Chris Farber shares his story of living with OCD
When I was young, a neighbor accused me of creating mischief on her property. She called the police. By the time they arrived, I was about five miles away. They tracked me down and brought me home. She filed charges, and we went to court. She lost. But next she threatened to kill me.
On that day, I did not leave my house. We shut all the windows and pulled down the shades. There was some fear she would really try to shoot me. The next day I moved in with my grandparents who lived about ten miles away. I stayed there for a while. My friends came to visit me there. It was summer, and we were off from school. I was twelve or thirteen and going through puberty at the time. I was a popular kid, but the whole experience changed me forever.
Not long after this encounter, I developed an irrational fear that I would cause bad things to happen to people. If I didn’t perform certain rituals, repeat certain movements or activities, there would be consequences. My family or friends would be hurt and suffer an unimaginable fate.
I washed my hands so much that my skin became chapped and bled.
The pressure was enormous. It became so difficult to sleep that to this day I am not sure I slept much during my high school years. I remember lying on my bed and counting the small holes in the ceiling tiles in my room. Every one of them. Every night. The counting took about two hours.
I believe I was successful hiding this behavior because I was so socially adept. I became the president of my high school class. I had lots of friends and several girlfriends over a ten-year stretch. I did withdraw from something I loved and was good at – basketball. I am still not sure why, but I think my sickness had something to do with it.
College was like high school. I was popular and was rush chair and president of my fraternity. I kept my secret hidden within me and made it through each day.
Finally, one day I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I was exhausted and went to the library in my town. I looked up mental illness in Encyclopedia Britannica. I went many times. (Indeed, there is irony here, since this where my OCD helped me: I was obsessed with finding out what I had). I started taking out books and research on something called “obsessive compulsive disorder.”
Sometime in the early eighties, I self-diagnosed myself with this disorder. Ok, so I knew what I had, but it would take me another five years or so to get to a doctor who could help me.
I got married and kept my secret but still couldn’t sleep. I knew I needed a doctor. Finally, one day I broke down and told my wife, and we found a doctor to help me. I went through lots of therapy, and I learned some behavioral techniques. I next started on medication. I had some good results and I finally began to sleep. I was thirty years old.
My hours of therapy took me on a journey through my past. It ended with the incident with our neighbor who had threatened to kill me. This episode happened while I was maturing as a young man. My doctor said that this was likely the event that triggered my OCD. I still don’t even know her name, my neighbor, but I now know that I was accused of a crime by a woman who had her own mental problems. Years later I learned she was arrested for indecent exposure.
Now at the age of fifty-five, I can look back on a long and successful career. I have lived a good life. We have three great kids who are building their lives as well. We are trying to figure out what to do now that retirement is not far off.
But I still have a regret: I spent about twenty years of my life tormented and self-tortured by a demon so strong that I hid it from everyone around me. I so feared how others would treat me if they knew my problem that I buried it down further into the depths of my soul.
As these were my formative years, I wonder who I would have become had I faced my OCD earlier and received the help I desperately needed as a teen. I am sure I would be different. Not sleeping much for a couple of decades has to have a lasting effect.
The point is that if you feel you are suffering from OCD, anxiety or depression or any other mental problem, please reach out for help. I believe that my doctor saved my life. There are many support groups, doctors, and promising medicines today. I understand how some of these disorders lead to bad endings and vices for many who are stricken with them.
But I now tell my story to anyone who has an interest.
It feels like a form of revenge for me.
I am getting back at the OCD; this is therapeutic.
In 2016, the world is more accepting and helpful. While there is still more work to be done, I am hopeful there will be a day where people open up to others with their problems. I pray for a society that accepts and rallies around those who feel the pain of mental disorder. This is the first step to the much-needed exposure of these conditions. The second step is to begin working on the cure for all of them.
This post is part of a joint series by The Good Men Project and Stigma Fighters in sharing stories of real men living with mental illness. To submit your story, see below.
Stigma Fighters is an organization that is dedicated to raising awareness for the millions of people who are seemingly “regular” or “normal” but who are actually hiding the big secret: that they are living with mental illness and fighting hard to survive.
The more people who share their stories, the more light is shone on these invisible illnesses, and the more the stigma of living with mental illness is reduced.
For Stigma Fighters’ Founder Sarah Fader’s recent profile in The Washington Post that discusses how more and more people are “coming out” with their mental illness, see here.
The Good Men Project is the only international conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century.
Mental health and the reducing the social stigma of talking about mental health is and has been a crucial area of focus for The Good Men Project.
As Dr. Andrew Solomon stated during his interview with us, people writing about their own experiences mitigates each of our aloneness in a profound way: “One of the primary struggles in all the worlds I have written about is the sense each of us has that his or her experience is isolating. A society in which that isolation is curtailed is really a better society.”
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To submit to Stigma Fighters, please submit here.
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