the Light and the Dark
Sometimes I can’t believe that I actually made it through college. It has nothing to do with myself as a student. I actually made the dean’s list semester after semester, eventually graduating with honors.
The reason I can’t believe I graduated or even went to college at all is my damning, irrational fear of contamination. It was unbelievably difficult for me to move about the campus with literally thousands of other people.
I tried living in the dorms. It worked successfully at my second university, the one I transferred to sophomore year, for about a semester. My roommate was great. She was a kind, intelligent, and very clean girl and I didn’t mind her at all. It was when I heard girls down the hall talking about everyone getting sick, the illness seemingly spreading from one dorm room to the next that I finally decided dorm life was and never would be for me. I moved out Christmas break and have been living with my boyfriend, in a quaint, yet impeccably kept apartment ever since.
There were days that I struggled to get myself motivated to go to class. It was the fear, rather than laziness or sleepiness that kept me away. I couldn’t make myself face the unseen demon: contamination.
Going to class was in itself an ordeal. There was never a time that I was late, when I went, which was honestly not as often as I would have liked. I had to make sure that I got MY seat. MY seat was usually the one on one of the extremes of the room and always at the end, never in the middle. I had to be sure that I could make a quick getaway if anyone was to become “ill” in class or if I became too overwhelmed, which was difficult because I was overwhelmed as soon as I walked through the doors.
I used and still use several coping mechanisms to deal with those times when I cannot avoid being near potentially contagious people. I find that hiding behind my hair, head slightly bent down works well to create a feeling of escape, for a few moments at least. My mouth usually becomes tightly sealed, making it a chore breathing solely through my nose. While walking anywhere, I feel the need to wear a coat or a jacket because the compulsion to tightly clench my fists, embedding my nails into my palms is just too strong. I don’t want people to see me doing this; hence I hide them in coat or jacket pockets. I indulged in these routines to extreme degrees when I went to class. I was far too tense the entire time and usually came home sore, weak, and with a headache.
My daily walk to campus usually took me by the counseling services center. I looked at it daily, somewhat longingly, somewhat fearful, and for some stupid reason, embarrassingly. I didn’t want there to be anything “wrong” with me, but I knew the things I was feeling just weren’t right. Everyone around me at least seemed happy and carefree and seemed to care less if they got sick. I, however, had these ridiculous and irrational thoughts of contamination on my mind nonstop. It got to the point where it was ruining my life.
After one particularly terrifying, life-altering episode involving my potential exposure to a “stomach virus,” I made a phone call to the counseling services center and scheduled an appointment with a therapist.
Holy cow was I nervous for that first appointment! I had never met a psychologist before in my life and was honestly terrified of the whole experience, but as soon as I stepped into her office, my fears subsided. She was a friendly woman, who genuinely cared for my needs. She asked me several, personal questions that I answered with no problem. When it came to describing my fear, however, I had to write it on a piece of paper. I can’t even say the word. I fear that if I say it or even see it written that it will become a part of my life. For the sake of understanding this blog, I will write the word: vomit.
It is my biggest fear. I fear this normal, bodily function more than anything in the world, even more than death. In fact, I even told this to the psychologist. It seems that the things I told her must have been especially troublesome because she immediately had me schedule an appointment with the psychiatrist because she didn’t feel qualified to help me.
Weeks later, I met for the first time with a psychiatrist. He was also very kind and knowledgeable. He asked me questions too. He made many puzzling faces throughout, but finally, he smiled. “Megan, do you sometimes feel the need to perform a behavior that you can’t explain the reasoning behind?” I didn’t know what he was referring to at first, but he continued. “I have heard people saying that they breathe a certain way, or touch their hair in a certain way as a means for relieving some of these intense urges, compulsions.” It hit me then. He’s describing me! I told him that yes, I did and I told him some of these routines that I performed daily, such as intense hand washing, taking a shower immediately when I return home, and never eating anything with my hands, fist clenching, and symmetrical touching.
The session came to an end and he told me that he strongly felt he knew where my symptoms came from: OCD. He told me all about the disorder, the symptoms, what can be done to relieve them, and the biological components of the disorder. I shook his hand, left, and made a second appointment at the front desk. The second appointment would be my introduction into therapy and medication.
I remember leaving the center after that appointment quite well. Almost as soon as I left through the heavy, metal doors, the sun warming the top of my golden hair, I began to cry. I was not sad. Quite the opposite in fact! I was absolutely elated at the diagnosis. Finally, there was a name for why I did the things I did. A lifetime of intense stress and worry was relieved a bit because of those three words: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For the first time in a long time, I unclenched my lips in a public place and just breathed.