Mental Health Awareness, The Road Less Traveled

Living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

by Megan Lynn Messmer

My name is Megan Lynn. I grew up a farmer’s daughter in Southern Indiana, in a small, rural town that I don’t live too far from now. I graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences in 2012 and would love to go back for my Master’s. Some of my hobbies include writing, reading, and photography. I’m a huge fan of cats! If you visit my blog, you’ll find this out instantly. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and this is my story.

When I was a kid I had a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt that I wore every day to school because I wrapped the sleeves around my hand so that my hands wouldn’t touch the paper or desk when I was writing. I was devastated when my mom threw it away. I couldn’t and still can’t stand the feeling of my hands on paper. This is the first memory I have of an “OCD” tendency.

Megan_1In some ways, I think OCD is a genetic condition. My mother also has OCD and always has as long as I’ve been alive. I remember that we couldn’t bring toys into the living room and had to keep them upstairs as children because she didn’t want to see the mess we might make. Kids were confined upstairs and the downstairs was, needless to say, spotless.

Living with OCD has not been easy. I think it started escalating when I was in high school with the sudden popularity of hand sanitizers. My friends often made fun of me for using it so often. For me, OCD manifests in a strong fear of what I like to call contamination, followed by routines that I feel compelled to perform in order to avoid the contamination. By contamination, I am referring to bacteria and viruses that cause illness, particularly the kind that involves stomach ailments. In fact, I fear this seemingly normal bodily function so much, I have difficulty saying it or even writing it. For the sake of the reader, however, I will spell it out: vomit. Literally anything that has to do with this word I fear and loath. When I come into contact with vomit, my body goes into a fight or flight response and I become so terrified that I honestly feel like I will die. There’s an inexplicable sense of doom.

When someone has been ill near me, or even when I prepare to eat something, I do the following routine. I will wash my hands at least two times or more. Next, I will sanitize my hands. Then, if I do not feel that I have done an adequate job, I will go back and wash my hands until I feel like I’ve done a sufficient job. I sanitize again and, hopefully, this compulsion goes away.

When people are coughing around me, I will hide behind my hair and breathe only through my nose, lips tightly sealed. It’s silly, I know this, but in the moment I feel for certain that it’s the only way to avoid illness. While walking anywhere, I feel the need to wear a coat or a jacket because the compulsion to tightly clench my fists, embedding my nails into my palms is just too strong. I don’t want people to see me doing this; hence, I hide them in coat or jacket pockets. I am usually far too tense throughout the day and come home sore, weak, and with a headache. These are just a few of the things I go through on a daily basis.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I was finally diagnosed with OCD. After a particularly difficult experience, I finally broke down and decided that I needed help. I met for the first time with a psychiatrist. He was very kind and knowledgeable. He asked me questions too. He made many puzzling faces throughout, but finally, he smiled. “Megan, do you sometimes feel the need to perform a behavior that you can’t explain the reasoning behind?” I didn’t know what he was referring to at first, but he continued, “I have heard people say that they breathe a certain way, or touch their hair in a certain way as a means for relieving some of these intense urges, compulsions.” It hit me then. He’s describing me! I told him that yes, I did and I told him some of the routines that I performed daily, such as intense hand washing, taking a shower immediately when I return home, and never eating anything with my hands, fist clenching, and symmetrical touching.

The session came to an end and he told me that he strongly felt he knew where my symptoms came from: OCD. He told me all about the disorder, the symptoms, what can be done to relieve them, and the biological components of the disorder. I shook his hand, left, and made a second appointment at the front desk. The second appointment would be my introduction into therapy and medication.

Since that time, I feel I’ve come a long way. I don’t advocate medication for everyone, but for me it has taken the edge off of my OCD quite a bit. I no longer feel as stressed throughout the day. I’m calmer, more relaxed and can actually talk myself through difficult situations, something that was previously impossible for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still have difficult days, but life has gotten easier.

Blogging has also been somewhat of a release for me. I’ve met so many others who struggle just like me and it has been beyond rewarding to share information, experiences, and offer up encouragement to one another. My blog has helped me to express myself through writing. I’ve come to enjoy sharing poetry and my amateur attempts at photography, but the encouragement I receive is therapeutic in a way.

I’m no longer the frightened, shy, and somewhat “odd” child, but I’m a thriving adult living on my own and working toward conquering mental illness. At my lowest, I came out of the dark and rose to find the light. There is always hope. Never give up.

My Media Suggestions
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
This is such a great resource because it not only introduces mental illness to those who are unfamiliar with it, but it also provides links to resources for those seeking help. I used it myself when I first sought professional advice.

Black Box Warnings
This is such a great site for sharing experiences with mental illness as well as learning from firsthand accounts of having mental illness or living with someone with mental illness.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
This book  is a phenomenal firsthand account of life in a psychiatric hospital and the author’s incredible journey through mental illness.

The War in My Brain (Megan’s blog)

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