This is another serious post. It might trigger some emotions for those of you who have been through similar experiences. It may be difficult but I am living proof that, when it comes to things like this, it can all change and get better!
In high school, I became germophobic pretty bad. Really bad. I couldn't touch the floor or someone else's hands without having to wash my hands immediately afterwards. If I couldn't wash my hands, then I'd worry and the whole situation would just bug me and bug me until I could finally wash my hands. During that time that I couldn't wash my hands, I wouldn't touch my face and I'd be super careful when eating food. Washing my hands brought me relief from, well, my mind. I describe it as being at war with your own mind. It felt like my mind was controlling me in this irrational fear. I mean, touching the floor or someone else's hands usually doesn't cause any problems, unless someone has some kind of virus. There were other things that I would touch too that made me need to wash my hands. I would wash my hands so many times every day after touching these things. If I had to hand something to someone or if they were handing something to me, then I'd try very carefully not to touch their hands. It was awful, especially at check-outs in stores.
I never went to a doctor for help, although I should have. Someone in my family told me to "just get over it" which, for anyone who has gone through something like this knows, is not that easy. I became embarrassed about the way that I was and so I was scared to talk to a doctor about it. There was something wrong with me but I didn't accept that. It wasn't until a few years later that I realized and accepted that what I had sounded exactly like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Irrational fear+relief ritual+worries if relief ritual is not performed. Yes, it does indeed sound like OCD. Now, I was never diagnosed with anything because I never went to a doctor about it so I cannot say for sure that it was OCD but when talking about it with people, I tell them that it was basically OCD. I'm also not afraid to talk about it anymore.
Over the years, I got better. I guess I must have just exposed myself to touching certain things and convincing myself not to worry. I'm not exactly sure how I really got over it, but I never really entirely got over it. There are still times when I touch certain things and need to wash my hands immediately and then other times I touch something and want to wash my hands but I don't feel as though I need to do it right away. With touching other things, like the floor and other's people's hands, I am now fine. It feels like the war with my mind is near its end, at least in my experience with OCD. There are other challenges that I deal with like stress, concentration, etc. but those are all other stories. I'm happy that I have been able to get through at least one of my challenges.
OCD actually makes me think of Maya Angelou's poem, "Caged Bird". This poem is actually about the oppression of people but couldn't OCD be considered a form of oppression, in a way? In OCD, your mind holds you back and interferes with your life. The OCD controls you. In her poem, Angelou speaks about how the bird was once free but is now caged and longs for that freedom once again. For me, my OCD all of a sudden started in high school and I longed to just be able to go through my life like I did before, without worrying and constantly washing my hands, but I was held back by my fear. I think that Angelou sums up any kind of oppression really well in the last lines of her poem: "The caged bird sings/ with a fearful trill/ of things unknown/ but longed for still/ and his tune is heard/ on the distant hill/ for the caged bird/ sings of freedom."
It isn't easy to find freedom from mental illness, but we can get through it with help and with courage.