I remember it being silent.
So early in the morning.
It took me two hours to get ready in the mornings when I was in junior high. I scrubbed my entire body with soap and hot water in the bathtub and had to finish rinsing off in the shower. I had to partially air dry after using my towel. My hair had to fall perfectly into place before I plastered it with hairspray. I used my mom’s old blow dryer to warm my feet before putting them in my white socks—I was once told that damp feet cause athlete’s foot.
The meticulous details were physically tiring, and the obsessions were mentally exhausting. I barely made it to school on time to face all the other difficulties of junior high school life. If any part of my arduous morning process went wrong, there was a good chance I was “staying home sick” that day.
I had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But I was never diagnosed formally.
Before the sun came up one routine morning, I accidentally knocked the blow dryer off the bathroom counter onto the hard tile floor. As I hurried down to pick it up, my hand grabbed onto the loose part of the cord that attached to the handle.
I’m not sure if the lights flickered or not, but with a striking flash, something hurt my hand. I examined myself. Besides for a fading stinking pain, I was okay. I continued my extensive process of getting ready for school. For the entire school day, I smelled the awful stench of burnt hair.
OCD wasn’t talked about as commonly as it is today, so my parents didn’t really understand my behavior. They were concerned though and took me to speak to my junior high school counselor. In his office he asked me a lot of questions. He was a nice man, but overall, he didn’t seem concerned about my behavior. He just encouraged me to try to get to school on time and not miss so many days.
Later on I learned more about obsessive-compulsive disorder. My struggle even helped inspire me to major in psychology. I wrote my college senior paper on the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy versus selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Reexamining my own mental health past brought some frustration about the interaction that took place with my old junior high counselor so many years ago. I felt he should have known.
Maybe he could have helped me.
Looking back at it all now, I realize that it was a true blessing that I was not formally diagnosed. I was never given medication for it. I wasn’t given a reason or excuse for my struggle. Instead, I was expected to work through it.
That’s exactly what I did.
I learned to truly analyze every compulsive thought to see if it were realistic or not. I asked myself, “Do I really need to wash my hands again?” “Will touching money really hurt my health?” “So what if my hair isn’t perfectly in place?” I then took baby steps to remedy my compulsive behaviors.
I’m not sure if it was just me figuring out how to properly think through my thoughts or growing out of my OCD tendencies with age or my parents’ new family routine of going to church.
I do know that with the prayers of my parents and grandparents, God helped me relearn how to think.
Another boy I grew up with who was a few years younger than me didn’t have the same success. His parents took him in and had him diagnosed. Then came the treatments—drugs. Then came the side-effects. Then came more drugs to help with the side-effects. This led to a 20-year, downward spiral. Today he receives a monthly check from the government and still depends on his parents for stability.
I’m not stating that drugs are always bad when dealing with mental health, but drugs as treatment alone are not enough. There should always be something else paired with pharmaceutical treatment.
Mental health is such a major topic today, and so is physical health. But what people forget to add to this conversation is spiritual health.
We are so much more than physical containers housing neurotransmitters, and understanding this will help us have a proper perspective on life.
We are a soul; we are spiritual.
We have a body.
An earth suit.
And it comes with an unknown expiration date.
Concerning mental health disorders, sometimes the soul is fine but the physical body, the brain, is off. Sometimes the physical body is off because the soul is off.
Does the world ever suggest healing the soul and helping the spirit?
Typically, no. Just more drugs. Or a different drug. Or maybe, yoga.
Let’s be thankful we live in a time where there are drugs to help the physical body, but let’s never forget that more than physical healing, we need healing of the soul; we need spiritual help.
There are times in my life when I still struggle with old OCD tendencies. They come more when I’m tired or experiencing a lot of anxiety, but as I did as a child, I continue to do today. I try my best to take captive each thought. I force myself to go to bed earlier. I enjoy a light jog around the neighborhood. I refocus my life in meditative prayer.
And things get better.
Everyone’s story is different though, but this is mine.
May we seek after God in his Word as we are guided by his Holy Spirit to find the reconciliation that comes through Christ, Jesus—the mighty healer who cares for all parts of us, including every obsessive thought.