In The Beginning
"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in."
In the beginning...
Summer was here, that glorious time when school was a distant memory and endless days of sun and sand lay ahead: September and the return to books and rules, a vague discomfort somewhere over the horizon. At 10 years old I was the oldest of the summer kids; the children of several families who's vacations would overlap. Summer friends. We spent those slow summer days doing those things that children do. Exploring the beach and the woods, building forts and tree houses and swimming: always swimming. Swimming in the cold waters of the big lake until the chill became too much, we would run back up the beach to burrow into the hot sand. The sand warming from below the sun from above, a cocoon of warmth that soon drove the chill from our bodies. You could feel the water evaporate from your body in the wind with a shiver. At times you would feel the sting of sand kicked along by the wind. Always wind and always the sound of wind, the waves rolling on shore, the leaves in the birches and the ash trees playing harmony: The cries of the gulls as they slid on the currents of air, a counterpoint. Running back into the water our yells joined those of the gulls. Perfect memories.
In the late afternoon we would climb the steps from the beach to the house. Along this part of the shore time and wind had piled sand into dunes that had gradually been grown over. Cedar, pine and ash roots held the banks in place. The few houses along the shore were built at the top. Up above was a different world of woods and fields with postcard views of the lake. Changing from our swim suits into our clothes we would feel that wonderful feeling of cloth against our skin, that one feels after a day of running in the wind on the sand and playing in the water. A warm feeling of comfort, safety, and contentment.
It began during one such day. It was after dinner, I was still feeling that secure comfortable feeling of my clothing. I was sitting on the hearth, in front of the fire, toasting marshmallows. The adults were behind me talking about whatever it is that adults talked about as I watched the marshmallows turn a golden brown and did my best to keep them from catching fire while thinking about the almost too sweet taste. Life was good, I was happy and the world was full of possibilities and then, in one brief moment the world changed, one of the adults behind me made a comment to me. They said, "You look like Satan sitting there." It was an innocent comment and funny at the time, the marshmallow fork did indeed look like a small pitchfork. As I sat there watching the toasting marshmallows and the fire I started to think a little about Satan and hell and eternity. At that moment, for the first time in my life, I felt the cold frozen feeling of the beginning of an obsession. I didn't know what it was but as I sat there contemplating eternity, an eternity in hell, I felt that fear, that living fear, which was to become my constant companion. It started small, Hell is a frightening thing to think of, and I thought about all those things the nun's had taught me about hell. And then I started thinking about eternity. Eternity, on and on with no end, forever, that thought was even more frightening. No end? I couldn't get a handle on that, I couldn't understand it and it terrified me. Then I started thinking about heaven and eternity and I felt the same fear. The fear grew as I thought, "What if I went to hell and my mother didn't?" Or if someone I loved went to hell and I went to heaven? Within minutes my safe secure world was gone and I was trapped in this nightmare that I couldn't find my way out of. The thoughts just kept going around and around. I didn't sleep that night, I couldn't. The next day was another beautiful summer day, just like the day before, and I did all the things we did on those summer days, but the thoughts were there. I could push them back while playing but if I stopped for even a moment, I could feel the cold of the fear. That night, as I lay in bed, the nightmare was alive and growing. I could not stop the thoughts and that frightened me. That became the pattern of my life; I would be Ok during the day but was always in this shadow, at night as I lay in bed the terror took over. Soon I began to fear going to bed. Eventually I was able to find some relief, momentary and fleeting, in going to church and to confession. Though now I feared heaven as much as hell. If I had no choice about eternity, I thought, then better heaven then hell. Night after night I prayed the rosary. If I didn't pray I would not get to sleep. I had to be good enough to get to heaven. I tried, for endless hours to think my way out, to use logic but those concepts were too big, too imperfectly understood by my 10-year-old mind for that to work but I found comfort in trying. Trying to think my way clear became part of the ritual. Prayer and thinking, night after night and filled with a fear that even then I knew was not normal. That something was wrong, that something was wrong with me. I couldn't bring myself to talk with anyone and suffered this alone and in silence. If only I could think the right thoughts I would be Ok. After a full year of this it stopped as suddenly as it had started.
That is my first clear experience with what I would learn decades later was OCD. It would return and go again several times over the next few years, sometimes it was the same and sometimes it was other thoughts but always with this cold deadly anxiety. Today those ruminative, primarily obsessional, type problems still come and go. The OCD I live with now is, for the most part, the classic contamination/washing type and that is always with me. My OCD is severe and so far treatment has not been successful in reducing my symptoms to any great degree, though I continue to try and do have hope. But the knowledge that these strange thoughts that I can't get rid of are OCD, that it is something has been a great help. And knowing that I am not alone with this disorder has been a wonderful source of comfort.
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Always consult a trained mental health professional before making any decision regarding treatment choice or changes in your treatment. Never discontinue treatment or medication without first consulting your physician, clinician or therapist.
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Tracy, N. (2009, January 9). In The Beginning, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/ocd-related-disorders/articles/my-first-ocd-experience