Few people believe that children who haven’t experienced direct trauma could be mentally ill – but I’ve had obsessive compulsive order (OCD) from a young age. I’m from Pakistan, and in many South Asian countries, mental illness is stigmatized. People who are mentally ill are told that they’re suffering because of their poor connection with God.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been aggressive.
When I was a toddler, I would throw tantrums if any stranger approached me. As I aged, I would beat my elder sister on various occasions. I struggled with managing my moods as I grew up, and I often lied to my parents and friends. It wasn’t something I could easily control.
When I was 14, I developed feelings for a boy named Lucas.
We dated for a few months before I started feeling that I don’t love him anymore. I felt terribly depressed and guilty for feeling that way. I broke up with him, and he was devastated. Over the next few months, I became a more aggressive and blunt person.
One day, everything changed. I felt guilty for behaving so horribly. I cried out to God, asking Him to change me.
I patched things up with Lucas, and although we were really dependent on one another, we would fight frequently. I would pray to God to make us good for each other. In order to have my prayers answered, I would recite the Holy Qur’an and offer Salah regularly. My relationship with Lucas became increasingly toxic and I became more and more depressed. After breaking up with Lucas a second time, I took a look at myself in the mirror and just couldn’t deal with the horrid mess I had become. I wanted to become a good girl for the sake of God and my parents. I cut my long hair because I didn’t want to look like the monster I believed I was. I transformed into a gentle version of myself. I also became more inclined towards my religion and became a practicing Muslim.
Three months later, Lucas told me that he wanted to patch up and I agreed. As my love for Lucas intensified, a war began inside of me.
In Islam, pre-marital relationships involving physical contact are not allowed. At first, my mind started attacking me by telling me that I would stop loving God if my love for Lucas increased. My mind told me that I was a great sinner and that God was displeased with me. I told myself periodically that as long as we maintain certain boundaries, it was fine.
I constantly felt as if God hated me and that He would punish me for minor sins.
I was in constant fear. In order to put out the fire in my mind, I would repeat sentences to soothe these thoughts over and over again. My distress increased and I just stopped being happy. At a certain point, I started doubting my love for Lucas again.
There was a great emptiness inside me and I would cry continuously. I barely spoke. Every hour felt so long. I didn’t want to feel as if I was pressed under a great rock. The pain was like a blinding white light that just pinches your eyes. My mind acted so cruelly and unmerciful, throwing the worst kinds of feelings and thoughts into my heart. I remember that one time I cried so much out of the pain that I didn’t pray the next day.
One day, at the age of 16, I broke down in front of my mother and sister. They decided that it was time to see a psychologist. She diagnosed me with OCD. Specifically, I had scrupulosity, which is a pathological fear of, and obsession with, God and religion. I also had symptoms of ‘relationship OCD’, which includes being consumed with doubts about your relationship and your love for your partner.
The psychologist gave me exercises to perform. Through hypnotherapy, she corrected my misconceptions regarding God and helped me reconcile with myself. My family and friends were supportive. My recovery involved baby steps toward living a healthier life. It was initially pretty tough but, as time passed, I felt happier and relaxed.
My obsession with God and religion gradually faded away, but my connection with God did not break. Instead, I felt more inclined towards God because He pulled me out of the darkness and gave me the strength to fight OCD. I was able to balance religion with other aspects of my life, which was something that scrupulosity prevented me from achieving.
If you’re struggling with OCD, particularly scrupulosity, my advice is to hold on. Build yourself again slowly and pour out your anger and pain in whatever gives you peace. Notice the tiny blessings in life and practice gratitude. Gratitude opens your eyes to see the best in the worst of situations.
On some days, it will be tough and you will get exhausted – but your hard work and struggle will pay off.