Kristiana’s OCD Story
“You do not deserve to have your life robbed by OCD anymore.”
OCD popped up in many areas of my life from the time I was a young child. The things OCD made me do seemed natural at a young age. Growing up, everyone in my family knew there was something particular about me, however nobody ever suspected it could be related to this disorder. By the time I was in sixth grade I was giving hours of my time to cleaning and organizing, suffering from graphic and violent intrusive thoughts, and just displaying abnormal behavior. Having no idea what was happening and feeling panicked, I was in and out of the hospital due to heavy breathing and chest pains that made me think I was dying. After discovering I was suffering from panic attacks, the journey to find a therapist began. After multiple forced visits by my mom to dimly lit offices I had no intention of being in, I decided that therapy was a waste of my time. I would much rather live my life giving countless hours to my compulsions and feeling safe. However, as anyone with OCD knows, this feeling of safety is quite fleeting, as I discovered more and more as I got older.
The years leading up to Gateway were confusing, messy, and chaotic. High school is when things began to get increasingly difficult. As OCD had morphed and taken different shapes throughout my life, it continued to do so in my teen years. I began to suffer from extreme “just right”, perfectionism, counting, and contamination related compulsions. I would stay awake until 3 in the morning making sure my surroundings were perfect and found it increasingly difficult to make it to school on time – or even at all. My attendance became alarmingly low and I spent all of my time at home making sure my surroundings and physical appearance were perfect. On some days my mom would force me to go to school, but I was too tired from the rituals the night before. I would drive my car to parks and sleep in random parking lots, because I just couldn’t function in school and was deprived of sleep. OCD ate up all of my time, and quickly began to take main focus and priority over all things in my life including friendships, family, school, and hobbies. Nothing mattered as much as my peace of mind did. For a while, I thought that’s what my OCD gave to me.
Trying to seek peace of mind through carrying out rituals only made me spiral downward even faster. After (barely) graduating high school I had to pull out of my college classes because they ate up too much time that I needed to complete OCD compulsions. I didn’t see a point in living if I wasn’t happy, and completing rituals was what made me happy and temporarily satisfied. At this point in time I was spending all of my money completing compulsions and driving sometimes to 5 or 6 different locations of a store in the same day to find the right pair of sheets or the right thing for my room or makeup collection. It consumed my life. I began to live in a distorted reality and this is when things began to get really scary. I knew something was really wrong when suddenly I had to drive past a certain building multiple times to feel calmed from my anxiety. I had a liking of odd numbers so if I wasn’t able to find what I was looking for on my fourth trip to a store, I would drive to a fifth location to a store just to walk in and out to land on an odd number. Although it seemed silly in context, there is no accurate way to describe what going through this feels like, unless you have. And to those who have, you are not alone in feeling like it is the most real thing in the world.
By then, nothing felt okay anymore. My OCD was impossible to satisfy. I was planning my work schedule around when to do laundry and would call out if I had compulsions to complete. This began to make me feel like a really bad person, and I felt selfish and sad, but prompted to obey my OCD. Eventually it got to the point where I wasn’t able to do my own laundry, make my bed, clean my room or even eventually shower because I could never get it “right”. All along I was trying so hard to get things “right” that by the time my OCD had progressed this far, I realized there was no getting it right. It just wasn’t going to happen anymore. Countless hours and efforts never amounted to anything in the end, and all of my options of safety and peace were running out.
By then I became extremely depressed, realizing that I would never have a day in my life that I would wake up feeling like there wasn’t anything I had to do. So, I decided to not to anything. Seeing this, my mom began looking heavily into treatment for me and I was seeing a therapist once a wee. However, weekly visits were just not enough to keep up with the pace that my OCD was running at. I came across Gateway online while searching for treatment options in my state. I was surprised to find out that they were located in a neighboring state but offered an OCD intensive treatment program to out of state residents. I filled out the online questionnaire to be used for evaluation and quickly received a voicemail from Brad Wilson to set up a time for a consultation. I remember the day of my consultation. I was out at a store and very trapped in rituals, I was even trying to coordinate my phone call with Brad around my OCD. Thinking back to that phone call to this day still gives me peace. It was the first time I felt heard. Brad made me aware that he too suffered from OCD, and had been through the intensive treatment program they offered. He told me about how it changed his life. His calm voice made me feel centered and safe. From then on, my mom was able to coordinate with Jim Sterner, the founder of The Gateway Institute, who worked relentlessly with our insurance to help us get some of the treatment covered. I picked a day to begin the three-week treatment program and the waiting began. Every day was a test of just making it through and surviving. I spent many of those days in bed wondering how I would even make it to California or survive once I was there. At this point I considered everything to be contaminated and couldn’t even touch my own face without having to wash my hands. Every single thing became a trigger in some way. My mindset at this point in time was very altered, and quite frankly scary. It felt like I was living in a different reality. I was so, completely trapped and at the hands of my OCD. Brad was kind enough to talk to me over the phone to help me stay afloat during the weeks leading up to my treatment at Gateway. He told me to think of them as an island, saying that if I could just keep my head above water until I got there, I would know peace. He was so, so right.
By the time I arrived at gateway my OCD had control over my showering, eating, using the restroom, and ability to function. I truly believe that if you aren’t treating your OCD, you are allowing it to get worse. I was lucky to be able to undergo the intensive with Chris, however I got to know all of the staff pretty well and felt every single persons support. First of all, hearing Chris’ story changed my life. It was the first time I ever felt like there was somebody else out there like me. Chris sharing his story with me and seeing how far he had come gave me incredible peace and hope. Finally, I knew I was in the right place.
The first thing I learned at Gateway was how to separate myself from my OCD. That in itself was life changing. Learning that I was not my OCD gave me back the confidence and love for myself I had been missing for so long. We then began to utilize a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention, which basically entails things called “exposures.” These exposures, tailored to you, are meant to put you face to face with the things that you fear. Treatment at Gateway was not easy. However, I feel so extremely lucky that there is a treatment for this mental illness and that it is proven to work. That in it was a constant reminder to keep pushing. After treatment, I would come back with headaches and feeling exhausted, but I knew that it meant I was working against my OCD, and that made me happy. Jim, Chris, and Brad all helped me to see my anxiety in a new way. Brad and Chris were amazing at empathizing because they had both been through treatment and Jim was extremely supportive and uplifting, and also incredibly knowledgeable. The three of them made me realize that the price I had to pay to get my life back was ultimately worth it. I began to see anxiety as an accomplishment, as it meant I was gaining parts of my life back. By the third day in treatment I was already opening doors with my hands, which I was previously opening with my feet or elbow.
The thing I loved about treatment was that it was so tailored to me. Chris was always with me while doing exposures but he knew when to slow down and when to push me. Chris along with the others were there 24/7 during my stay and were readily available through text or call. I feel this was a key ingredient in the treatment working. Their continuous support left me with little to no questions. Once a treatment plan was laid out I knew what I had to do and if I had any questions arise they were settled very quickly. The support group was another thing that really helped with treatment. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people like myself in a safe space. Their continuous support and encouragement was just another reason for me to keep pushing. It was also amazing seeing people who had gone through the treatment and could speak to its ability to transform lives.
By the end of my three weeks at Gateway, my life was already so different. I had accomplished many things with Chris that I never though I would, and had many breakthrough moments that I still think back on to this day. However, the road to recovery is not always a straight or clear one. During my 6-week aftercare program, the people at Gateway helped me keep on the right track, even from a state away. Being at home was hard and there were a few times that I felt I couldn’t do it, but I had some great phone calls with Chris that really changed the game for me. He was amazing at helping me realize what I was doing with my life, and how no exposure could be worse than continuing to live with OCD. Him and the others gave me the courage to fight. Even after the 6 weeks, they continued to support me and with that, I was able to make so many breakthroughs. My life at home is a whole lot different now than it was before I went to Gateway. Once I left it wasn’t like once I left I was out of sight, out of mind. They continued to care and be there for me and for that, I am forever grateful. They never gave up on me.
I will say that recovery isn’t easy. It’s probably the hardest thing anyone can go through. Having OCD is scary but NOT actively engaging in it, well, that is terrifying too. The thing I learned is that the confidence comes. Even if you don’t feel ready for treatment, you do it in order to better your life, and the benefits come after the pain. The pain may be there, but the overwhelming amount of freedom you can reach is just so incomprehensible. It is worth it. Any turbulence on the road to recovery is worth it. I encourage anyone with OCD to reach out. You are not alone and you are not wrong. OCD doesn’t have to?make sense, it certainly didn’t for me, but there are people that will understand that and you. To those able to do so, I strongly recommend choosing Gateway as a place of treatment. The Gateway Institute changed my life. I know how hard it can be but even the little improvements can fill your life with so much joy, and everyone deserves that. You do not deserve to have your life robbed by OCD anymore. Let the people at Gateway help you realize what happiness again, like they did for me. Thank you so much to Gateway. Spending those three weeks with you was a life changing experience, which I will value for the rest of my days to come.