Dad and I performed a nightly ritual. As a tiny girl, he would tuck me into bed with a tight hug, peck my cheek, and then we’d recite in unison: “Good night. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams, and I will see you in the morning.” As I sprouted into adolescence, I located dad, embraced him, and we would repeat our little chorus before I put myself to bed. In the beginning, the chant simply included, “Good night. Sleep tight. Sweet dreams.” At some point, however, a pesky little thought burdened me. What if this blessing was really a curse hastening the death of one of us (either of us) in the night?! Overwhelmed with fright, I decided to include “and I will see you in the morning” as a personal benediction. Dad never knew this. (Hey Dad, now you know). The obsession tormented me most on nights I spent away from home, and eventually, when my dad began to travel with regularity for his job, I ensured the tradition remain unbroken, transmitted across long distance phone lines. A tender memory for my father represents, for me, an outward expression of neurological collapse.
On the night of June 27, 2003, the eve of my wedding, I cried myself to sleep, knowing that it was the last time I would exchange those words with my father, petrified that my marriage would precipitate something catastrophic, since I would no longer be able to wield the charm that had, until then, kept my father and myself safe from undue harm. The OCD brain manipulates and frightens, but it does recognize reality in the midst of its illusions. I knew my little magic trick wasn’t really keeping dad and me alive, but on the (really, really) off chance that it was, I had to enact the ritual–to be sure. Tamar Chansky writes “Even though the compulsions seem silly…the obsessions are so dreadful that doing compulsions feels like a matter of life or death.” The ritual assuaged my fear. Until it didn’t. Every night. For years.
“It is the taking away of the anxiety that reinforces the compulsion. Obsessions bring on anxiety, and compulsions reduce it.”Tamar Chansky, Freeing Your Child from OCD
On my wedding night, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned “you don’t have to do compulsions to get rid of the bad feelings…The anxiety will pass without doing the compulsion” (Chansky). I abandoned the ritual. I didn’t die that night. My dad didn’t die that night. The anxiety passed.
I wasn’t cured. I didn’t discard all obsessions or abandon all rituals. In fact, I suffered more terrifying cycles in the years to follow. I remained unaware. I surmised that something was amiss within my brain, but I didn’t know what, why, or how to fix it. At the age of 27, after several months of incessant panic induced by frightful obsessions and ineffective compulsions, I visited my general practitioner and he prescribed an SSRI. Within about two weeks, the haze of obsession dispersed. A few years later, I began to see a therapist. Over ten years have passed, and I enjoy life far more now than I did in my twenties because I recognize triggers, signs, and symptoms. My toolkit prepares me with strategies to counteract the worst of them. Nevertheless, OCD bullied me for 27 years before I managed to defend myself. My friends and family, teachers and coaches were completely oblivious to my struggle. No one knew because people didn’t discuss things like mental health or anxiety. A lack of financial resources limited intervention, as well. I blame no one. I aim to raise awareness. I aim to guard my children with the shield of knowledge, and to share my story so you and yours may do the same.
For more information on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, you can visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.
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