In high school, I was a cheerleader. Each Friday night I wore my sparkly blue and white cheerleading uniform, glittery eyeshadow, and a big white bow anchoring my ponytail.
I was someone who shook her pom poms in the air, cheered on boys and sometimes just wanted to look cute in a skirt. But that doesn’t define me.
That misguided view of cheerleading meant nothing to me. My world is so much bigger.
I’m also the girl who methodically makes her bed every single morning, even when the sheets need to be changed because the thought of leaving my room disheveled terrifies me.
I’m the girl who has been making her own lunches for school since fifth grade.
I’m the girl who drinks her hot black coffee with a metal straw to avoid the inevitable drips on the side of the mug, and who only wears white ankle socks to match her endless rotation of white sneakers.
I’m the girl who is obsessed with the serotonin surge when walking up and down the aisles of her local Trader Joe’s, and who never leaves the house without her white Owala water bottle.
I’m the girl who can command attention from a room full of kindergarteners at summer camp and, yes, folds their towels and places them in their bags after swimming.
My real superpower, one might say, is being at peace with my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But, things weren’t always this way.
In seventh grade, I realized how my daily routines and actions were negatively impacting my life. Soon after, I asked my parents to take me to a therapist. I wanted help.
So every Wednesday after school, I would say goodbye to my friends and venture off to see Rebecca, my therapist.
At first, I was less than excited to talk to a stranger about my problems. I would sit in her office each week twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the hour to end. I was afraid to open up to her about how I was feeling and terrified to ask for help. In admitting I wasn’t okay, it became real.
Mayo Clinic describes OCD as “a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.”
While scary at first, in good time I started to understand how important it was to acknowledge my obsessive-compulsive feelings (among others) and how they impacted my life. It was then that I began talking honestly with Rebecca.
Seven years later, I’m proud to report that I’ve gained a greater sense of control and understanding of my OCD.
I’ve never been one to feel sorry for myself for having OCD, because honestly, the discovery has made me stronger. Whether it was doing my own laundry each week because I like my clothes folded a certain way or making my own lunch to ensure my kale salad was perfectly massaged and my apples were sliced thinly and symmetrically — I have embraced it as a part of my identity.
My books are perfectly stacked on my desk, my closet is in order by color and some people like to say I’m freakishly clean. These things don’t bother me. It’s just who I am, and I’ve learned to love it and live with it.
I have learned how to maintain my OCD with the help of medication and therapy, but I also don’t let it control my life. I have learned to appreciate things even if I do them differently than others — like things on my desk and nightstand always being in the same order or counting and recounting my campers.
I have always been very open about mental health and my OCD because it is nothing to be ashamed of. The stigma surrounding mental health needs to be broken and by sharing my experience, I hope more people feel relief.
It’s okay not to be okay sometimes.
We judge each other and ourselves far too often based on the way we present ourselves, when really, you can’t fully understand a person until you hear their story and see what’s beneath.
They’re not typical or expected, but my meticulous habits and careful habits are a part of who I am.
So yes, at first I may appear to be a peppy cheerleader, but don’t be too quick to judge me. There’s so much more to who I am and what I have to give.