I never wanted to be an astronaut, but sometimes my mind made me feel as though I was perpetually lost in a labyrinth of stars, spinning uncontrollably with my thoughts. My journey through life with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been akin to navigating a cosmos brimming with peculiar celestial bodies that commanded my attention and triggered my anxieties.
When I was a child, I remember spending hours arranging my toys in a precise order, colour-coordinated and facing the right direction. I believed if even one was out of alignment, a catastrophe would ensue. It sounds illogical to most, but to me, it was as real as the earth beneath my feet.
In my teenage years, this fear extended to people I loved. I spent countless nights terrified that harm would befall my family if I didn’t perform my rituals. I’d repeat my “protective” actions until my mind was finally able to let go. It was exhausting, isolating, and fed the monster that is OCD.
As I entered adulthood, I learned that this was not just an eccentricity, but a recognized and diagnosed disorder. OCD was not a quirk but a serious mental health condition that was hijacking my life. I decided to seek help.
My first therapist was a kind woman who introduced me to the term “exposure and response prevention” (ERP). She explained that it is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that exposes you to the thoughts, images, and situations that make you anxious. Over time, this exposure helps to reduce the anxiety these triggers cause, reducing the compulsive behaviors that follow.
I’ll never forget my first ERP session. I was asked to deliberately misplace a book on my usually immaculate shelf. The discomfort was immense, a swirling hurricane of chaos in my head. But I waited, endured, and slowly, the whirlwind began to lose power. That book out of place was my first victory against OCD.
It was not an overnight transformation, but a grueling uphill battle. There were moments of despair, but every sunrise brought a new opportunity to face my fears. I can still recall one evening where my worries were so overwhelming that I found myself helplessly pacing in my living room. In that moment of frustration, I challenged myself to stand still. Each second felt like an eternity, but standing there, amidst the chaos, was another small victory.
The more I worked with ERP, the more I found strength I never knew I possessed. With each obstacle I overcame, I became more resilient. I remember once being stuck in traffic, late for an event, which would usually spiral me into a panic. But this time, I focused on my breathing, acknowledging the worry but not feeding it. When I finally arrived at the event, I felt a sense of accomplishment rather than distress.
I’m sharing my journey not to romanticize the struggle, but to highlight the resilience one finds in the recovery process. I want people to understand that, like any other disorder, OCD requires treatment and shouldn’t be trivialized or misunderstood. It’s not just about being excessively neat or having quirks; it’s about living with intense anxiety and fear.
Looking back, I see how far I’ve come. The rituals that once felt like necessary shields are now seen for what they truly are: intrusive thoughts that I don’t need to obey. And while some days are harder than others, I know I am more than my OCD.
I am Finley Stratford, a survivor, a fighter, and an explorer of my own mental cosmos. Through my experiences, I hope to shed light on the reality of OCD and inspire others who are facing similar struggles. There’s a whole universe out there, and it is a lot more interesting when you’re not constantly spinning.
Remember, recovery isn’t about reaching a perfect state where OCD never touches you; it’s about learning to navigate life despite the whirlwind, taking the helm of your own spaceship, and charting your course through the cosmos of your mind.
Finley Stratford is a mental health advocate and writer who has been navigating his journey with OCD. Through sharing his personal experiences, he hopes to spread awareness and understanding about the disorder.