A Story of Learning to Live – and Laugh – with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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David, living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

David spent the first half of his life as a sweet, if somewhat hyper, child who enjoyed drawing. The second half he has spent as a struggling and haunted adult battling obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Now, at 34, he’s holding his own, but with keen awareness that he has a tough adversary that he can’t ignore.

People with OCD are assailed by insistent, unwanted thoughts and the need to repeat ritualistic behaviors. The thoughts may center, for example, on an exaggerated fear of germs; incessant hand washing is a well-known compulsion. An unrelenting, unrealistic drive for perfection can be a manifestation of OCD. As a teenager, David discovered karate. What started as fun became fixation, until it consumed almost all his waking hours when he wasn’t in school.

“Everything revolved around karate,” says David’s mother, Harriet. “Every day was torture because every day he had to start over again, had to do it right. Make a mistake and it didn’t ‘feel right’, which meant his whole day was ruined.” Gradually, her good-natured son became “stone-faced” and barely spoke. When older brother, Adam, baffled, asked, “Why are you doing this?,” the response was silence.

The need to ‘feel right’ for karate began to control David’s eating. Harriet would despair watching him measure every mouthful, count each strand of spaghetti. When their six-foot, three-inch son’s weight plummeted to 120 pounds, his parents panicked. “How he was still walking around,” Harriet says, “I don’t know.” Realizing this was more than adolescent acting out, she and David’s father, Joel, were on the verge of hospitalizing him when help came from an unexpected quarter. When David went to a local gym to buy some equipment, a trainer there took one look at him, got out the calipers and measured his body fat.

“Olympians have eight or nine percent body fat,” Harriet says. “David had one percent. That’s when he, himself, realized things were out of control and he let us take him to a doctor.”

Although the doctor they went to misdiagnosed David’s condition as anorexia, the drug he prescribed, the antidepressant clomipramine (trade name Anafranil), is often used to treat OCD. It took weeks to kick in, but then, one day, Harriet heard David “give a little laugh.” It was music to her ears.

But the journey was only beginning—the search for the right doctor, the right treatment—for David, whose OCD was compounded by recurrent depression and anxiety. Despite days when he couldn’t get out of bed, he managed to complete a bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College not far from the family’s home in Queens, New York. But after graduation his condition worsened.

“It’s hard enough for any kid getting out of college to be suddenly adrift, but for someone with OCD, when any change is frightening, it’s a nightmare,” Harriet says.

It took several years before the family found the right psychiatrist, who found the right mix of medications. Clomipramine remains the base, combined with the antidepressant clonazepam (Klonapin) and the antipsychotic aripiprazole (Abilify). Harriet explains that this is why they support the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. “David benefits from medications that came out of research. Research is clearly the way to better treatments.”  

Today, after completing training as a court reporter, David is freelancing, taking and transcribing depositions for lawyers. Says Joel, “If you’d told me five years ago that David would be working, I wouldn’t have believed it.” Harriet explains that David still needs to be vigilant: “OCD is a very opportunistic condition. It grabs you when you’re vulnerable, when you’re tired or down. It still can be a problem for David to recognize what’s valid thinking and what’s obsession.” David, knowing what his challenge is, and having accumulated success in meeting it, is optimistic.

Article comments

I really enjoyed this article. I would like to talk to David, I think we have a lot in common.

Helpful article. Thanks.

Wow. You've given me a little hope for my 22 year old son. I too think he will never be able to work. *happy tears* Thanks!

I'm glad David is doing well. My son also suffered from OCD so severe he couldn't eat. Medication didn't help him, but Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy, the front line treatment for OCD, saved his life. He has also graduated college and is working in his chosen field. His OCD is now classified as mild. There is so much hope for all those who suffer from OCD, no matter how severe! I discuss anything and everything to do with the disorder on my blog at: www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com

well very helpful article. You mentioned it correctly that it strikes you most when you are vunerable..

I liked your sentence "It grabs you when you’re vulnerable, when you’re tired or down.", and I think this has to do with the circuits or the level of chemicals inside the brain during the time of being down or weak; I have been diagnosed with OCD when I was 16 though I had it affecting my life a couple of years before, with medications and chats with my doctor, things were better; however, I stopped the medication after 1.5 year (without referring to my doctor), and when I was 18, I was having my high school exams and OCD re-hit me again, re-hit me while I was stressed of exams, I remember after my last exam when OCD thoughts were raising in my head, I was saying: heeeey thoughts You are just OCD, you can keep going in my head and I will only respond by ignoring you, the same technique my doctor taught me when as I was taking the medication; however, I wasn't able to do the same during the exams as I was fearing that I will do bad in the exams if I didn't respond as per the thoughts, so it's true, OCD hits you when you are weak and stressed!

You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be really something that I feel I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next publish, Ill try to get the cling of it!

I suffer from bipolar disorder, anxiety and OCD. For the past 2 years, I have had a terrible fixation with moving my tongue around my mouth, feeling, pushing and sucking. Does anyone have any tricks that I could try to stop this? My tongue especially is raw every night and my teeth feel like they're going to fall out, however, my dentist sees no physical evidence to support my fears.

You need to have a really strong determination to fight your bad habits and fears. Also get over your fears or phobias.

Would you consider asking a dentist about an appliance to wear (which is what people wear who grind their teeth at night) when you're sleeping?

Klonopin is not an anti-depressant. It is an anti-seizure medicine used for anxiety. It helps slow down the obsessive thoughts and helps a person to think rationally.

Hello there! I have had OCD all my life. I am now 38. It got really really bad about 6-7 years ago with aggressive anxiety questioning of my poor 78 year old mother. I now have outbursts of extreme anger and kick or throw things. My mind just won't shut up with questions when I get triggered from my mom. I had to quit my job. 38 living with my parents. Never married b/c of my OCD. It has taken a hd of me and beaten me bad.

Now, I understand my son's girlfriend behavior. I had never realized what OCD was. Thank you for enlightening me. She pouts when she does not get her way, is aggressive and demanding, can not compromise, has called me names and worse when in a heat of anger, I thought she was going to attack me. There is no talking to her. I hope she gets help because she is not on any medication right now. She even lashes out at my son in public and I do not luck that but that is his life. Again thank you.

Ms. Norris

I am right now affected by ocd with washing compulsions and take about 6 to 7 hours in the bathroom. After reading the story and comments, really scared but understand there is hope. It is absolutely necessary for me (and I believe for every ocd victim) to lead a normal life as it squeezes the life out when it strikes. But my husband says it is all about will power. When I win over it, the confidence i will get to face life is something , an opportunity that life has given me through ocd. God bless all. And yes, there is hope. We can lead a normal life. Lets not give up.

I'm 22 years old and I suffer from OCD, manic depression, and severe anxiety. Getting out of bed every day takes every bit of my strength and courage. I've lost several jobs and have been hospitalized for 5 days because of my disorders. I feel so stupid and ashamed when I try to talk to anyone about it, because no one could understand unless they've experienced it. My obsessive thoughts are all about insects crawling out of my body. It's like a horror movie constantly playing in my head of bugs bursting out of my skin, I can even feel the itching all over my body. I take several medications, including a drug to help the itching. My compulsions: self harm. I cut myself and scratch my skin raw in response to the feeling that bugs are all over me. Hopefully anyone experiencing this understands that it is NOT our fault and we should NOT feel stupid or ashamed. I just hope that more people become educated on this disorder so that we don't feel that we are lesser people than anyone else.

I suffered from OCD with severe anxiety for 3 years non stop 24x7. Medication did not help me. I went to a wonderful pyschologist. One sentence she told me helped me tame the beast. I would remember her words throughout my life - "Engage with your mind when you absolutely need it". "With" is the key word here. I have gone without medication for the last one year and have been free of OCD. One other mantra I have told to myself - Absolutely do what you fear the most. Conquering OCD requires raw guts and loads of patience. Live fearless- Life truly begins where fear ends. If you want to ping me contact me at rimco99@gmail.com. I am more than glad to help.

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