a merciless tyrant undeserving of my worship
It started when I was six, I think. My mind was stung with quick, piercing needles. My psyche was hit with thoughts that horrified me: vulgarities, blasphemies. I believed I was responsible for these sudden thoughts, and I believed that these thoughts were immoral, sinful. Whenever I tried to stop them, they became fiercer, more relentless. So I prayed. I prayed to God to forgive me, to help me overcome my sins.
I did not realize this at the time, but in those moments when I frantically prayed, when I sought refuge from the attacks on my mind, I was not praying to God, the God that I learned about during my lifetime, the God I pray to today. I was instead praying to a little god that lived inside my head.
I established rituals for the little god when I was very young. One began when I received a present—a wonderful toy. I was so excited to play with it, but I wanted to make sure my hands were clean. I didn’t want to ruin it, so I washed my hands. Whenever I wanted to play with it, I washed and washed.
I spent a lot of time washing. I hardly ever played with the toy.
As the years passed, the more I prayed to the little god, the more rapid the onslaught on my mind became. I was in a terrible cycle. And I kept washing my hands, afraid that they were dirty. There were a few, brief years of respite—ages seven to nine were peaceful, as were ages 11 and 12. But the rest of the time, my psyche was in a constant frenzy. I was always begging for forgiveness.
I wondered why I could not stop sinning. I found flaws in who I was and what I did, and I started to despise myself. I focused on what I now see are minor mistakes and shortcomings that come with being a human: moments of forgetfulness, instances of passion. I used these faults and my distressing thoughts as evidence of my reprehensible character, and I got frustrated when I couldn’t make them stop.
I washed my hands for longer and longer spans of time. I thought I was scared of contamination, but looking back, I think I was subconsciously seeking purification. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had to see my reflection in the mirror, which was becoming harder and harder to do. But I told myself that this was okay, that the more I hated myself, the more pious I became.
I know now that this was not useful. Hating myself did me no good. Today, I believe God is loving and merciful. I don’t think God wants people to hate themselves. I think God loves all beings, including humans with their beautiful human imperfections.
But at the time, I didn’t realize that I had founded a new form of worship, that I had turned the bathroom into a place of prayer, the sink into a shrine. The joining of my hands under the faucet had become a sign of submission, the reflection of myself in the mirror a negative icon.
The god inside my head was cruel. Worshipping it became unbearably difficult. By the time I was 15, I felt as if a dark cloud was forming around me, and it was getting thicker.
Then, something miraculous happened. I asked for help and was brought to a therapist. She told me the true name of the god inside my head—OCD—and taught me ways to overthrow the tyrant. She helped me realize that the barrage of thoughts that troubled me was not a sin––it was a symptom. She helped me see that the constant pleading for forgiveness was a result of my psychological condition.
I’m grateful to God, to my family, to the therapists and doctors who have helped me and who continue to help me, and to my friends for everything, for limitless kindness, for boundless support.
I’m incredibly thankful that I’m in a much better place now, that my mind is more at peace. It used to feel dark and cramped, but now it feels bright and spacious. Yet, there’s still more work to do. Traces of the tiny king linger in my mind and in my actions. I still spend a lot of time washing my hands, but I’m working to overcome my compulsion. I’m optimistic that, as I continue my treatment, my symptoms will lessen.
Early on in my therapy, I read excerpts from a book about my condition and learned that there are other people out there who have experienced OCD with a similarly distressing and warped religious dimension. According to the book, many of these people got better. When I read this, I felt less alone and more hopeful. To everyone who is suffering due to psychological conditions, I want to say that there are people who can help. Things can get better. I hope things do get better, that they turn out well for everyone.