Healing from Decades-Long OCD

Healing from Decades-Long OCD

In elementary school I exhibited a number of symptoms that later in life I recognized as stemming from obsessive-compulsive disorder, even though at the time they were just highly embarrassing. I had this jerking thing with my shoulders, which felt like I would jerk an arm in and out of the socket (I’m guessing I wasn’t doing anything that drastic, but that’s what it felt like subjectively). I performed a number of weird grimaces with my lips and my eyes, including looking at objects with my eyes crossed. There were a couple of other behaviors that I can’t even remember. They were behaviors over which I had no control. I couldn’t not do them.

Those behaviors, thankfully, were mostly gone by the time I entered junior high school.

But as I grew older I acquired longer-lasting, cryptic behaviors that secretly remained part of my life. I don’t recall with precision, but I think the behaviors I describe below may not have appeared until I was in college; I can’t be certain.

Hidden to the world, my actions were very real to me. All revolved around SYMMETRY. As I walked down a sidewalk, I might lightly scrape the sole of my right shoe against the pavement. Which meant that I had to scrape the sole of my left shoe with precisely the same amount of pressure on my next step. But of course I could never match that first scrape with perfect accuracy. If I ended up scraping my left shoe with only 96% of the force I had used with my right foot, I would need to scape the left shoe with 4% of that force next time around in order to make everything come out even. But of course I could never match it with absolute accuracy, so. . .

When I drove, I would lift both hands from the top of the steering wheel and then tap them back down at precisely the same time. If the left hand hit the wheel the teeniest bit sooner than the right hand, then I would repeat the action in a way that, next time, the right hand would hit the wheel as early as the left hand had hit on the previous round. And when (if!) I finally was able to “win” that challenge, I would begin anew, this time with the intention of  being absolutely certain that both hands hit the wheel at exactlypreciselyabsolutely the same instant. But, of course, that never happened, so. . .

There were other behaviors that I need not describe—e.g., moving my ears in order to move my eyeglasses back onto my nose with exactly the same degree of pull on both sides. But of course, it was never exactly even, so. . .

And so on.

All completely hidden.

I simply lived with it. No one knew how weird I was. My lovely wife had no clue, because nothing I did appeared outwardly to be problematic.

Until it became problematic.

I had lived with these weirdnesses for decades, and had accepted them as nothing more than minor disturbances in my everyday life. But then they began to get worse.

If you’ve never had OCD, you can’t empathize with such brokenness. It’s endlessly frustrating to know that you’re performing behaviors that you cannot not do! No matter how hard I would concentrate, I could not keep from performing these movements. It just wasn’t possible!

And they began getting worse on a near-monthly basis. I consulted a Ph.D. psychologist, my primary-care physician, and a psychiatrist, all of whom had the same response: “There are medications that should be able to help eliminate perhaps half of the problem, but they won’t provide complete relief. And they have side effects. Unless and until this becomes drastically worse in a life-changing way, you’ll do best simply to live with it.”

So I resigned myself to living with my OCD. Still, even though we had been married over thirty-five years, my wife had no clue about my problem. Nor did anyone else. But the symptoms, the behaviors, were becoming more pronounced on nearly a monthly basis. It was frustrating, to say the least.

E and I were visiting our friends Helen and Mike in Nashville one weekend. We went to church with them on Sunday morning. As I stood singing during one of the hymns, tapping my hands on the pew in front of me (in the OCD must-hit-at-precisely-the-same-time mode), it occurred to me that I had accepted this illness as such an integral part of my life for so many decades that I never once had prayed about it (Duh!). So I threw out one of those six-second prayers I had practiced ever since I had come to know Jesus: “It sure would be nice if you would heal me of this OCD.” And that was all. Not a very profound encounter with God. It was mainly a question of my satisfying any feelings of guilt that I hadn’t freakin’ prayed about it, rather than its being an honest prayer. Then it dropped completely from my mind.

We went out to lunch with Helen and Mike, then began our trip back to Urbana, a seven-hour drive. It was a couple of hours into that drive when I realized that I was not engaging in my typical OCD symmetry movements. That was totally not me! I always did those movements when I drove—always!

Nor was I engaging in any of the other OCD behaviors that had plagued me for decades. It was only at that time that I even remembered that throw-away prayer during the worship service.

I kept these thoughts to myself for at least six weeks, wanting to be absolutely certain that I was in fact healed and was not just experiencing some kind of psychosomatic remission. (Of course, I had totally forgotten about the six-second prayer, and I hadn’t expected anything to happen in the first place, so I figured it was highly unlikely to be psychosomatic.)

I eventually was ready to broadcast to the world that I was healed. Completely! Permanently! That was many years ago, and I remain free of those symptoms that were rapidly becoming debilitating.

God is faithful. And God is not a legalist. It is silly for Christians to make legalistic claims about Jesus’ statements that we will receive what we pray for according to our faith. The large majority of dramatic answers to prayer I have witnessed have occurred after prayers when I in no way genuinely expected God to do anything. In other words, I had no faith. He is so much bigger and more gracious than our faith, than our legalisms!

It’s because he’s our Daddy, and he loves us.