Okay, I’ll admit it. I was ignorant. I didn’t know what was wrong with me for the first 50 years of my life. I never claimed to know everything, but one would think that I’d at least know the name of the disorder that would from time to time bring about such intense suffering through the seasons of my life. Although I didn’t know it’s name, I was well acquainted with it in regard to the cruel and unusual punishment it could dole out. I suppose that the term bizarre is more fitting than the term unusual because over the years, when it reared it’s ugly head it made me feel like some sort of freakish anomaly.
As far back as I can remember I’ve struggled with what I would call “one topic fears”. What I mean is that my mind would latch on to a fearful idea in such a way that it would dominate my thoughts for a very long time. Some examples of this from my childhood are: “what if I poke my eyes out, what if I swallow my tongue, what if I have a brain aneurysm, what if my Dad has a heart attack and what if a plane drops a bomb on our house?” When these thoughts would make their very first appearance, I’d feel a great deal of anxiety and because of that I’d begin to dwell on them to the point that whenever there was a lull in my day to day activity my mind would take up one of these topics in such a way that I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about it and feeling intensely frightened by it. Bedtime seemed to provide ample opportunity for these fears to just overwhelm my mind. These weren’t fleeting fears that bothered me one day and then were gone the next, they stuck around for long periods of time. Just as an example the fear that my Dad might have a heart attack plagued me for a whole summer and pretty much ruined my entire summer vacation. I think I was about ten years old at the time.
I kept most of this to myself because whenever I’d think about telling my Mom or Dad what was scaring me, I had some kind of realization that the fears were really quite silly. And yet, even that knowledge had zero effect on how much they tortured me. I’d often get up in the night, feeling like I might vomit and shaking all over from fear. I’d be crying, but when my folks tried to find out what was wrong, I’d just say “I don’t feel good!”
I actually managed quite well because as long as I had things to do to distract me I had relief from the fear and eventually each one of my “topics” would fade away and then I’d get a break until another one cropped up.
Fast forward to early adulthood after I’d been married several years and had given birth to two children and suddenly my problem with these “one topic fears” was exacerbated by an additional problem. I began to experience panic attacks out of the blue. The very first attack was a nocturnal one that occurred just after I’d fallen asleep. I hadn’t even been struggling with any particular fearful theme at the time when the attack happened. I’d never heard of panic attacks so I immediately began to speculate as to what this event was all about: “Is something wrong with my heart? Am I about to die? Why did this happen? What is it? Does this mean I’m having a nervous breakdown – maybe even going crazy?”
Long story short, I began to experience numerous panic attacks every day and every night and eventually my “one topic fear” settled into: “What if this means I’m going insane.” Again, I refused to speak about any of this to anyone. I kept it all bottled inside, only crying out to God for help and relief, often for many a long and sleepless night huddled on my living room floor with a blanket thrown over my shoulders, Bible open reading and praying to my Father for answers and “HELP!!” Eventually my fear of going insane morphed into a fear of my harming one of my children because I might go insane and who knows what I’d be capable of if that happened. This was triggered by reading an article about a mother who had harmed her infant in a very disturbing way. All my childhood topics paled in comparison to this. Every waking moment was spent fighting off fearful thoughts, intrusive images and horrific doubts on this topic. My weight plummeted as the nausea I experienced in this period was so intense that food typically made me gag. If I slept at all it was only for very brief periods of maybe two to three hours. This topic lasted for several years and nearly turned me into a recluse because it was so hard for me to keep up the facade’ in public and doing so generally triggered excruciating panic attacks.
Eventually I learned that I had panic disorder and that knowledge enabled me to press through that difficult season. I learned about anxiety disorders and took up new lifestyle habits in order to keep the disorder under control and began to experience long seasons of relief, just as I’d experienced in my childhood where the fears were mostly tolerable.
Over the years I would still go through pain filled periods of “one topic fears”. Often these would be related to health themes, but at times the thoughts of doing harm would slide back into my daily life and I struggled to keep them at bay.
Fast forward again to just about eight years ago, just when I figured I had found a way to live with and tolerate the presence of anxiety in relation to these topics when out of the blue I’m dealing with a new and dreadful topic that seemed to dwarf all the others. I have a name for this topic, I call it “The Towering Terror.” I could have never imagined that after living so many years comforted, strengthened and carried by my relationship with Jesus Christ that I’d be questioning whether or not I was even a believer and even wondering if I was turning into an atheist. Words will always fall short of my being able to relate the dark and torturous place that this theme put me in. I wanted to die, but to die might have meant that I would be eternally separated from the very person who had not just given me life but sustained me and brought all meaning and purpose into my very existence. “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28 NIV) This, for me was the very meaning and essence of Hell.
It was during this very dark and excruciating period in my life that I finally gained the knowledge that what had been plaguing me from childhood right on up to the age of 50 had a name. It’s name was OCD and more specifically in my case: Purely Obsessional OCD or “Pure O”.
That discovery brought so much comfort to me and prompted me to learn all I could about the disorder in order to effectively manage it. Throughout that process I have met so many folk who share my disorder and even my exact “topics”. We can pretty much finish each others sentences when it comes to our experiences with Pure O.
I have discovered that in sharing about my experiences with Pure O that God has opened up doors for me to be a comfort and encouragement to others. Eventually I wrote about my journey in a book titled: “Strivings Within- The OCD Christian.” My own experience with this distressing disorder has taught me that there is nothing so comforting as finding just one other person who grasps what you are going through because they have experienced it themselves. God has used my OCD to teach me great and valuable lessons about His grace and strength. It would seem that I’m not the first one who needed to be taught this because the apostle Paul had to learn it too while he was going through his own journey of affliction. The Lord to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9 NIV) I have discovered that with God there is always a good purpose in affliction and that OCD is no exception to that rule. I take great joy in being able to come alongside others who share my disorder and minister to them as they navigate their way through the often excruciating experience of living with Pure O – OCD. I have made a decision to follow the counsel of scripture regarding my experience of suffering as guided by these verses: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
You literally just explained my life my fears every thing I was researching and I found your blog I can’t believe I’m not the only person like this. Wow.. Just wow.
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My only concern is this…I have felt this way since I was 11 or 12.. I am 30 now. I’ve never had that season of peace and love and just KNOWING Jesus is for sure my Savior. I went forward to pray when I was like 7, and again when I was 12. The very night I prayed when I was 12 I doubted my salvation. So I’ve never had the “joy of my salvation”–this is the number 1 reason I don’t ever truly think I’m saved…because I’ve never ever felt saved. And so many are quick to say “it’s not about a feeling”–but those same individuals will in casual conversation, talk about their feelings of inner peace, assurance etc.
Have you ever been diagnosed with OCD? OCD demands certainty/proof for it’s questions and doubts and it will make us search for evidence and reassurance or cause us to engage in behaviors or mental gymnastics with this notion that we need to obtain that final proof or feeling of certainty which we think will finally lay it all to rest. It’s very common to fixate on our emotions whether it’s a feeling or even non-feeling/numb feeling as the thing which might indicate that our fear/doubt might actually be true.
This happens with “Relationship OCD” too: “I not sure I really feel love for this person. I’m not sure I feel connected to them emotionally etc.” Since Christianity is a relationship based faith. the person with OCD will fixate on emotional proofs and evidences which they think will finally lay the whole matter to rest. But, it’s actually all that concern and the attention which we give to these matters which blocks our ability to just experience the natural outflow of emotions which other people get to feel in connection to their faith. It’s very disconcerting/troubling to us that we can’t seem to muster up the feelings about our faith that others have and the more we attend to this concern, the worst it will get.
With OCD any/all attending to the doubt, the thoughts etc. make them worst and make them seem more weighty, valid and legitimate. If you’ve been responding to this particular OCD theme in this way for a very long time it’s only natural that you wouldn’t feel your faith. And, of course, everyone is right that our feelings aren’t tantamount to truth, but what you are wanting is a way to find relief from the anxiety this produces in you because that’s just horribly painful.
So if you’ve never sought any kind of professional help for any of this, I would definitely look into that. You can start by going to “The International OCD Foundation” and if you like you can also read about my OCD by checking out my story on Amazon. Just search for “Mitzi VanCleve: Strivings Within/OCD” in Amazon and it should pop right up. Praying that the things you learn will lead you to the professional help which will alleviate your suffering. God Bless!
Your story is encouraging to me. I believe i may struggle with the same. I believe Jesus is my Savior and i love Him & desire to follow Him and be with Him, but I also doubt that i really do believe in Him & love Him. I keep losing sleep which keeps the anxiety going up. I miss the days when i felt so much joy in my salvation and felt so comforted by the love of God. I still feel His love but my mind keeps running back to “what if you don’t really believe in Him? He couldn’t possibly want anything to do with you.” I’m seeing a Christian counselor who has helped some and she does suggest other things besides just spiritual books, prayer, scripture, etc. But she has also suggested thought redirecting that sometimes helps me but also sometimes just worsens the anxiety and sends me in a spiral of an all day process of trying to redirect my thoughts. I love my counselor but I’m starting to wonder if maybe i do have OCD and if i should go see a OCD therapist. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
I see you’ve made your way into our FB support group Shelbi. I’m glad you’ve found that and hope that the group is helping you with all of this.