Living with OCD: Perseverance, hope and my inspiration to help others
I grew up right here in Houston, enjoying the hot summers by the pool with my sister and spending my days either at school or in the gym (I was a competitive gymnast). My life was pretty uneventful as I knew it – there was nothing out of the ordinary, just the typical sibling arguments, negotiations around doing my homework and competitions with my best friend to see who could go the longest without a shower (yikes!)
Little did I know things would soon change forever.
At age 12, my life turned upside down. I went from a normal, functioning kid to someone who had no idea what was happening. My days and nights were filled with unwanted, intrusive thoughts and the need to engage in bizarre behaviors became stronger and stronger.
Most waking hours of my day were filled with obsessions and compulsions: “Did I do something wrong? If I eat this food will something bad happen to someone? Will it be my fault? Is my mom okay? What if something has happened to her? Can something I do cause harm to come to someone I love?”
The anxiety that was attached to these terrible thoughts made me believe these thoughts might actually be true. How could I be sure? I certainly wasn’t willing to take the risk of something bad happening because of me. The only thing that could make the thoughts subside and the feelings that accompanied them go away was to engage in compulsions or rituals.
When I would do a ritual such as a hand wash, receive reassurance from my mom, check items repeatedly, etc., I felt better. I felt relief. Now don’t get me wrong, the relief was temporary and soon after the ritual, the next thought came and before I knew it I was engaging in the next compulsion. My life was an unending circle; Obsession, compulsion, temporary relief. It made every day a living nightmare.
My parents started searching for help. I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) pretty early on. Yet, we continued to face the same roadblocks and were told the same thing: “We have never seen a case of OCD this bad. There is no help for your daughter.”
Without proper treatment, my illness continued to take over my life and I lost hope in the belief that help was available for me. Thankfully, my parents eventually found the Menninger Clinic. In February 2002, I was admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan. where I stayed for 90 days.
This stay forever changed my life, giving me the chance to dream again, to live a functional life despite my diagnosis and taught me the skills I would need for the rest of my life.
Eighteen years later I still live everyday with the diagnosis of OCD, however it no longer controls me. I continue to engage in outpatient treatment and work daily to manage my illness through the proper treatment of exposure with response prevention (ERP) therapy.
I never imagined I would graduate from high school, yet today I’m an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and part of the new “OCD dream team” as we call it.
We are able to offer the same resources that I needed and received many years ago. I am honored to be able to serve our community and offer hope to those with OCD.
Learn more about the OCD Program at Baylor or call 713-798-6228.
See more OCD resources from the Peace of Mind Foundation.
-By Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine