The anxiety was overwhelming. I had played the situation over and over again in my mind, thinking about the position of my arms, what I might have touched, as I had helped my patient roll toward me and push up to a sitting position on her hospital bed. I had checked my sleeve for blood stains at least five times, and I didn't see any blood, but I was afraid I couldn't see every part of my sleeve. I said again to myself, "If you can't see it, it can't hurt you," but that didn't help very much.
I was afraid to wear my seatbelt driving home because I might "contaminate" it. I arrived home safely despite the anxious thoughts distracting me from my driving. I couldn't hang my keys on the key peg until I had soaked them in a bleach solution so I put them in a spot I could clean later with alcohol. My mind racing and the fear tightening relentlessly in my stomach, I carefully took off my shirt, turning it inside out, and my pants for good measure and then put them in the washing machine trying not to touch the sides of the wash tub with the "contaminated clothing." I washed my hands several times (any water splashing up from the basin onto my hands necessitated another handwashing ritual). I then cleaned the washing machine surfaces the clothes might have touched with alcohol and a washcloth which I added to the load. I washed my hands again. I agonized whether or not, when pulling off my shirt, I had "contaminated" my hair. I carefully added the soap and turned on the washer with the highest level of water (to be sure the inside of the washer got completely clean), even though I was only washing two articles of clothing and a washcloth. Then I washed my hands and arms to the elbows, trying hard not to touch the sink; if I did, I'd have to wash that too. I had to repeat washing to my elbows three or four times to be sure I was safe and clean enough to take off my underwear, so I could take my second shower for the day. Afraid I had "contaminated" my sink, though I so desperately wanted to believe that it was fine, the anxiety pushed through my fatigue after working 10 hours, and I scrubbed the sink thoroughly. Finally ready for the shower, I washed my hair first and then the rest of me, washing the "contamination" down the drain, and I began to relax a little.
It was now 90 minutes after arriving home from work. I could finally put on clean clothes, walk my dog, get the mail, and sit down and think about supper. I'd face the terror of the hospital again tomorrow, but for now, I would try to relax for a few hours before bed.
This was my life at the height of my, as yet undiagnosed, OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. I knew I was a perfectionist and very careful about universal precautions (I had practically memorized the CDC guidelines for healthcare providers working with blood and body fluids). I thought my anxiety was peculiar, but I figured I was just being careful.
In the fall of 1993, God used a retreat called the Walk to Emmaus, to show me that this anxiety I lived with was a problem for which I needed help. The Walk to Emmaus is a 3-day retreat where the scriptures are opened and participants have the opportunity to experience the living Christ in a new way. I was filled with love, joy, and peace like I had never known at that retreat. Jesus had spoken to me (not audibly, but without question, it was Jesus who called me by name and then said "I will never leave you" and then repeated it), and He had given me a vision of the temple curtain being torn from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). Seeing the curtain being torn in the vision, I realized that God waited for me with His arms open to embrace me in the Most Holy Place. God loves me and has made me worthy to stand before Him, as sinful as I am, because Jesus died for my sins and the debt has been paid. Nothing separated me from His love, not even me. (Romans 8:1 and Hebrews 10: 9-23) Jesus had even held me in His arms when I was in bed for both nights on the retreat and, for the first time, I felt a love like no other that warmed me to the depths of my heart and He rocked me to sleep. But in the midst of this retreat and despite the closeness I felt to God, a stain on the bathmat in the bathroom I shared tormented me; I was sure it was blood and that I had stepped in it and was "contaminated." The thoughts would not leave my mind when every other care in my life had. When I returned home, I shared my story with my pastor and asked if he thought perhaps a Christian counselor might help me to find peace from this anxiety. He recommended I talk to a Christian licensed professional counselor who worshipped at my church. And thus, my healing began.
It didn't take long for my first counselor to help me feel feelings I had stuffed deep inside all of my life, and my OCD symptoms got steadily worse (increased stress will increase your OCD symptoms). At the same time, my career choice as a healthcare provider, though I had exceled academically and even won a national award from my professional association, just wasn't working out for me. I was too thorough, cared too much, moved too slowly, and I didn't juggle people or think on my feet in high stress situations very well. Between the stress of my job and the constant stress of the OCD and all of the emotions I was feeling, my body just shut down on me. I would be diagnosed with major depression as well as the OCD when I finally saw a psychiatrist for help at the urging of my counselor.
That was 18 years ago. Through God's great love and grace; good medicines, medical care, and counseling; going through career counseling and retraining for a new career; and a lot of cognitive-behaviorial self-retraining, OCD is now relatively minor in my life and the depression is much, much better. At one time needing food stamps, battling suicidal thoughts, struggling to function and on full social security disability for five years, I now have a full, productive life. I have worked full-time for the last 11 years (in doctors' offices or hospitals no less!), am considering graduate school and do volunteer work with my registered therapy dog, am enjoying friendships, and am active in my church and singing in the choir. God has been SO good to me to have brought me through so much and He has never stopped helping me to be whole.
I wanted to create this website to help those who suffer with OCD--and oh, how I understand the pain you are going through--to know that there IS HOPE, and not to despair. Like Paul's thorn in II Corinthians 12, I have prayed for the OCD/depression to be taken away, but as unbelievable as it sounds, I praise Him for these thorns, OCD and depression, because they have brought me so much closer to Him. I see Him in my life so much more clearly during times of suffering, and I truly feel that if this is to be my primary thorn, it's not too bad a thorn to have.
My prayer is that this information is helpful and encouraging to you and that you may be comforted through these words as I share my experience with you.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.