OCD as Part of Me

Joe Tenaglia

Joe Tenaglia

Notre Dame Vision Mentor-in-Faith 2015

University of Notre Dame,
Class of 2018

“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” I’m sure when you read those words you automatically think of certain things. Maybe you or someone you know has OCD, or maybe you’ve never really understood what it means. Regardless, those words have a connotation that comes with them. For me, those words bring to mind thoughts of sweaty hands, a lump in the back of the throat, and a heartbeat that feels like it’s going about five times faster than it really is. Those are the things that I think about, because I have OCD.

OCD works differently for all people. The things that I obsess over are ideas. Thoughts and emotions will get trapped in my mind and it can be incredibly difficult for me to get rid of them, no matter what I might try. I like to use the image of plugging a guitar into an amp: I feel the exact same things emotionally and think about the same stuff as everyone else, but those thoughts get amplified and can overwhelm my normal and rational way of thinking.

The hardest part about my OCD is not feeling like myself. When I first started having feelings of anxiety and fear, I was in the fourth grade. Out of nowhere, I started to become uncontrollably terrified at all hours of the day. When I say terrified I truly mean it. I would be unable to sleep because I was crying hysterically, scared that I was going to get cancer. I’d have a bad dream where I was eaten by a
shark and be unable to get through school the next day because I was convinced that it would come true. As a young kid, I had no idea what was happening to me or why. My parents were at a loss, too. Here I was, the happy and energetic boy they knew and loved, reduced to a puddle of tears. Not knowing what to do, they took me in for help, and I was diagnosed with OCD. Through the grace of God, I have been able to get some great help, and through my therapist and the medicine that I take every morning, I have been able to live a mostly normal life.

However, my OCD is still very much a part of me and it does still rear its ugly head in a big way from time to time. I have had a few really tough times when I’ve struggled with it, and when I’m feeling really anxious like that I feel incredibly lonely. I look around at everyone else and wonder why I can’t be “normal” like them. At those times, it even feels like God has left me.  I ask why this is my cross to carry, and when I get no answer in return, I feel even more lonely.

sad man 2Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I went through a tough stretch with my OCD. I was having trouble with the end of the school year, and this transition brought up a lot of smaller fears and insecurities that I had been bottling up for a while. Altogether, it became really overwhelming. The loneliness I felt then because of the thoughts running around my head was too much for me to handle on my own. So I called Chad, my campus minister from high school, just so I could talk to someone. Over the phone that night, I vented and cried to him and let everything out. Chad helped me by being there for me. He let me know that I was loved and that I wasn’t alone. He couldn’t fix the problems that I was having, but he did so much for me just by listening.

I came to a couple of big realizations when I was talking to him. Ever since I was diagnosed with OCD it had always been a goal of mine that at some point I’d be able to deal with it on my own. I thought that maybe some day it’d just go away.  I would outgrow it, or I’d finally be able to push these debilitating thoughts aside. But when I was talking to Chad, I realized that none of that was ever going to happen. My OCD is always going to be a part of me. Even now, as far as I’ve come, it still bothers me from time to time. And when it does it’s really awful, but it is something I have to deal with.

In that moment I realized that in order to live with my OCD, I need to rely on the community of friends, family, and mentors who surround me. At college, away from my family, I had been trying to keep things to myself. But I found out the hard way that going it alone makes it more difficult.  It led me to feel alone and abandoned by my peers, and even by God.  I felt like there was no one for me to turn to.  Yet when it came down to it, I knew that I had to turn to somebody.  I had resisted being vulnerable with my friends because I was afraid of what they’d think of me, but once I started to let them in they were nothing but supportive and loving.  They helped so much by just being there for me and listening to me.  They were there for me all along, but I had to take the first step and let them in.

Through my friends, I began to feel God’s presence in my life again.  I had thought that God was leaving me alone to fend for myself, but He was there the whole time in the form of my friends.

Not only did my friends listen to me and offer their words of love and encouragement—they were always there for me right when I needed them. One time when I was feeling deeply lonely and overwhelmed, I walked out of my dorm room and saw one of my best friends walking by. I stopped him, and told him I needed a hug. We embraced and then spent some time together. In this brief exchange, I felt loved and knew that I was not alone. At another low point, I ran into a friend from St. Mary’s College (who I usually only see on weekends) and was able to sit down and have dinner with her. She listened to me in my distress and was a calming presence for me in the midst of my inner turmoil.

In these moments, I felt God specifically looking out for me, putting someone in the exact space and time where I needed them. I had thought God was nowhere to be found through my OCD, but here He was by my side, helping me get by. These experiences helped me to be grateful for all of the wonderful people in my life, but they also helped me be grateful for my OCD. I was taken aback when one of my friends told me that he thought my OCD wasn’t entirely a bad thing because, as he saw it, my OCD helped me connect more to other people in a deeper way. I had never thought of my OCD as anything but a hindrance, something that held me back from living the fulfilled life that I assumed everyone else had. But his words invited me to consider the ways that my OCD positively affects me.

I realized that if OCD is and will always be a part of me, it is a part of all of me: good and bad. Somehow, in ways that I cannot even comprehend, my OCD affects me at all times. It affects me when I can’t rid my mind of a worrisome thought, and when I become anxious. It also affects me when I empathize with another person, or when I develop curiosity to learn new things.

In these ways and so many more besides, my OCD is a part of me, making me who I am. And who I am is a child of God, created in His image out of love. My OCD is a part of that image, and I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

Over the years, my OCD has brought me a lot of troubles and has made my life difficult at times. As tough as it can be, it has also helped me recognize the love of God through those around me, who have shown me so much love and shown me that my OCD makes me who I am. My OCD may be a cross that I will carry throughout my life, but with the love of God and the support of those around me, I know that I can bear its weight.

cross

Be Sociable, Share!