This is Rachel's Story.
I'm Rachel; I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Ever since I can remember, I have been a very cautious person, even at a young age. I can remember being eight years old and checking every night before bed to make sure all the doors in my house were locked so my family was safe. If once was not enough, I would check a second time, or maybe even a third if it was bothering me. I also started developing a prayer routine at night, which I believed would keep my loved ones safe. I felt I had to say my family members' names out loud and repeat the prayer three times. With so many rules and restrictions, I could not complete the prayer "perfectly" no matter how hard I tried. I can remember running into my parent's bedroom in tears due to my constant fear of something happening to them if the prayer was not completed perfectly. My parents often disregarded this behaviour as a quirk; no one in my family ever talked about mental health or suffered openly. OCD and anxiety never crossed my parent's minds until my symptoms became stronger and more constant in my life, and it became a daily struggle to get out of bed in the morning.
I was clinically diagnosed when I was 12 years old. During this time I believe my OCD and anxiety were brought out due to multiple stressors in my life. I was entering a new sport at the time with new people, I had previously ended friendships with close friends and was looking for a new social circle, and on top of that, entering puberty heightened my hormones and my desire to fit in when I felt like I stood out. Living in constant fear of what people thought of me, I also developed intrusive thoughts. For anyone who doesn't know, intrusive thoughts are repeated, persistent and unwanted thoughts, urges, or intrusive images that cause anxiety or distress. You might try to ignore them or get rid of them by performing a compulsive behaviour or ritual. Some thoughts that crossed my mind were my parents getting sick and dying, getting hit by a car if I left my house, and harming myself or others. I would often go to my parents for reassurance that I was a good person and that everything would be ok.
As these thoughts kept entering my head, I began having panic attacks at random times. All I can remember was the feeling of my heart racing and not being able to breathe. I thought I was dying. Finally, it got to a point where I couldn't take it anymore. My parents took me to the emergency room multiple times and, after the third visit, I met with a psychiatrist who explained what OCD was and how it corresponded with anxiety. What I was experiencing was completely normal for people who struggled with anxiety. From then on, I sought help through counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and have become a master of my mind since then.
One of the best tips I learned in therapy is that thoughts are just thoughts. Not everything you think is real or accurately depicts who you are. You create your reality by what you choose to believe, and you can change your life if you change your thoughts. It sounds cheesy, but it's so true.
I started to tell myself that these thoughts are just thoughts. Let them enter your mind, then let them leave; they are of no importance. This helped a lot. I could differentiate which thoughts were my OCD so I could be counteractive with which ideas I chose to believe and which ones I did not.
Meditation has also drastically changed my life, bringing attention to my breath, repeating a mantra, or focusing on imagery via guided meditation. When you focus on something else, you may push out obsessive thoughts and compulsive tendencies. For example, instead of worrying if you lock the door, you might turn your attention to your breath. I meditate every day to observe my thoughts and be present with them.
I am proof that you can live life and take back control. I developed my greatest strength to control my thoughts from my darkest time. Of course, it is still a daily struggle, especially in university; there are good days and bad, but I know I can take control. Without my amazing family and support system, I wouldn't be where I am. This is why I love Cam’s Kids so much; I can make a difference for those who are struggling and offer support so others can get back to living their best lives.
The best piece of advice I could give to someone struggling with OCD or anxiety is that you are never alone. So many people love and support you; you are so much more than your mental illness. Tell somebody you care about what you're going through so they can help take the weight off, or if you do not feel comfortable, there are resources out there available. Remember: you are in control of your mind, not your thoughts.