I still remember when I had my first OCD thought. I was sitting on my made bed—a colorful comforter with red and green stripes, and I was 14 years old. It was earth day: April 22, 2008. I was wearing my green long-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts.
I was about to go babysit. I remember I had been hoping that the guy I liked had noticed me that day in school—normal 14 year old thoughts. And then, it happened—I had the thought: what if I sexually abused the child I was going to babysit? The thought surprised me. It scared me.
But then again, I had been having a lot of strange thoughts recently. I had thoughts about people being naked—even when I didn’t want to. I had grown up in the church and strived to be pure in heart and clean-minded: all of the things the magazines and books I read told me to be. But then I had read a teenage novel, and the main character mentioned how her brother told her that he pictured people naked all the time. And I started doing so too, unintentionally. I couldn’t stop it.
So when this thought popped in my head—it startled me. But I was able to let it go, at least for the time being. It came up a couple times as I babysat that night, and did the things I was used to doing as a 14-year-old girl who loved kids: changed diapers, held the baby as he went to sleep. I knew in my right mind I would never do such a thing.
But the thought came up again. And it set up camp in my mind. That summer, I was tortured by my thoughts. I would switch from thinking about people being naked to the disturbing thought that I would touch a child inappropriately. I came up with rituals to relieve myself from the thoughts. I would pray and ask God to help purify my mind. Whenever the thought of someone naked popped in my head, I would imagine them wearing a flesh-colored sweat suit so I wouldn’t feel so terrible.
Part of me knew the obsession was just that—and I was living in my head. I remember thinking of the analogy I had heard once that trying to avoid thoughts is impossible: if you are told not to think of an elephant, that is exactly what you think of. So on some level, I was able to manage, and get by. I realized when I stopped trying to control the thoughts, they weren’t as bad.
However, I still could not shake the feeling that there was something deeply wrong and disturbed about me. I had remembered that earlier in my childhood, I had thought about hurting a baby, and I sometimes thought about sexual acts between my dolls. I felt dirty, disgusting, and secretive. These were the feelings and the thoughts that kept me trapped in a cage.
Despite these feelings and thoughts, I was able to live with the idea that I was not perfect, though it made it hard for me to feel like the perfect Christian I wanted to be. I was brought up with the ideology that if we came to ask God for forgiveness of sins, we would be made clean in Him. But what are you supposed to do when you have to ask God for forgiveness 10,000 times a day?
After a missions trip to Kenya at 16, I came home with an infection that landed me in the hospital. One night, after suffering a fever of 104 that could have sent me into seizures, I lay awake on my bed. I suddenly had the thought: What if I abused the girl I had babysit when I was 11 years old? I couldn’t be certain that I didn’t do it. After all, I had these thoughts about hurting kids, and if I had them now, I probably did when I babysat her. And this was before I had control over my thoughts. There is no way to know for certain that I was able to stop myself from hurting her if I had the urge to. I knew it was irrational, but that logic did not stand a chance to the deep drop I felt in my stomach when I was confronted with the slight possibility that I did something I repressed out of my memory.
I watched TV, ate hospital food, and celebrated my 17th birthday in that hospital bed. I went home, and was able to push the terrible thought out of my head by being a normal 17 year old, and filling my mind and time with TV, friends, clothes, and school. I had the thoughts, but I was able to lead a normal life.
When I was 18, the same thought came again, after I had broken up with my high school boyfriend. It came again, in the dark of the night, where I had nothing but my thoughts. I looked for an answer to why I was having the thoughts. I looked to online forums about why I could be having such scary thoughts that didn’t seem grounded in truth, but gave me so much anxiety that I couldn’t ignore them. I sang “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand” in my head as I laid under my purple blanket and hoped to God that I wasn’t the terrible person my thoughts told me I was. I started going to God in prayer, and asking Him to tell me if I did it or not. Sometimes I felt like He was saying “no”, and sometimes I felt like He was saying “Yes”. He would know—He was there. He would have seen me if I had done wrong.
After a vacation where the thoughts were more intrusive than ever, I began college. I started counseling, and was diagnosed with OCD at age 19. I continued feeling like a person who looked good on the outside, but had a terrible secret.
As I went through college, and started my adult life, I ended up having a friend who I thought was gay. She became my best friend, but I always had the feeling that she wanted more out of the relationship than I could give. After three years of friendship, she admitted that she had feelings for me. I knew that I didn’t want to date her, but was more confused than anything because she was my best friend, and I wanted her to still be in my life. I told her I didn’t want to date her with conviction and truth, but my OCD took over my life. I had difficulty talking to her without having panic attacks, and I feared that I myself was gay, and was denying the fact that I liked her. I didn’t want to let her go because she knew everything about me and if I decided I was gay one day, she would be the perfect fit for me. But I knew that in that moment, I did not want to be with her. So I had to end the friendship 7 months later.
My OCD has taken me to lower places than I knew were possible for me to feel. As much as I would love to say I have complete certainty that I am not a terrible person who would never hurt anyone, and that I am straight and will find a partner who loves and accepts me, I am not. These are the uncertainties I have had to learn to live with. They are the uncertainties that keep me living in my head instead of noticing things like flowers and people smiling and friends who love me unconditionally. They are the uncertainties that kept me from coming to God and learning to live in His presence instead of desperately trying to hear His voice.
I have learned to live with my uncertainties, and it was beyond scary. I spend about 30 minutes, 5 days a week, writing out the fears that are scaring me the most. I say them out loud and I write them in my journal and record them on my phone. I have learned that a life without certainty will never become less scary, but it becomes ever more beautiful when we decide to stop trying to control it by “making sure” that our worst fears will not come true.