I’ve never told anyone some of what you’re about to read except a few friends and family members. I write to give glory to God and to help anyone who suffers with this bully we call OCD. There’s something inside that tells me I ought to be embarrassed, though God taught me long ago that being open about my weaknesses accomplishes more than if I talk about my strengths. And besides, I’m free! OCD doesn’t master me anymore (Romans 6:14). So this is a testimony, not a confession.

As early as I can remember, I struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My earliest memories date back to when I was 5-years-old. I had several ticks, but none more annoying and obvious than my habit of clearing my sinuses with an awful grunting sound. Much to the disdain of parents and extended family, I would do it constantly. I couldn’t seem to stop! I was obsessed with keeping my nasal passages clear.

When I was 9-years-old, the movie The Exorcist was showing on network TV, and my parents let me watch it (which they now regret!). This plunged me into a two-year battle with the fear of being possessed by a demon. The night I watched the movie, I couldn’t sleep, paralyzed with fear. As we were Catholics at the time, I grabbed my rosary and prayed every bead! This seemed to help a little. Though my family was converted to evangelical Christianity not long after this, I continued to struggle with the fear of being demon-possessed. It was so strong that, when I began to read the Bible, I wouldn’t read passages about demon-possessed people. How this fear was broken I don’t remember exactly—it was likely through the encouragement of my mother and the preaching and prayers of my pastor—but I battled this fear for at least two years.

For the next ten years of my life, I moved from fear to fear, obsession to obsession. Rationality would give way to irrationality, molehills would become mountains, and my life and thoughts would be consumed with anxiety and rituals. I began to obsess about involuntary functions like breathing, blinking, and swallowing, afraid I might not get deep enough breaths or afraid I would choke if I didn’t have a drink with my food. I would never eat any food or snack without a drink nearby. If I found myself without one, I would panic, my heart would pound, and I would lose all social awareness, concentrating solely on swallowing. I would stare straight ahead and count in my head, “1…2…3…” Then I would try to swallow my food. Sometimes I was so panicked that I bailed on the swallow, nervously shifting in my seat, beads of sweat forming on my forehead. “You OK?” someone would ask. They had no idea that it was an inner battle with irrational fear.

The obsessions continued.

Because my mother once said something about having buck teeth if I swallowed with my tongue pressing against my teeth, I re-learned how to swallow, pushing my tongue against the roof of my mouth. All of this made what would normally be an involuntary behavior very difficult.

The obsessions continued.

As a young teen, I feared wetting the bed (though I had no such history) if I didn’t empty my bladder. I would lay awake in bed, obsessing about whether I felt the urge to pee, sometimes visiting the bathroom one floor down 10-12 times a night.

Around the same time, because I’d once accidentally left the refrigerator door open, I began to obsess every time I used the fridge about whether or not I’d successfully shut the door. I’d walk ten steps away, only to be struck with the anxious thought that the door might not actually be closed. I didn’t want to ruin the food or waste my Dad’s money! “Maybe it popped back open?” I’d reason. “Maybe there’s a big item in the front that’s hindering it from actually shutting?” I’d go back and check. This would repeat 6-8 times until I was sure it was shut, and peace would return to my anxious mind.

The obsessions continued.

I would check to make sure electronics were plugged all the way into the wall, as I didn’t want to start a fire. I would check the cables to make sure there were no exposed areas.

All these rituals I’d formed were part of how I would battle my fears. The checking or other habitual behaviors were, in my mind, keeping bad things from happening.

The obsessions continued.

I developed a very disciplined prayer life and rigorous Bible-reading schedule. On the outside, I’m sure it was impressive and indeed I was often commended. Though God would certainly use it (Romans 8:28), my spiritual disciplines were driven by fear: the fear of not being accepted by God; the fear of not being a good Christian; the fear of something terrible happening to me.

The obsessions continued. The bully kept coming back for more punishment.

I had a passion for baseball, and was a very good shortstop, but this was not to be unaffected by OCD. Though I would dazzle my coaches with acrobatic plays, I would have moments in games, as I went to throw to first base, when I would be frozen with fear. On even the most basic, routine plays, I was afraid of making a throwing error, and I couldn’t put the thought out of my head. Inexplicably, I would commit sometimes comical throwing errors, launching the ball 10-15 feet over my 6’5” first baseman. I think they now call it “Steve Sax disease” in professional circles. Many players have had it. Just look up highlights or articles about Mackey Sasser, Chuck Knoblauch, Mark Wohlers, Rick Ankiel, or Steve Sax himself. Retired seven-time All-Star outfielder Dale Murphy started his career as a catcher. He had to move to the outfield after he got Steve Sax disease and launched the ball on one hop to the centerfield wall trying to throw a runner out at second!

OCD had become a constant companion and I didn’t see how it ever wouldn’t be again. But up to this point, it was pretty manageable. I knew when to expect it and how to deal with it. My rituals were my way of escape from the anxiety.

But when I was 14, things got really serious. I’ll share about that next week.

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