Written By Deborah Fox, Australia
I stood there with a razor in my hand. It was the first time I’d ever seriously contemplated ending my life.
I had been in the shower for almost an hour, and I could hear the voices of my mother and sister pleading with me to get out. Although I knew they loved me, I felt like I was too great a burden on my family. That feeling of never being “good enough” plagued me every waking moment of my life. I was acutely aware of my shortcomings and failures at all times. I wondered if the world would be better off without me.
Thankfully, God intervened.
But my battle continued on.
Depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have been a struggle for me since I was 11. I felt that people generally understood my pain when I was suffering from a physical illness, but when it came to my OCD, I was either made fun of or my thoughts were dismissed as childish. Let me clarify something: this condition is not something that can be mocked as simply a “desire to be neat”. It’s not something you can switch on and off. It’s your own personal prison sentence of unwanted thoughts and behaviors.
I started showing symptoms of OCD after I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease as a child. The fear of germs and contamination became a little too real for me, and a psychiatrist diagnosed me with OCD. This is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “a disorder in which a person feels compelled to perform certain stereotyped actions repeatedly to alleviate persistent fears or intrusive thoughts, typically resulting in severe disruption of daily life.” The compulsions can manifest in a variety of ways, but I had some of the most common traits: a fear of germs and the compulsion to repeat behaviors.
I thought that if I could somehow control my own environment, maybe I would not get sick as often, or make others sick. I watched what I ate, had an exercise routine and cleaning rituals I had to perform a precise number of times each day. I avoided situations that might make me dirty at all costs. If I needed to use a bathroom while I was out, I would hold on until I got home. If I could just be super clean, super fit, super healthy, I would be “okay.”
But it was never enough. No matter how hard I tried, my anxious thoughts would not go away, even after I had washed my hands to the point where they were bleeding. I knew my thought patterns were irrational. I knew “most people” would not focus so intently on the same things I did. But the thoughts were relentless. I was a prisoner in my own mind. It would take hours to get ready and I would often make my family late for school or important events. The guilt and shame that resulted from my constant rituals and need for assurance fed the OCD even more.
Although I hated going to therapy, I’m so thankful that my mother persisted with me. I’m thankful that I was able to take medication and get professional help. Yet it wasn’t until I attended a Christian camp while at university that I began to understand that it was not my battle to fight alone—Jesus had already done that for me. I didn’t have to be perfect—I already knew that I had failed that test. I would never measure up to human standards, let alone God’s standards. After hearing a simple presentation of the gospel, it all became so clear. My Heavenly Father accepted me just as I was—broken, ashamed, afraid, timid and heartbroken. My focus had been on my failings—not on the victory Jesus had already won on my behalf. My condition appeared to improve—but only temporarily.
As much as I would love to say that my battle with OCD and anxiety is a thing of the past, the truth is that it is still a daily struggle. Writing my story was something I didn’t want to do. A massive part of me wanted to pull the plug on this article entirely. It was a little too personal. But that’s what mental disorders like OCD do—the guilt and shame they produce often force you to hide. You try to put on a mask and keep up the charade of “keeping it together” to the outside world. The compulsions feel like a dirty little secret that should never see the light of day. Yet, like sin, the only way for the light to shine through is for those secret battles to be brought forward and acknowledged.
I often catch myself thinking, “You were supposed to be cured of this. Why is it something you’re struggling with again?” I try to remind myself that I shouldn’t worry or be anxious about anything “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [my] requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
But the worries often come flooding back with a vengeance. I feel like I’ve failed again when I make myself late for work after driving back to the house to check for the 10th time that I’d actually locked the door. I feel like I’ve failed when I have to cancel brunch plans on a friend because I’ve been stuck in the shower for too long and then had a panic attack because I was worried about the idea of making them wait.
I worry that I will never be able to serve God effectively because of my irrational fears. But then I remember that God doesn’t need us to be perfect in order to use us. The Apostle Paul was used in mighty ways for the Lord, even though he speaks of a “thorn in [his] side” he so desperately prayed God would take away (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
When that doesn’t happen, Paul reminds us that God is still in control. His plans still succeed, even when we serve Him in our brokenness. We will never be good enough to stand before the throne of God’s grace. But the good news is that we don’t need to be! “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What dirty little secret has been keeping you back? Bring it to God. Be real with Him. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He walks with us even when we don’t feel like we can lift our eyes from the ground. Trust that God’s grace is sufficient for you, even in your weakness.