We human beings were created for touch. We were created to touch and to be touched. We were created for communion with each other, for relationship, for sisterhood and for brotherhood. Every single one of us ill prepared to travel this Earth alone.
So when something in us refuses to allow us to touch the world, to let it in or to let us out, the pain is deeper than emotional. It touches our souls. It stifles the journey we were created for. It can break us.
I don’t remember when my obsessive compulsive tendencies started. I don’t have typical hand-washing ocd, so that answer is likely lost in the confusing world of non-typical anxiety disorders. But I do surely remember obsessive tendencies as much as I remember anything from years past.
I remember the fears lurking in the back of my head, and I remember the intense desire to rid myself of them. The compulsions would sneak up on me, urging me to just check just one last time, to ask just one last question, to consider just one last scenario. Always promising that “one more time” would ease the anxiety and yet always finding that “just one more time” was never enough. I guess one more time is the biggest lie obsessive compulsive disorder has to offer us.
These anxieties created the most unusual backdrop to my life. I had a very happy, blessed, and loved existence. I didn’t want for much, least of all affection or support. But deep within the recesses of my own mind, I found demons that thirty-some years into my journey I still haven’t figured out how to completely tame.
I remember the first intrusive thought I had as an adult. And then the second and the third. I remember wondering why these thoughts popped into my head. I remember trying to get rid of them, but instead that only made them worse. And I remember the conclusion my mind came to.
I don’t want these thoughts. These are bad thoughts. I don’t purposefully think these thoughts. I don’t seek them out. So if they are there…
I must be broken.
I must be evil.
There must be a part of me very deep down that is so broken that it manifests itself in these horrible thoughts.
And if that was the case, well what if it got out? How can I be trusted?
The weird thing about OCD is that we know it’s weird. I know I’ve never lost touch with reality. I know I have never, for a single moment in my life, wished harm on someone. I know I would rather hurt myself in a million different ways than hurt another person in even one.
But OCD doesn’t listen to the truth. It doesn’t need to. It gets all the sustenance it needs from our fears. It has a hearty appetite.
And so I retreated. Very, very deep inside of myself. I decided that I would sacrifice myself for the safety of others. I would live a life without ever actually really touching the world. I would keep the malignancy in.
And the way I attempted to do this was by filling my brain with everything I possibly could, never allowing myself a moment’s rest. Instead of compulsively needing to check and recheck things, I began to compulsively need people around. Noise. Chaos. Commotion. Stimulation. Work or play, recreation or labor, it didn’t matter. I just needed the noises outside to be louder than the ones inside. I needed to dull myself; I needed to escape into a world that was bigger than I was.
Except when I couldn’t. Some days there just wasn’t enough noise. There wasn’t enough stimulation. Some days a hundred worlds wouldn’t be big enough to fill the terrifying space inside my head. And some days even if I could find enough to fill those holes, I was still too afraid to touch the world. And on those days, I did everything in my power to numb myself. To stop my brain. To allow absolutely nothing in, in an attempt to stop my brain from creating fear. I would turn out the lights. Close the shades. Keep off the television and the radio. Close the books. Close the world. If I couldn’t fill up my brain, then I would empty it. I would live in a vacuum of my own creating, trying to deny the one truly inalienable right we all have — the right to hear our own soul.
And as you can probably tell, this was all fairly pointless. For as much as we do and don’t understand about the mind, we know that it exists and that when we try to run from it, inevitably it will find us. At least it always found me.
For me, I spent years trying to hide from the world. I wasn’t afraid of touching people physically like many people with OCD are. I was afraid of touching them metaphysically. I worried that every part of me could hurt every part of them. I worried my words would be wrong and my actions could harm. Eventually it got to the point where I feared my very thoughts, stuck in an illogical world where I feared that harm could be brought about simply by random, intrusive thoughts that would pop into my head.
I loved so deeply, and because of that, I feared so very deeply. Always afraid to touch, always afraid my touch would create a ripple that could tear apart worlds.
But here’s the silly thing about love. No matter how much we fear it, and no matter how much we might push it away or deem ourselves unworthy of it, it doesn’t go away. We may convince ourselves that we are not up to the task of being loved, but it’s much, much harder to allow ourselves to live without giving our love.
And that’s what finally got through to me.
It was love that eventually broke those chains for me. It was love for those around me, for those who supported me, for those I cared about the most that eventually coerced me into getting help. I didn’t want my fear and my obsessions and my terror to keep me from experiencing all of the love and the hope that this world has to offer, and I surely didn’t want it to keep me from giving the love that I felt others so deeply deserved.
And so ever so cautiously I reached a hand out into the darkness, and by the grace and mercy of God, there was a hand at the other end that was willing to slowly help me let it all go.
I broke free. It was difficult, and terrifying, and raw, and tumultuous, but I kept my sight on love and hope and acceptance. And with that, because of that, I pulled myself, grudgingly, out of that hole. I pulled myself up and out and into the sunlight. It took determination and grit, unceasing support, perseverance, and no small amount of antidepressants and anxiety medication, but I did it. I started to let it go.
I would love to say that the writing of this story marks my happy ending. But there’s a reason that fairy tales are the only stories that end in happily ever after — it’s because life doesn’t work that way. We don’t face our demons, knock them out, and move on to clearer pastures.
No. In this life, we gather our strength. We face our demons. We push them down. We walk forward. And then we face them again. And again. And again. And then again and again and again we stand back up and we fight our best fight. Because in the end, we know it’s really the only option that we have.
And that brings me to where I am today. These stories aren’t easy for me to share. It’s hard to send my words out into the world when I know they will reach it before I do. It’s hard to sit here on my couch, in the comfort of my home, safe and secure, knowing that while I sit in here, a part of my soul is going out there. Into the world. Who will receive it? Will they be gentle? Will they be kind?
But the farther I get from those darkest of times and the more secure I get in my being, the more I feel compelled to share myself and my story. I hid who I was for so long and what I wanted for so long, afraid to touch the world, afraid to make a mark, that now I want to loudly and boldly claim what it is that I am and what it is that I have to offer.
I want to stand on my mountain, yelling out to the world, “This is me! I am messy. I am beautiful. I am okay.” As perfect as the veneers can often seem, something tells me that the messy in me matches the messy in others more accurately than the clean and tidy ever could.
Life can be brutal. Our fight can leave us broken and bloody and scarred and very unattractive. But here I am. And here you are. With life and with the messy, we can take it or leave it, hate it or love it. But this is me and that is you, and in all of our broken glory, our lives are our messages to the world. A billboard connecting one soul to another, the touch that reminds us that we are here and real and alive and worthy.
Sometimes I think loud and brave is the only way any of us can really thrive anyway. We can’t wait to share ourselves until we are perfect. Until we are beautiful. Until we believe we are worth it. Because life isn’t beautiful. It’s brutiful. And the most remarkable thing about it all is that when we reach out a hand into that darkness, someone will meet us. That is God’s grace. It’s what pulls us through. It’s what keeps us together. It’s what makes this whole journey possible.
It’s our rainbow. It’s our brutiful. It’s our truth.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
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