Kelsey, one of our new Youth Network ambassadors, shares her experience navigating the uncertainties and decisions of adulthood while managing OCD.
This is the first entry in a new blog series dedicated to sharing personal stories, journeys, and insights about mental health from members of our community.
“When are you going to get married? Why are you still living at home? When are you having kids? What are you going to do for work? Why aren’t you going to university?” These are just a few of the questions that young adults, like me, face on a seemingly daily basis. Young adults constantly feel the pressure to have the perfect answers for life’s biggest questions. Luckily (or not) for me, I just turned 24, right in the middle of the “you-should-have-your-life-figured-out-by-now” phase.
I’ve had anxiety since I was four years old, and what initially started as separation anxiety and having “scary thoughts” soon morphed into the fear of harming myself and others and intrusive thoughts of inappropriate attractions. In addition to the thoughts, I felt the need to perform extensive rituals. I believed that the rituals would keep myself and others safe. I later discovered that the intrusive thoughts and rituals I experienced were very common symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The thoughts were so distressing to me that I avoided nearly all situations that triggered intrusive thoughts, constantly asked people for reassurance, and mentally reviewed every moment in my day to make sure I didn’t act out any of the thoughts. At some points, I became housebound and completely incapable of caring for myself. It took every ounce of energy in me to cope with even the smallest amounts of normal activities.
I never got the typical “coming of age” experiences that society expects me to have for people my age; I didn’t graduate with my friends, I didn’t date, I didn’t get my drivers license, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t travel after high school, and I didn’t go away to university. While it felt like the rest of my peers were moving forward with school, work, and relationships, I was stuck at home, confined to the rules that OCD had complete control over my thoughts and behaviours.
Last year, I spent four months in a residential treatment program for my OCD. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, knowing that I would be spending day after day confronting the very things I spent nearly ten years avoiding. I had to learn to sit with uncertainty, to accept the fact that I’ll never know for sure whether my thoughts mean something about me, or whether they could come true. It was a step in my journey to wellness that I knew had to be taken.
Fast forward to now: it’s been nearly a year since I’ve been home from the program and I can happily say that I am able to manage my OCD and anxiety better than I’ve ever been able to in the past. However, with that huge success came a new battle. Once I started feeling better, no one told me that the real challenge would come with learning how to live again. I spent so many years just trying to survive that I forgot what it was like to live. I didn’t know how to be independent and how to take care of myself without the barriers of OCD holding me back. I had the freedom of the world in front of me and it terrified me. I had choices – in fact, unlimited amounts of choices. The idea that I could go where I wanted, do what I wanted and become who I wanted was equally exciting as it was overwhelming. I’ve had to learn how to be okay with not knowing the answers, especially in a world that was starting to open up for me.
Being okay with not knowing the answers is a constant work in progress for myself, but I am working towards it. I didn’t write this post to give you an answer; instead, I wrote this post to remind you that you aren’t alone in feeling the pressure to have life figured out. I’m here to remind you (and remind myself) that we don’t need to have it all figured out. We don’t need to know the exact path in life that we want to take. We don’t need to conform to the societal pressure that everyone has their life together by a certain age. We just need to remember to take care of our mental health and take small steps each day that will lead us down the path we were meant to go all along. Whatever that may look like for you, please remember that you don’t need to know all the answers right now, and that even if you don’t, it’s completely okay.