I consider my life from early childhood to late teenagehood to be relatively anxiety-free. However, once I turned 18, in the town of Mt. Kisco, New York, I had what would be perceived as a “normal” life to outsiders only. I had stable relationships with family and friends, earned good grades in school, and appeared to be happy. It was then that I began developing symptoms of what would later become known to me as “OCD”, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is a type of anxiety involving obsessive thoughts in the mind, triggering compulsions – repeated conscious behaviors that help to alleviate anxiety from the thoughts. OCD affects over 8 million people in the US and Canada alone; many experience onsets from the ages of 18-23. Most of those individuals including myself didn’t understand what they were experiencing and when and how to seek help.
My personal journey of battling OCD began with forgetting personal belongings such as a softball mitt for practice and my keys for returning home from a trip. I was disciplined, which caused me to over focus on remembering personal things. As a result of this, I started to become very anxious when I thought I had forgotten something. Over time, my symptoms evolved. I would obsess thinking my hands weren’t clean enough, I didn’t wash my entire body, didn’t understand text to the fullest capacity, and objects might be touching which may cause damage to them. To to get rid of these thoughts, I had to engage in repeated behaviors, (aka compulsions.) This included repeated hand washing and bathing, re-reading texts, and placing objects close to each other without touching.
It was a horrible feeling. But, I didn’t tell anybody what I was feeling, not even my family and close friends. OCD is one of those things that typically others cannot recognize as we tend to keep it very secretive. I was embarrassed to talk about it and hid the truth for years. Eventually, it got so bad, I decided it was time to tell my partner at the time. He was very supportive and told me I needed to inform my family and seek help as soon as possible. I told my mother, and she was extremely surprised, but luckily was very compassionate about the situation. She helped me find a therapist and split the cost of the sessions with me 50/50, since I couldn’t afford it on my own. I went through a few therapists before finding an ideal match. Within a couple of months, we chose a therapist that was effective in treating OCD using the ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) therapy method. This method forces you to face your fears head on, “exposing” you to your obsessions, and “preventing” or delaying you from engaging in the compulsive ritual. I engaged in ERP with my therapist weekly for about two years. I recovered gradually, but tremendously over time. Although I have not “fully” recovered as it will always be apart of my life, I am at the point where it does not interfere with my daily living. Along with seeing a therapist, I used painting as a way to alleviate anxiety, turning my suffering into something beautiful and inspirational. Although this is my personal story of overcoming OCD, there are still millions of kids and adults fighting their own battle with it today. My hope is that through my relationship with art, I can share my message, turning suffering into inspiration and beauty.