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Mind Games

By Emily I ~

Growing up with OCD while duly growing up Christian, often times was far from a positive, symbiotic experience. Before I delve too deeply into this paper, I do want to mention that I have nothing against the religion of Christianity. I am forever grateful that my family introduced me to it, and have gained so much insight and love from its teachings. However, with that being said, I am going to be discussing how I personally struggled with my illness and the ways Christianity hindered me throughout dealing with it. I am not resentful, I am only trying to explain why I feel the way I do. That does not mean that every person who has the same illness as I do hasn’t experienced positive impacts from religion.

Despite my illness, I have struggled with the same things regarding religion that any logical person has before. Why are we to love thy neighbor and worship a loving God, but if we do not, us and his enemies are condemned to hell? Why did Jesus decide to save us years and upon years after humans had already existed? Why is Christianity the correct religion when it echoes the same exact preface of hundreds of religions that came before? Not to mention, I was never able to solely agree on every aspect of the bible without feeling immoral. How can I not love my gay neighbors? I understand that I am not supposed to judge, but how could a loving God call love a sin? Being a scientific-natured person at heart, and being as stubbornly critical of a person that I am, could be to blame for the views I have today, but there is a lifetime of struggles that also have lead me to become an who I am.

Since I could remember, I have struggled with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety. This doesn’t mean I was just obsessed with being a perfectionist, washing my hands, and being organized, (sure they were byproducts of the illness), but more I would be in bed frozen and screaming, locked in a prolonged panic attack all the while being plagued by gruesome, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts. I remember in 3rd grade I was so afraid of becoming sick, that I starved myself for the next month in fear of throwing up. I know deep down these thoughts are illogical, exaggerated, and overbearing, but the illness suppresses all logic and drives me to act on my thought processes. I think the biggest damper OCD put on my well being was how much guilt that came with having it. Any disturbing thoughts I had, (most often entirely false without any parallel to who I was as a person), I thought was my own doing, my fault, and made me a disgusting person. The compulsive, obsessive thoughts would linger and continue to play over in my head like a broken record until I spoke of them to another person such as a family member. That was probably the hardest part…coming out with these horrifying thoughts. Having validation that they were not true however, was therapeutic, and seemed like the only way I could rid myself of them. This led my concerned family to take me to countless therapists over the next several years of my life. I was given so many helpful tools. I was put on medication about 4 years ago and was told I would most likely be on them for life.

“OCD never goes away, but it can be managed through lifestyle changes, and constant practice,” I was told.

For a young child, this obviously was a lot to take. I was sent to numerous religious summer camps and never really was able to open up to anyone about my illness. I still do not today, but that’s mostly because I feel like people will not understand, and it’s such a sensitive topic to me. I remember countless nights that my mom would pray for me while I was going through an episode. I would pray to God to take my pain away, sometimes angry and resentful that he had given me such a difficult burden in the first place. Over and over I was told the same thing, to trust God had a plan and to accept that things were this way for a reason and that struggling with my mental illness would make me a stronger person… It has, but not due to any sort of religious reason. I think a big reason that religion, and the very nature of OCD, did not get along, was because religion and OCD are very similar. With OCD, I would perform rituals in order to “rid myself of sinful, intrusive thoughts.” They sound silly, but to me, they were my only escape if I performed them perfectly. With Christianity, there are obvious rituals you perform with expectations of a certain result. Time and time again, with OCD, and similarly prayer, there were no definite, positive outcomes. The whole thing seemed helpless. I had no power. I had no power over my own mind. That was the big driving force that lead me to make a decision that would change my life forever.

In college, as many do, I grew very far from Christianity. I was exposed to people with the same questions that I had, who had been through my similar struggles. In college, mental illness is something that is spoken about more, which really helped me to relate to others and let go a lot of my guilt. The moment I decided that religion and I really didn’t get along, was the moment I felt like I had so much more power and control over my life. I felt as though I could think freely without any repercussions. God wouldn’t come down and smite me for doing or thinking this and that. I realized that my compulsive thoughts didn’t hold a lot of water. They were all frivolous really, even if they seemed so intense at the time. Today I still do struggle with OCD, but my episodes are 100 times less frequent. I have taken my life into my own hand and make decisions for myself. I know that I don’t need a religion to dictate my decisions, or to make me a good person. In fact, I feel like a more humble person for doing good for others without a religious reason driving my actions. Today I am a scientist, who is always searching for truth. I think that I have found that truth in myself.