I was 26 years old when I finally came to grips with my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and decided to seek professional help. For years, I had been struggling. Some days I felt fine. Other times, I grappled with obsessive thoughts and compulsions that sapped my energy and concentration from morning to night.
Even on the worst of days, though, I kept my OCD a secret. After all, it wasn’t a physical ailment that required a doctor’s attention; it was a private, mental struggle that I believed I should be strong enough to overcome in silence.
That all changed on a bright summer morning. As I waited at a stoplight on my way to work, I remember looking at the red light in front of me and thinking, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep going to work and coming home, day after day, pretending everything is okay.”
What I wanted to do that morning was turn my car around, drive back home and dive back into bed. My OCD had reached crisis level, and I was mentally and physically worn out.
What I did instead was continue on to work and confide in my boss that I desperately needed help. While she was surprised, she was also extremely compassionate and understanding. Immediately, she lent me her office and made sure I understood how to utilize the Employee Assistance Program that serviced our organization.
And that’s precisely what I did – I took advantage of a health benefit that I had never imagined myself using. With some nervousness, I dialed the 1-800 number associated with my employer’s EAP, and I started on a path toward mental wellness.
Twenty-five years later, I’m happy (and grateful) to share that my OCD is well under control. Keeping it in check requires daily medication and occasional therapy, but that’s a small price to pay for living a happy, healthy life that is free of the symptoms that plagued me throughout my adolescence and into my 20s.
Over the years I have learned not to be ashamed of my OCD or hesitant to discuss it with others or ask for professional help when I need it. Rather than some sort of “weakness,” it’s a disability that is rooted in a chemical imbalance of the brain. Thankfully, the daily medication I take addresses that imbalance.
Managing my OCD has also taught me a powerful life lesson: disabilities and disorders are not always evident to the naked eye, and you never know for sure what someone else is going through. The best thing any of us can do to help one another through difficult times is what my former boss did 25 years ago: respond with true compassion and understanding.