It was harder than I thought, trying to write this piece. I did stop and think several times over about the long tiresome journey I have been on, what to put down and how I would come across to you, the reader. Well, that’s for you to judge, so let me get started.
My earliest memory of the onset of my OCD was when I was thirteen. I had visited my mother’s side of the family in Pakistan, something I wasn’t too keen on doing, nor seeing any family for that matter. I can’t remember how exactly the conversation had started but my uncle had said after going to the bathroom you should read the first three kalima on your hands to ‘make them clean.’ I didn’t think twice of it and began to incorporate this after every occasion on going to the bathroom. I started to take this aspect of my routine quite seriously without realising why, but it wasn’t till my brother shouted one day ‘why are you still washing your hands?!’ That I stopped to think I was starting to spend a long time washing. Over a short period of time, my rituals began to grow and so did my anxiety. I would question if I was reading these verses correctly and to compensate, would read them again, and again to ‘make sure’ that on the next occasion I would get it right. I started to wash my arms, my face, my whole body and to the point where I would always change my clothes after visiting the bathroom.
It’s fair to say, my family thought I was going mad, heck, I was acting like it. I would get very tense if I didn’t complete my ordered routine, a simple task of washing hands became such a troublesome chore that took hours on end to complete. I could not see anything else or think of anything or anyone. I had to get my routine done my way and that is that. At the time, as you can imagine with one family bathroom in the house, it caused a fair bit of quarrels, especially when we all needed to rush out in the morning. My mum, whom I had never been close to, was the closed off, harsh, old-school traditional Pakistani type. She would shout insults at me thinking I was possessed by some sort of jinn. My older brother thought I was insane, my father’s silence was deafening and my little sister bore the brunt of my temper. Something which I can never forget, to this day.
High school became more difficult; I would go on and act ‘normal’ in school as I would avoid using public toilets like the plague. It provided some comfort not having to undertake my rituals but things became harder. I was losing sleep, concentration and the motivation to study. I hadn’t told anyone about my ‘problem’ as they would think I’m mad. Surely. A part of me did begin to think something was wrong. Was I truly mad? Why couldn’t I just spend a few seconds washing my hands? All these questions ran through my head, but as soon as I would start, I had to finish my rituals of bathing and changing of clothes. I knew my thoughts and actions were irrational, but in the heat of the moment, I did not care, I had to complete it till I felt right. Self-doubt consumed me. To give some perspective, I could spend six hours a day on this all, maybe more. Oh yes. I had become angry, at myself and my family for not understanding, withdrawn and isolated both at school and especially at home. I never had much confidence to begin with, but had lost all as my OCD and depression exacerbated.
As year 12 was upon me, I didn’t know where the time had went. School mates were selecting universities to go to, careers, and their aspirations. I had none. I would go to school just to get a break from the torturous rituals I would inflict on myself every day. Insults were flung my way on a daily basis at home, though to be fair, in hindsight, I was difficult to live with. I was anxious and frustrated and my need to complete these agonizing rituals day in day out was starting to take its toll. My family were embarrassed and ashamed of me and I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. No matter how hard I tried, I could not stop. It’s difficult to describe how much anxiety my rituals gave me, knowing what I was doing was illogical, which became a heavy burden on my family and I. Some students in the year had dreams of becoming a doctor, I just wanted to get through the day. Feelings of hopelessness and a failure consumed me day in day out especially because I could not talk to anyone. Anxiety caused by a need to wash? Ridiculous! I felt I could not say anything not only in fear of judgment but ridicule. I was in a bubble that I couldn’t break out of, nor could anyone come in to help me from being suffocated.
Things got very tough and eventually my father brought a psychiatrist home to see me. I was diagnosed with OCD at 16 and was advised to take the remainder of the year off as I couldn’t cope with school let alone the exam stress. My father and I walked around the house like strangers, my mother and brother could not stand the sight of me. I wanted it all to end. I had started to self-harm, but more for the attention than to take my life. I wanted someone to understand that I couldn’t help it and to say ‘it will be okay.’ I had hit rock bottom and I did not know who to turn to. I had given up; I thought I might as well try praying my salah, what could I lose? I cried my eyes out during my supplication, I begged to be normal, to be happy. I began to pray more often, hoping Allah might hear me. I can’t remember at what point it was, but I felt some comfort, found some strength to carry on and I did.
I retook year 12 the following September and it coincided with my CBT sessions, which was of no help. I found I needed someone to talk to rather than guidance on how to stop the rituals. I just continued to pray and hoped that somehow things will work out and I will do well. Retaking the year 12 and going onto A-levels were no easy feat. My OCD was still not better, I still felt incredibly low but I had some fight in me to try hard and do well. I wanted to make my family proud and get good results. My tension and OCD rituals increased with the impending exam stress and I ended up not doing well. I prayed so hard, but why me? Why couldn’t something go right?
I did go to university in the end and studied Psychology as I wanted to help people who too had mental health issues. Whilst most people would balance their work and social life, I couldn’t afford to. My rituals would take up so much time, what little time I had remaining would be to study. I was determined to do things right and to do well for myself and my family. I would feel guilty for all that I put them through, I love them and know they love me and only wanted to help but were helpless in the face of the situation. I had pushed myself over the three years during my undergraduate and was proud to earn a First class Honors, Alhamdulillah. This was and is the proudest moment of my life so far.
Since then, I have been on a roller coaster of emotions in finding my way through adult life. I became dependent on anti-depressants for a year and half and wanted to stop before I got married. I feel as if I have lost more than a decade of my life to this monster known as OCD and depression. Both consumed me; stole precious moments, and damaged relationships with friends and family. My OCD is at a somewhat manageable level now, but I know it will always be a part of my life. I’m at the stage now, where I have really low days which has an adverse effect on my marriage but I turn to salah, and I keep reminding myself that ‘Allah does not burden a soul beyond it can bear (2:286)’ It is through this verse I keep trying to meander my way through day to day life and find comfort that although this life can be full of sorrow, the hereafter is more important. Don’t get me wrong, I have had days when I just want to give up and say enough. But I can’t. I think of my family, I think of my Lord. Patience is indeed a virtue, but so is belief and hope in Allah, where inshaAllah (God-willing) we will all be blessed with paradise, where the ultimate peace of mind and happiness rests, and that is what is keeping me going.
If you suffer from OCD, depression or other mental health illnesses, help is available. Click here for more information