings, I would return to our apartment, where I would drown in an ocean of terror. My soul felt untethered, lost, condemned; I felt the hot, ugly breath of hell on my neck all evening. I felt unforgiven and completely cut off from the God I wanted so desperately. (It is making me cry right now as I write about those dark days.) And the torture of not knowing— heaven or hell? saved or condemned? found or eternally lost? heard or ignored?– was the worst kind of mental anguish.
Those apartment buildings were built like an X, with the pool and laundry facilities at the center where all four wings came together. I remember– and this is not an isolated event but something that happened every time I was in that third-floor laundry room– I would look over the balcony down to the first-floor pool area, usually empty, and I would think, If I threw myself off this ledge head-first, I would finally know: heaven or hell. I would have my answer, instead of the torture of not knowing.
But what if the answer was hell? I couldn’t hurry that on. What I wanted even more was annihilation— to cease to exist. I craved oblivion. That is true pain for you.
I realized that I was already in hell– just of a different stripe. I was living like a condemned person, in TERROR and heartache and loneliness, and in constant combat with the blasphemous thoughts that plagued my mind.
Most people wouldn’t have guessed it. I smiled a lot at work. I even managed to fool those closest to me who knew the anguish I was experiencing. But I would look over that balcony at the hard floor, and I would think about it. OCD is that devastating. I believe obsessive-compulsives (even those who take their own lives) are some of the strongest people you will ever meet. They fight a constant war. It is no wonder to me that many want to lay down their weapons and surrender.
And yet, here I am, eight years later, happy and healthy and secure in my faith, enjoying life and friendships and a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. I am not tormented by my own thoughts, and uncertainty isn’t anguish any longer. I want to gently take the faces of the anguished obsessive-compulsives into my hands, stare them directly in the eye, and tell them, There is hope. There is help. It doesn’t have to stay this way. I would hug them and cry with them and personally drive them to my cognitive-behavioral therapist. I was once where you are. Follow me to freedom.
If you are struggling today with intrusive thoughts, obsessions that plague you, compulsions that take over your life, THERE IS HOPE. I promise you. This is a disorder– just a disorder, albeit a powerful, ugly, life-thieving one. Follow me to freedom. There is Truth, and it is not what you are hearing from your OCD. Rescue is possible. Follow me to freedom. Email me. Joy, happiness, laughter, truth, peace, safety– these may seem like impossibilities, but they can be yours too.