It is a difficult thing to grow up with an Anxiety Disorder, especially when you don’t know what it is.
I can trace my earliest fears back to when I was six years old – being afraid of the Devil, and that he might be out to get me. My mother put it down to a vibrant imagination. If I saw something scary on TV, it would be imprinted on my mind. I’d wake up at night and lie in bed terrified, imagining the TV creature hovering just out of sight in the darkness.
Sure, all children get magical thoughts about monsters under their bed, but the difference with me was those kind of thoughts didn’t go away as I got older. They changed in theme, but the fear was the same.
As a teenager, the fear and anxiety were about disease and death.
You name the disease, I imagined I had it at some point – heart problems, TB, cancer, a brain tumour, bird flu, SARS…I had them all…in my head. (I did get Malaria once, but, ironically, didn’t think I had it).
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I recall times of sitting on my bed lost in thought and suddenly thinking: “One day I will be dead, my current reality will be no more!” Panic would surge through my body and I’d have to get up and run. The fight or flight response was so intense I had to react.
There were times I thought the world would end. I would sit around thinking at any moment an asteroid could smash into the earth and eradicate life and there was nothing we could do about it.
The strange thing was a part of me could rationalise that these thoughts were improbable and not based in reality, but it didn’t stop them from coming and from causing me anxiety.
It was in college, as I’ve spoken about before, when I had my first severe onset of OCD.
I was hit by the classic themes typically linked to Primarily Obsessional OCD: fear of doing something violent or sexually inappropriate, fears of going crazy, and intrusive mental images and thoughts.
Thankfully, this was at its worst for two weeks in my second year at Varsity, but then eased and slowly became more manageable over time. It wasn’t a constant thing.
And finally, that brings me to today, recovering from my second severe episode of OCD.
I’m trying to paint a picture here. A large portion of my life has been controlled by fear.
And perhaps all of the fears I’ve mentioned can be underpinned by one primary fear. The fear that I am not good enough. The fear that there is something wrong with me. Maybe Seb is not a good guy.
Perhaps you can relate to this, but I’ve struggled to trust my own choices and decisions. I put on a strong front, pretending to be convicted of what I believe, but at my core I am incredibly insecure, afraid I may have made the wrong call on an issue.
The last eight months or so have been a painful transitioning period. Huge changes and upheavals have taken place in my life, but ultimately all I’ve gone through has helped me to “grow up.” It has been a journey of discovering what it means to be “a man.” A real man. We hear about machismo and bravado, but masculinity is not about power.
And courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is a choice.
“Yes, Seb.” You might say. “That’s all well and good. But OCD and Anxiety are not rational. You can’t choose to not have them.”
No I can’t. But I can choose how I respond to them. I inform myself about them, admit and accept that I have them, and learn how to live with them.
I actively choose not to let my fears govern my life. There is a point of maturity, which I like to believe I have reached, where you can look your fears in the eye and say, “Do your worst but in the end I will still be standing.”
This is not to say I am “cured” or I am not affected by my fears, but that I have let go. I’ve let go of being afraid. I’ve let go of security. I’ve let go of certainty. Because what can we be certain about?
And I’ve learnt to be kind to myself. To trust God and to trust His Love. There was a time when I was even afraid of God. My beliefs rooted in the fear of hell and judgement.
My sufferings have shown me what I believe to be a profound human truth.
We are all broken. This has led me to be kinder to myself and less judgmental of others. As a result, I feel I have been able to accept my own brokenness and to fall onto God.
For those who are not religious, I must apologise, but I cannot remove God from the story of my recovery. He is intrinsically woven into the fabric of my journey.
Growing up in fear has meant I’ve had to face myself.
I’ve had to examine my own humanity and who I am. I have been forced to ask myself the hardest questions and be brutally honest with the answers. And so, I am thankful for my sufferings because in some ways, they have grown me into who I am. And I am starting to like who I am, and I am starting to trust who I am. Because my battle scars are a sign that I have lived and learned.
And now, I choose to step out and face the world and say, “I am not afraid. Here I am.”
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