Mental illness is a devious and unrelenting opponent, one that attacks in a second’s notice. It will ultimately try to steal what you love and cherish the most in life, which for me is time with my family. My OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) has been living with me for about 25 years now. My children describe it as a bully that won’t go away, which I think is a pretty fair description. However, what they don’t truly understand is the control and panic that this bully can release on my mind.
It’s hard to explain to people what it’s like to have OCD. When I try to articulate it to someone else, it can sound so mundane—anxiety, worries, and mental repetitions. To give you a glimpse into what it feels like, let me walk you through a recent attack. I was at my son’s soccer game, happy to be there to cheer him on. But when I took a phone call during the game and my son saw me, my OCD started telling me I’m a bad father.
That probably happens to a lot of dads, and it doesn’t sound too bad. Yet for me, it began an all day ATTACK that forced me to repeat in my head all the times I have been a good dad to silence the lies that the OCD is telling me. Then I felt compelled to repeat those instances in different spots all around the field. At that point, I wasn’t really paying attention to my kid’s game anymore, so the cycle of bad thoughts repeated over and over again.
During this whole process my body was filled with a debilitating level of anxiety. I was experiencing a level of panic that I compare to being in a crowded airport with your child, when you turn away for a second and suddenly your child is gone. That’s what I was feeling, but over something as trivial as being distracted during my son’s soccer game. Over time, the anxiety slowly started to release itself. Sometimes this takes hours, sometimes days….
My strength during these attacks is to not let them stop me from what I truly want and need to be doing. That’s when I win, when I don’t let OCD stop me. When I stay at that game with my son despite my illness, and cheer him on even though I am suffering inside, I know I’m winning.
I hope and believe my honesty in dealing with my mental illness will teach my children not only patience and understanding, but true empathy for others and to never ever be afraid to be yourself.
Check out Jeffrey's TedTalk and learn more about his journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and his aspirations.