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Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
I was twelve years old when OCD introduced itself into my life. There may have been warning signs, clues hinting at the disorder as it lay lurking beneath the surface of my mind; however, it wasn’t until seventh grade that obsession and compulsion became a real presence in my everyday life.
I realized something wasn’t “normal” after a concerned teacher asked me about my cracked and bleeding hands, their skin dried out from hours of standing over the bathroom sink at home while I worried about invisible armies of germs I was certain were there.
To this day, causing me to question my relationship with God has been one of the cruelest things OCD has done to me.
This illness isn’t malevolent, but its effects are certainly painful at times, emotionally and physically. At twelve years old, I had come to fear Him and His presence in my life. My obsessive thoughts convinced me that God was somehow behind my compulsions, taunting me and daring me to get something wrong.
I began to fear that if I didn’t adjust my window blinds exactly so, He would punish me, by either striking at me directly or even worse, at someone I cared about.
You can imagine how huge and overwhelming these worries were in the mind of a middle school student—how insignificant my latest math assignment then became. I was obsessed with my religious identity, and completely convinced my continued existence on this earth depended on my ability to please God through my rituals and perfection in them.
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Should I fail in any way or displease Him, He would immediately let his disappointment be known; at least, that’s what I thought.
It reached the point where I spent hours reciting prayers over and over again in my head, creating and memorizing the words. If I faltered or stumbled over any part of my mental soliloquy, I would be forced to start over again from the beginning, while simultaneously panicking, and begging God not to render me instantly blind, deaf, mute, etc.
While I eventually learned with the help of a therapist that my thoughts and actions were symptoms of OCD and not actually the direct commands of a vengeful God, my spiritual identity had been fractured. I felt resentful towards all religion and actually spent a few years convincing myself I was an atheist.
Simply put, while deep down I knew my illness was to blame, I figured what I didn’t believe in couldn’t hurt me—even if it meant not believing in God.
Now, even more years have passed, and I have reached a point of spiritual contentedness and calm.
While I no longer identify with any one organized religion, I do hold an unwavering faith in God, and now know the only powers He holds over me are those of love and healing. He does not seek to hurt me or reprimand me for things I cannot control, and He is always there to forgive and guide me even when I’ve faltered.
Mental illness may threaten different parts of my well being at different times, but it is my faith in God’s plan that keeps me strong while on my journey to recovery. I have witnessed, many times over, the ways by which God acts through us for good, and I no longer fear those acts or question their intention within me.
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