If you happen to be reading this because you are suffering with a mental illness, hear this: I am so, so very sorry. You’ve done nothing to deserve your suffering. My being sorry might seem trite or unnecessary but when I was first scrambling in a sea of symptoms and the reality of my diagnosis, a kind soul offered me her empathy. She acknowledged how badly I was hurting. Her “I’m sorry” didn’t offer freedom from the pain, but it meant someone saw me. Someone finally understood how deeply I was hurting and was sorry.
So, reader, I see you. And I am sorry. So very sorry. That’s all.
Dear Khloe Kardashian,
I had no intentions of writing about this until I was “better.” My story is an embarrassing and personal and painful one to tell. But, last week, I saw a story pop up in my newsfeed about you and I knew it was important to say something, anything to those it may have affected. I realize it is 2018 and everyone is offended about everything. I have never found myself falling into the offended population, but perhaps that’s because I come from a place of privilege and, until now, I’ve never had reason. But I have a reason, a damn good one. And I pray, despite your busy and remarkably public life, you will read this and hear me out. And even if you don’t, I hope someone does and re-thinks their position on this topic to the benefit of those around them.
For those wondering what I am babbling on about, I offer you my congratulations for being exempt from the clenches of this pop culture obsession. To fill you in: Last week Khloe Kardashian began a campaign she titled “Khlo-C-D.” On her app, she encouraged users to take a test to see how “OCD” they are, and offered tips for how to properly organize your closet. She joked about how to get your partner to be more “Khlo-C-D.” I like to think I am not overly sensitive and that I know how to take a joke, but this campaign devastated me, because it represents something bigger than Khloe Kardashian’s misconceptions about a debilitating mental illness. It represents the millions that follow her, that hold the same belief, that diminish an illness and perpetuate a stigma that reduces something that has largely taken over my life – and the lives of many – down to a case of liking an organized closet.
Khloe, I hope you’ll read this because whether you like it or not, your words are powerful and reach far beyond mine. This is important work to be done and I need people like you to help me do it. As a fellow mother, I hope you’ll read my story and understand how worthwhile this is for me to write. I am about to tell you my embarrassing and painful secret so that it may do some good. Please, please help me make some good out of this mess.
The truth? I have spent the last few weeks in an inpatient facility for OCD sufferers. 4 months ago, I was living an unremarkable and amazing life. I was entrenched in motherhood, the ABCs, and happiness. I had (have) friends I adore, a husband who is equal parts amazing and handsome, a life so sweet I could hardly believe it was mine. I was living for Jesus and my family. We were even planning on a third baby this summer, the perfect final addition to our family. Would we adopt? Should we wait another year? The options were exciting and amazing. I’m not an expert on bliss, but it’s the closest thing to heaven I could have found, nestled right in quiet, small town Texas. One night, while watching the kids playing together and feeling overwhelmed at how lucky I felt, I said to my husband Mike, “I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. For us to fall into financial trouble or for you to cheat,” I jabbed at him, laughing. What really happened was something I couldn’t have planned for because I didn’t even know it could happen.
One random Thursday in December, I had dropped off my 2 year old at pre-K, done a quick Target run, and began mopping my floor. My younger toddler in her high chair, snacking on tomatoes and hummus, I turned on a crime podcast my book club had recommended. The content of the podcast is something that is incredibly triggering for me, so I won’t divulge too much, but I will say this: The story was about a parent who horrifically and unapologetically hurt their own child. I listened, and out of nowhere, a thought came into my head: What if I am capable of something awful like that? How do I know I’m not? And, I suddenly was berated with images and thoughts of harm coming to the two little people I live for. I was terrified. Immediately, I thought, Oh my goodness. That’s horrific, and I never want to think something like that again. But, it wouldn’t stop. A few hours later I was having the thoughts every few minutes. I sat down and googled intrusive thoughts and how to rid yourself of them. I meditated. I prayed. Nothing worked. I didn’t sleep that night, and the next day I called my husband and told him something was not right. By the time he arrived home, I was convinced I was a dangerous monster, and told him I needed to lock myself in the guest room until I got help. The following week, I walked into my therapist’s office for the first time, expecting – eager even – to be reported and taken away from my children. It was heart wrenching, but I wanted them safe. I needed to know they were safe. From her couch, I spilled every awful, terrible thought through tears. I explained how badly I did not want the thoughts, but how powerful and persistent they were. Finally, she put her hand out and stopped me.
“This is a very common form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I treat many mothers, good mothers, wonderful people, with this illness. I cannot reassure you again, after this moment, because it feeds the illness. But I will tell you that your children are not in danger and you will not hurt them.”
Before my diagnosis, I’d believed OCD was something people had that made them check the locks and wash their hands relentlessly. There must be some mistake: I was having thoughts that were meant for jail or a mental hospital. How could she let me walk out of her office without telling the authorities? How did she know I wouldn’t hurt anyone? That day began a new life, full of unending appointments, questions, medications, improvements and setbacks. I was fighting hard, but I was losing. I was getting worse. I could no longer stand to be in the same room as my children, terrified I would somehow snap and harm them. I trembled as I changed diapers, cringed when they hugged and touched me, and counted down the minutes until Mike would come home. If he was home, they were safe. Being alone with them, which for three years has been my wonderful reality, suddenly became my worst nightmare. I can’t begin to describe the feeling – the inescapable worry and terror that I will snap and do something terrible. Under the control of OCD it doesn’t matter that my fears are irrational, driven by a mental illness, even at the reassurance of a team of professionals, experts and everyone I love. All that matters is that the thoughts are there. When I hold them, it feels as though I am on the precipice of doing something horrible. I can feel the blood rush in my hands, urging me to harm. These are all consistent with OCD symptoms, but it doesn’t soften the feeling of imminent threat.
I quickly began to spiral, to feel with hefty certainty that my family would be better off without me. That there was no way out of this hell, that my children deserved better than a mother who was either a threat to them, or afraid to touch them. Finally, I broke. I’d written a letter to my husband and children to tell them how relentlessly I loved them and how incredibly devastated I was to have to leave them. I am normally a jealous spouse, but quickly began to hope that Mike would find someone warm and wonderful, quickly, who would adore my kids, show them Jesus, and give them hummus to dip in instead of ketchup. (Ketchup has too much sugar.) Should I leave her a note too? How will she know Finn’s favorite songs? Who will tell her how much spinach to hide in their smoothies? I thought of all the moments I’d never see. The absolute misery that would come to Mike, having lost his soul mate. I thought of the irreparable damage I would do to my family by leaving them, by giving up. I ripped up the letter. I sat outside and listened to the rain hit my tin roof, and I looked my OCD in the eye and said, “You cannot have me. You cannot have this. I will not be shaken. Now go back inside, and you live. Live for them. It doesn’t matter how painful it gets, you have to live.”
That night, I begged Mike for help. He nodded and hugged me, and he promised to find me help. He promised he would fight as long as I did, too. I don’t know if there has been a time in our marriage where we have been more committed to each other than in that moment. We have never lived out our vows as sincerely as we have since I was diagnosed. He became an expert on OCD, listened to podcasts, read books. He prayed for me, and most of all, he never blamed me. He saw his vibrant, powerful wife quiver in fear and has never lost hope in me. He called our insurance company to advocate for my treatment, he researched programs with me, he took out money – a lot of money – from our savings, and saved my life. We found a program that would allow me to leave frequently to see the kids, and within a few phone calls, I was admitted. My saint of a mother in law swooped in to take care of my children while I was treated. Our entire family showed me an unbelievable amount of grace and unconditional love. Within a few days, I made the drive to the program, enveloped in tears. But somewhere deep within the illness, there was a part of me that for the first time in months felt relief. With me gone, I knew my babies were safe. That’s the certainty OCD demands.
I do not get tot put my children to sleep each night. I don’t get to hold them and kiss them without trembling. A simple phone call with them, and the sound of their voices can send me into sheer panic. I am tortured with thoughts of harming them, of being taken away from them, of losing them. I cry myself to sleep every night, until my lungs have no air left from sobbing. I have missed the opportunity to wake my son up on his third birthday. I planned and crafted for his birthday party from the dining table of a mental facility. I watched my husband cry as his broken wife drove away from the home she built with him. I drive hours just to put the kids to bed. I fight and I go to appointments and MRIs and psychiatrists and acupuncturists. I’ve read every book Amazon Prime can offer on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I am fighting for my life back, and let me tell you something: it is not funny. It is not clever or cute or catchy.
I think you see, Khloe, where I am going with this. OCD is not strictly a disorder of organization, and those who suffer do not delight in their compulsions. The people here with me at treatment are wonderful, talented, smart people who are brave enough to get help and find a way out of the hell that is OCD. When you diminish their illness by using it as a way to get clicks and likes, you perpetuate the stigma that OCD is something lighthearted and funny. After reading my testimony and knowing the pain this illness has caused my family, I hope you’ll think differently. I’m sure you wouldn’t misuse breast cancer or a brain tumor as a catchy slogan, so I’m not sure why you feel entitled to do so with OCD.
Here’s the thing: I’m sure, or I’ll assume, you’re not a bad or ill-intended person. You’re also not the only one who has used OCD improperly. (I once had a fellow mom tell me that she had OCD about her Instagram pictures.) I’m not here to lecture or scold you, but to inform you and the millions who follow you that behind OCD there are millions of people truly suffering. I pray that you’d use this error in judgment to educate your followers. To get the word out about the many, many forms of the disorder. You never know when a terrified mom will be on the other end of that information, desperate for an answer to why her thoughts refuse to relent. Thousands of people have not had the chance that I have been given. Many, hopeless and alone, have ended their lives under the impression that they are monsters, not victims of a mental illness. Your words have power, and they could save someone’s life.
As for me, I am not done. I’m not done fighting and I’m not done telling this story. This is my broken hallelujah. I will not be shaken.
Please share this. Please help me yell this from the Internet’s rooftops. Let this reach the eyes and ears of people who need it. There is help and there is treatment and there is life on the other end of fear.
OCD, you absolute son of a bitch, I am coming for you.