Growing Up with OCD

Stressed on Chair

I remember it being silent.

Dark.

Cold.

So early in the morning.

Alone.

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.

 

The Wanderer

Night Driving

It was shiny, red, and new. Only two doors. Low to the ground.

Fast.

It was Shawn’s Celica. I had a Corolla, and he bought a new Celica in the midst of the dangerous Fast & Furious craze that overtook the nation. After seeing that movie, every guy in some sort of running car thought he was a racer. I, myself, put a spoiler and chrome rims on my little Corolla and installed a sound system. But my good friend Shawn didn’t have to upgrade his car.

When he picked me up in it, we imaginatively transformed into Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.

Sitting outside at the Market Place during a bored summer night in Bakersfield, our inner youth yearned for adventure. A girl named Jayme was trying to win over our attention, but we weren’t that interested. As she smacked her chewing gum in mid sentence, Shawn interrupted: “Hey, we should go out of town. We should try to get lost.”

It was summer, and my tutoring job on my college campus had ended a few weeks after my classes. “I’m down,” I replied.

The next moment Shawn and I were speeding up the highway driving through rural farm towns in the late night with Jayme riding in the small back seat.

We eventually came to a little town and grabbed some youthful fuel—Taco Bell. We ate it in the parking lot because the restaurant was already closed. As Shawn swallowed down the last of his chalupa, he confessed, “So I’m not sure if we can get lost. It’s harder than I thought.”

I suggested, “Let’s turn off on one of these side roads. We’ll have a better chance then.”

Jayme asked, “So why are we trying to get lost again?”

Shawn replied, “Do you ever get tired of being in only places that you know? How cool would it be to be in some place where you didn’t know where you were?”

We tossed our trash and continued on with our half-full sodas. Old telephone poles flashed beside us as we moved down desolate roads of bumpy asphalt as we were deep in our conversations about life, literature, movies, and video games.

Then it happened.

Shawn yelled out, “Do you know where we are?”

I examined my surroundings and didn’t. I asked, “Wait, are we?”

Shawn pulled over, and yelled, “We’re lost! I don’t know where we are.”

Victory.

We pulled out on the road again, and within only a few minutes, we saw a street sign that informed us we were only a few miles from the highway.

We were not lost; we were wanderers.

When I graduated college with a BA in psychology and a BA in English, I bought my own sporty car after signing my first teaching contract. It was a convertible. I wanted a custom license plate cover but couldn’t think of anything that would appropriately represent me. Then I read a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Being a Christian and a young, single adult in a valley of college classes and new teaching career would lead to a season of wanderlust.

Seeking out how adult life works while taking risks and even making mistakes in years of unyielding change identified me as a wanderer.

But I was never lost.

That’s how it is knowing Jesus. The road may be dark and desolate. We may be running on the junk food of life. There may be a gum-smacker in the backseat trying to steal your attention.

And for a moment, you may very well believe that you are lost.

Then you see the sign—you remember God’s Word.

You are not lost.

You’re just a wander in a land that’s not your home.

And you’re trying your best to figure it all out.

Hang in there, mighty wanderer. Eventually, we’ll all be home together.

 

To Think and to Live 

blog car

Austere seat belt rules seemed to be less meticulous back in the 80s as I loosened up the tight restriction from my waist to lay my head against the boxy side window of the backseat. The telephone pole lines seemed to sway up and down with foothills blurred behind them as the car drove steadily on the two-lane road 

The Game Boy hadn’t been invited yet, and only the rich had televisions in their cars. My parents sometimes had the radio playing oldies quietly in the background on that enduring drive from Derby Acers to Bakersfield and from Bakersfield back to Derby Acers. And simply sat in the backseat of our long, white car with maroon seats and Life Savors dried into the matching floor mats and stared out the window, attempting to avoid car sickness.  

But I really did so much more than just stare—I thought.  

I thought about everything a small child could possibly think about. I wondered if I could strain my eyes hard enough to faintly see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I reflected on cartoons I recently watched. I debated with myself the possible birthday presents I might get months down the road. I revisited confusing feelings I had about that one special girl at school. I anticipated the next time my best friend would come over and how we would team up to fight off imaginary alien invaders or protect our castle from medieval soldiers and dragons. I analyzed the lyrics of the quietly played tunes and tried to make sense of what was being sung. I soaked in the notes and the melody and felt the music.  

I thought. 

Those long drives were some of the best gifts my parents ever gave me because they gave me so much more than a ride from one point to another; they gave me time—free time.  

Time to think. 

Time to live. 

There were no cell phones, email, or social media. Video games were only in 8-bit. And television was something watched with my mom and dad on the couch.  

There was time to play. There was time create. And there was plenty of time to think freely. 

All of those minutes of thinking added up to make me who I am today. 

Someone who thinks. 

I didn’t need programs and lessons on the practice of thinking. I didn’t need an educational mindfulness curriculum. I just needed time. 

I hope I can someday give my children the same gift in this technologically packed society of today. I hope they can sit back and watch the telephone pole lines sway in the sunset and observe the mountains around them. I hope they can ponder what is beyond our visible sight. I hope that they can be still and know that God is God. I hope they can learn to hear that still small voice through the deafening static of our society.   

I hope they can think so that they can truly live. 

 

Underarm Deodorant

Old Woman

Not everyone is lucky enough to know their great-grandmother, but I was. Grandma Patterson is what we called her. From Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, she and my great-grandfather brought their many children over to California for a better life. She spent her time working in the laborious fields and raising her 10 children.

When I knew her, she was already old. She wore her hair pulled back tightly into a brown bun that rested on the back of her head. She mostly wore long straight dresses that hung like giant t-shirts. She was overweight some, and she hunched over when she walked.

And her eye vision was failing.

Back then, people didn’t always wear sunglasses when working outside in the fields, and a lifetime of abuse from the unforgiving sun did a number on my Grandma Patterson.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was chubby with an acne covered face and a mouth full of metal. My undiagnosed OCD caused me to slick my hair straight down with a perfect part so not a single hair would ever dare go out of place. I was extremely shy, awkward, and my best friends went by the names of Nintendo and Sega. Needless to say, I didn’t have girls chasing after me, and I didn’t blame them.

For Christmas that year, I remember unwrapping a Christmas present from Grandma Patterson. I think it was the last one I ever remember receiving from her. It was a green bottle of spray deodorant.

Yes, underarm deodorant.

I opened it up not knowing how to react. I was still at the young age when body odor didn’t exist, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I forced out a “Thank you!” with a decent smile.

My great-grandma stood up and walked over to me hunched over. She leaned in close to me and said, “You spray a little of that here and there, and you’ll have to fight those little girlies off of you.” She motioned like she was spraying it on both sides of my neck.

It then made sense to me and my observing parents that my Grandma Patterson thought she bought me spray cologne. Like I said earlier, her eyesight was failing.

Not too long later, I visited her with my family, and she said to me, “Terry, I bet all those little girlies are after you now, aren’t they?”

I answered awkwardly, “I don’t know.”

She continued, “Well, this is what you do. You need to get yourself a baseball bat in one hand and a croquet stick in the other, so when the girlies come after you on the right, you can knock them off with the left, and when they come after you on the left, you can knock them off with the right.”

I thought she really must not be able to see the dorky looking kid standing right in front of her; the girls at my school didn’t want anything to do with me.

On our way home that night, I silently chuckled in the backseat of our family minivan. And after thinking about it some more, it was nice to have someone see something in me I didn’t see in myself, even if that person was going blind. It was encouraging that she saw something in me that she thought others would find attractive.

A few years later, my acne cleared up, my braces were taken off, and my hair hung more loosely and naturally as it grew out in a blond, suffer style. I lost weight and spent time outside swimming in my family’s new pool as my skin darkened into a healthy shade. With my newly gained confidence, I traded in my timid shyness for a gregarious, extroverted personality.

And the girlies started to chase after me.

My Grandma Patterson didn’t get to see me graduate high school or college. She didn’t live that long. But she didn’t need to see those events because even with her blind eyes, she saw me—the real me.

I pray to be a little more like her and see others not with my eyes but with something more. I hope to see their future possibilities. I desire to be a builder of people and error on the side of encouragement.

There’s already enough honest evaluation. There’s enough tough love. Even after the silly self-esteem movement in the 1980s and this crazy post-modern society we live in now, we still need people to see in us what isn’t there yet.

We all need a Grandma Patterson who will give us our own underarm deodorant.

Baseball Cards and Suicides

Kneeling down to rip up a handful of grass.

Covering your face within your mitt to see how it would work as a mask.

Feeling the sun bake down upon your exposed forearms.

Watching anxious parents in the stands wonder why their children aren’t taking the game more seriously.

I was about six or seven, and this was tee-ball.

One year my team lost almost every game. The next, we came in second place.

I got to play second base, my favorite position, a little that year although another kid’s dad wanted him to play it, so it was a constant struggle to stay on second. But after every game, only two things really mattered.

My dad would let me buy a 50-cent pack of Topps baseball cards–you know, the ones with the hard piece of broken chewing gum. And I would also get to order a suicide.

In the 80s, there was a time when every little boy wanted a drink called a suicide. Even the name of the drink was rebellious. Parents didn’t order suicides. Grandparents didn’t. Only young boys and their fellow rambunctious teammate buddies ordered suicides–the 80’s sugar water of boisterous adolescence.

The man behind the food stand would mix each drink with zeal, adding Dr. Pepper as he slid the waxy paper cup to Pepsi and then to Root Beer and then adding dash of Sprite. My eager teammates kicked up dry dirt as they waited in line for the rewarding treat in the blistering heat.

I don’t really remember what it tasted like, but I know I liked it. After a few sips, I would get in the car with my dad and start looking through the new baseball cards hoping that I didn’t get too many doubles.

I wanted the full team of the Dodgers. Although I liked the White Sox and the Yankees too, the Dodgers were my team.

That bold blue.

That simple LA emblem.

I was thrilled when my parents surprised me with Orel Hershiser’s record breaker card one year on my birthday. I would place my cards out over the thick carpet of my bedroom floor to see the collected team together. The Dodgers winning the 1988 World Series highlighted that season of baseball card collecting.

Besides for a few years of tee-ball and then playing on my Bible study’s team at church almost 20 years later, that was all the ball I ever played. I had no hopes of earning a baseball scholarship, being a professional baseball player, or even coaching.

Although I try to make it out to a Dodgers game every other year or so and sit in the all-you-can-eat section, I don’t even watch very many games on TV.

I went out for baseball conditioning once in high school. I observed high school coaches cussing at the students for not being fast enough. I saw some students falling on their knees with vomit bursting out of their mouths after being pushed so hard. The fear in some of my fellow students’ eyes was alarming.

This wasn’t the baseball I remembered.

This wasn’t a game.

This wasn’t for me.

Then I remembered some of the tee-ball parents getting upset that their kid didn’t get enough time in their preferred position and them angrily yelling from the stands words that little kids shouldn’t hear.

But we, the ones who were actually playing the game, were happy just being out there and getting our baseball cards and soda afterwards.

I have to remind myself to strive for that childlike outlook on life again–to be so happy with such simple things.

Adults have forgotten how to play a game.

They care too much about winning and losing.

They think about suicide instead of drinking them.

They don’t chew broken bubblegum anymore.

There are definitely times in life where we need to be serious, but I feel being serious comes quite naturally to most of us.

We have to remind ourselves to have a playful outlook on life, with the faith of a child. We have to remember how to play a game.

Driving Home

Foothills surrounded the dry two-lane road that led home.

Oil rigs heavily pumped as some just sat in awe of the red sky as it began to take down some of the warm air with it.

Telephone poles connected together by hanging cords that appeared to move up and down if you watched from lying down in the backseat.

Somewhere on that drive, there was a burned structure of a historic hotel still standing, which was the last evidence that the tiny town had once flourished with people.

But to me as a little boy, it still flourished. Maybe not with people, but with sunsets, nightly stars, pet animals, young friends, old family, trees to climb on, grass to roll on, and time to spare.

Driving home from Taft to my home in Derby Acers, I remember turning my head and looking up to see my dad. He was younger then—not that tired from a hard day’s work in the oilfields.

Paper bags of mixed groceries sat together in the back, and I held a Happy Meal box in my hands, eager to get to the toy Hot Wheel that hid under the warm fries I was so eager to throw into my mouth.

After looking at my dad, I turned back to watch the road like he was. He seemed to keep a safe eye on that road. Or maybe it was that red sky falling over those foothills beyond it he so intently observed.

It’s now that red sky I envision on that road when I think about my childhood.

The sunset and childhood are both so full of wonder and both so fleeing.

Back then, on that road, with my dad, there wasn’t poppy music to occupy the calm silence. There wasn’t handheld video game systems with new levels to conquer. There wasn’t cell phones, texting, or email to communicate with people who weren’t there.

It was just us.

And I called it home.

It’s where my mind meditated. It’s where my imagination grew. It’s where I learned how to be alive.

Often times it’s where I would like to go back. And in a way, maybe I can.

Maybe we can.

Maybe that’s what reconciliation is all about—riding in a car with our father, going where he takes us, and trusting he’s going to get us home.

 

Underneath the Foam

I really don’t know how it happened, but while in college, I somehow became the lead singer in an indie rock band. Okay, I’ll admit it, some people called it an emo band.

We called it Quantum Theory.

Quantum Theory was a three piece with me playing lead guitar and singing, my buddy Jason on bass, and my old drumline friend Russ on drums. I think we were a mix between Smashing Pumpkins and Jimmy Eat World—or at least we wanted to be. We practiced weekly in my parents’ living room and carried our gear in the back of Russ’s little, blue pickup.

I think we only lasted about eight months until Russ got a girlfriend, and Jason got a better job and started working more hours.

I wasn’t too upset about Quantum Theory breaking up. Using the vernacular of our peer rockers and concert goers, we “kind of sucked.”

While playing in the band, Russ attended the same university as me. After classes one day, we both found a cardstock flier on our campus advertising a foam dance party at our local convention center. It was a vibrant flier with a flashy design. The convention center was a relatively safe place; I mean they have the Ice Capades there, so how bad could a foam dance party be?

Quantum Theory didn’t have a concert that weekend, so Russ and I decided to check it out. We parked, walked up, paid our semi expensive ticket (for college students), and went in.

The dance floor was somewhere under the four feet of white foam that built up within the circular wall that surrounded the silhouettes of dancing bodies.

Russ and I pushed through the sweaty bodies as foam slowly soaked through our clothes and hung from our arms.

Music of low bass beats and cheap lyrics fell upon us from the hanging speakers and strobe lights.

Some rode each other to the music. Some floated through the foam hungry for some kind of connection. Some danced with themselves with hands waving in the air.

Only a few minutes went by until Russ and I decided it was time to leave.

We went to the restroom to attempt to wipe off as much foam as possible, suspicious of what could be happening underneath the white blanket.

After becoming a teacher some years later, I was sitting in a drug training class for high school teachers. The police officer educated us on modern drugs, local gangs, and teen sex. I was hoping to hear about rock’n roll too.

Honestly though, out of all the millions of teacher training workshops I’ve taken, this one was the most interesting. My experience in illegal activities was lacking to say the least.

Going through pot, cocaine, and meth, the police officer eventually came to ecstasy. He explained how it was the ravers’ drug of choice. His vocal tone was blunt and combative, which was a contrast from the sympathetic and political teacher tones I was used to at trainings.

He spoke out, “The street name for ecstasy is E, and it’s an easy access drug for students. They even publicly advertise it on party fliers.” He began clicking through some photos that were projected onto the screen from his PowerPoint presentation, which had the basic, default, striped blue and white background. “You see the little E in the background. You have to sometimes search for it but that means that ecstasy will be available at the event.”

The officer clicked on to a flier that looked familiar to me. “See the little E in the top left circle? This was a foam dance party that took place a few years ago here at the convention center. What they do is fill up the dancefloor with foam so people can easily pass on drugs and have sex without been seen.”

My eyes became larger.

“At these events, we always send in some undercover officers to try to catch the big dealers. I was one of the officers here, and I have some video from it to share.”

I sunk inches into my seat.

As the teachers and I watched the familiar night replay on the big screen, I anxiously looked for Russ and me. Hundreds of blurry faces and dark silhouettes. No sight of us. The video eventually ended. I was safe.

The other teachers were in shock that such an event went on in their town. I turned to a teacher next to me and whispered, “I was there.”

She just laughed and said, “You’re funny.” She then looked back to the screen, prompting me to pay attention.

I feel that’s just like life. We don’t know all the bad going on under the surface. We also don’t know the good that’s going on in bad places.

Russ and I weren’t there with evil intentions. We thought it was going to be a fun dance—like the ones in high school. Maybe we would meet some new friends or even a nice girl. But in all places with humans, there are going to be people with good and bad plans in mind.

Let us always check ourselves to be the ones with plans of good intentions for ourselves and others. Let us be bringers of hope and be discouraged in the darkness. Let us be led by God’s Holy Spirit to go where he has called us and to leave when he tells us.

Let us have pure minds and selfless hands.

Even underneath the foam.