Saturday, July 31, 2010


I'm a fan of the musician Wesley Willis. He died in 2003 from cancer. He created unique, sometimes vulgar, music, to drive away the "demons" in his head. He had chronic schizophrenia. When he would go through a psychotic episode with the demons, he would call it a "warhellride." He also wrote a few touching songs about Jesus. I hope that he got to meet Him face to face.

I'm not schizophrenic, but I have had my own struggles with mental illness. It all started around the age of 15 or 16. I had a family history of anxiety attacks and depression. My older brother, Lindley, had frequent panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder. My mom had them too. I was no exception.

The first time I'd ever really read about OCD was in Teen Magazine. I'd heard of it and had a vague idea of what it was. I guess I was about 13 or 14 when I read this article, so this was around 1996. From what I understood, OCD sufferers usually had pretty obvious outward manifestations of it- compulsive handwashing, counting, checking, cleaning, etc. I had none of these. My OCD started small- I would get a funny feeling about a certain chair (a recliner) in the living room at my parents' house. I couldn't sit there - it was contaminated in some way. I couldn't take baths, only showers. I couldn't allow my body to sit in the same place as someone else's naked body (I still have a hard time doing this). Later, as I began to explore faith and re-discover the Christianity of my youth, these became religious obsessions.

At first, I didn't realize that what I had was OCD. I'd never heard of this type before. I had been studying the Bible verse in which Jesus discusses the "unforgiveable sin," which is mentioned in the synoptic gospels. I was certain I had commited this sin. I suddenly found images pushing their way into my head. It's hard for me to say out loud (or type) what these images were - that would make them seem more real to me- but let's just say they were very awful. Violent encounters between me and God/Jesus. Me cursing Him out, etc. You get the picture. These images and thoughts would play through my head over and over, as if I was watching a movie and someone kept skipping back to this scene and watching it over and over and over again...I would try to think other thoughts to push these obviously blasphemous thoughts from my mind, but to no avail. They were in my head all day, every day. There was no escape from my mind.

To atone for my sinful thoughts, I would often lock myself in my bedroom for hours, praying and reading the Bible. Every time the thought came into my head, I would beg God for forgiveness. Sometimes I would leave my room to watch TV, and then I would feel guilty that I wasn't praying/reading the Bible, and so I'd go back to my room.
The thoughts continued. They got worse, more graphic. I knew that my salvation was lost, that I was unforgiven, but I just had to let God know I was sorry, I didn't mean to have these thoughts. They were like a virus in my mind, one I couldn't seem to get rid of. I thought I was going crazy.

The thoughts became dreams. I'd lie in bed, late at night, thinking about hell, which is where I was certain I was going. I thought about how awful it would be. I wasn't sure if it would be "fire and brimstone," or just an awful place of lonliness and darkness. I'd dream about a fiery hell. At night sometimes, I wondered. If I was going to hell anyway, what was life here on Earth, but a delaying of the inevitable? I wondered if I should continue living, or if I should just bite the proverbial bullet and go ahead and get this eternity thing started (as if eternity would ever have an end). My life had become hell. I never was seriously suicidal. I never attempted suicide, but the thoughts did cross my mind.

One day, I was at school and I broke into tears in the middle of class. I think this was my junior year. My teacher sent me to the guidance counselor's office. The guidance counselor let me sit in her office and tell her what had been going on. Luckily, she was a PhD. When I explained it all to her, she said, "Oh, that just sounds like OCD."

What? I wasn't scrubbing my hands raw, flipping a light switch off and on, or anything like that. I didn't know that this was a form of OCD. It was called scrupulosity, and it's more common with Catholics, apparently, and I was raised Protestant. My counselor set me up with an appointment with a psychiatrist at her clinic and this was a great help to me. The thing that helped most of all was knowing I wasn't going crazy, others had suffered from this too. I wasn't alone. I think that was the worst feeling - feeling completely and utterly alone. That was hell to me.

So much has changed in the last twelve years or so. I still struggle with OCD, but it has gotten so much better. There are still little obsessions, but I've learned to live with them. The most important thing is that my faith has gotten stronger. God heard my cries in the dark. He never left my side. He loves me and I'm not scared about hell anymore. He was the One that was by my side the whole time. If not for Jesus, and the people He put in my life to save me, I think I may be dead by now.

A book that I discovered that was immensely helpful was The Doubting Disease: Help for Scrupulosity and Religious Compulsions by Joseph Ciarrocchi. I highly recommend it.

I guess I wrote this post to let others that may struggle with this know, It's OK. You're not alone. It's a disease. There is help. You never have to go it alone.

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