Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The girl who couldn't believe enough (OCD story part 5)

(If you are just joining, this is a continuation of a story I'm working on about a young girl in a very tumultuous phase of her life. It will make more sense if you read the first posts here and here and here and here, and then return to this post for part five.)

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Though many of my anxieties consumed me, the ones that tormented me most were those involving my faith. It was as if overnight, all the things I’d previously accepted with child-like conviction as truth, suddenly came into question. I agonized over my salvation. I wanted to go to heaven (or, more accurately, I desperately didn’t want to go to hell). I was not questioning my faith because I was a skeptic. Rather, my mind grew plagued with worry, that perhaps somewhere along the lines, I had misunderstood something, or, even worse, maybe I didn’t believe enough. How was I to know? I questioned whether I was going to heaven, obsessed over the steps I must take, the things I must believe in order to go there when I died. I was petrified that I was missing something or not believing “right” enough.

I plagued my parents with my faith questions. I imagine that at first, they were receptive, excited that their daughter had taken an interest in better understanding her faith. But soon my obsession with making sure I was going to heaven began to monopolize our days. My mom remembers that I would follow her around the house, often sobbing, needing her reassurance that I knew everything I needed to, that I was understanding correctly. She said it was difficult to even take a shower on some days, because I wanted her available at all times in case a gripping worry struck that required her reassurance to diminish its urgency.

I recall one morning, laying strewn across my parents’ bed, overcome with tears. My dad had already left for work; he was gone before the sun rose on most days. My mom was on the other side of the wall next to me, in the shower, seeking solitude, I’m sure. I had been banned from entering the bathroom after spending the morning following her around, peppering her with questions about how to be sure I was going to heaven. In this particular moment, my inquiries felt more urgent than anything in my life ever had. I remember it feeling like torture, wondering how she could leave me out here, fearful and desperately crying. I remember thinking, “If I die right now without her answering this question, I could go to hell.”

I needed answers, answers that had already been given to me hundreds of times before, yet they never provided the comfort I was after. Like an incessant itch that is only relieved when scratched but then grows even worse still, I longed for reassurances, but they came without lasting solace.

Days of “faith crisis” turned into weeks and, eventually, my questions grew so incessant and overwhelming that my parents gave me a notebook, with the aptly-named title, “Kelsie’s Middle School Struggle” scrawled across the front. They told me to begin writing my faith worries down in it, hoping that by writing down my questions and their answers to them, I could begin referring to this notebook when a worry struck, rather than trailing my mom obsessively around the house in tears. They set specific blocks of time when we could discuss my questions and go over what I had written in the notebook. They were attempting to spare their sanity; I thought they were heartless, “abandoning me” in my greatest hour of need.

I came up with a 5-bullet-point list of things I must believe in order to be saved that I penned in my journal under the bold heading “To get to heaven.” I committed it to memory and repeated it to myself whenever I felt worried about my salvation.

“Believe that God exists.
Believe that I’m a sinner.
Believe that because I’ve sinned, I deserve punishment.
Believe that Jesus died on the cross and took all the punishment for all of everyone's sins. Believe that He came back alive and is alive today and will be alive forever.

Believe that God exists.
Believe that I’m a sinner.
Believe that because I've sinned…”

“Then I just needed to trust Jesus with child-like trust, to get me to heaven by how he died and took the punishment for all of everyone’s sins!”

I wrote things like “that’s all!” and “according to the Bible” in the margins of my notebook and drew arrows pointing toward my 5-point list. This was straight-forward and simple! No need to worry about it anymore now that it's recorded in the notebook!

At first, having answers to my questions in writing did help to alleviate some of the gripping urgency I felt. But my anxieties would not let up. They were constant, day after day after torturous day. Each little step we took to try and alleviate a worry helped only briefly, until my next obsession surfaced. It was like a game of “Whack-a-Mole.”

The root of my questions were less theological in nature and more reassurance-seeking. Queries like “How do I choose God to be my Savior and mean it?” and “How do I know I want God to be my Savior?” began filling the pages of my notebook. And even when I did pen a strictly theological question that my parents answered with scriptural reasoning and Biblical reference, I wasn’t satisfied. It was more of a doubt in myself and a mistrust of my own mind than a mistrust in God.

Soon, a new worry surfaced. Since I was the one writing both my questions and my parents’ answers in my notebook, how could I be sure my parents had actually said the words I’d written? What if I was confusing dreams with reality? Everything in the notebook was penned in my own handwriting and this sent me on a new spiral. I began to doubt whether any of the conversations with my parents had actually taken place. Could I even trust my own memory?

I went back through my notebook and peppered it with little notes and arrows stating, “Mom said!” or “Dad said!” in hopes that they would help me truly KNOW that the words I had written were said and affirmed by them. Their truth felt like greater truth. The right truth. The trustworthy truth. I just couldn’t trust myself.

I was aware that it was unreasonable to question my memory. I knew the conversations had happened, yet it was as if I needed my doubt. My brain was operating in a state of constant overdrive.

It is difficult to put into words the experience of knowing in your mind that your behavior is absurd, yet be compelled to go through with the behavior anyway, in order to feel better in one's body.

This, in a nutshell, is OCD.

And all these questions recorded in my notebook, were my desperate cry for help.

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posted by kelsie