I am a daughter of Mexican immigrants. Straight outta Compton, I moved away to attend UC Berkeley, receiving my degree in history in 2015, and I will be attending USF Law this year, where I will gain the tools to fight against the system of mass incarceration that’s predominantly affecting my Black and brown community.
This is a feat.
People from my hometown rarely graduate from high school, let alone attend college or pursue a graduate or law school degree. I am entering spaces not built for me, and I am breaking stereotypes along the way.
But this is also a triumph because of my battle with my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The mental illness — which the International OCD Foundation defines as one that occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions, unwanted intrusive thoughts, images and urges, and compulsions, behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of those obsessions — impacts everyone who experiences it differently.
For me, it appears in unreal intrusive thoughts that have sometimes caused me to perform compulsions like incessant cleaning and inspections. There have been times where I was late to work because of an unwavering urge to constantly check if my house door was locked, or if my hands were clean or if my clothes were washed.
I was obeying the orders of the obsessive thoughts as if they were the dictators of my life.
My OCD has made me feel powerless and exhausted. I believed that if I gave into the compulsions that I would be relieved of the fixating thoughts, but as soon as I performed on the impulse, it felt like my mind was opening up drawers that were searching for another obsessive thought.
(Courtesy of Vanessa Falcon)
Despite my fierce determination to succeed, my OCD sucked the strength out of me. I often felt I had to work ten times harder than my peers, both in the classroom and at home.
The negative stigma surrounding mental health illnesses in Latino families deprives Latinas of the space to heal. Our relatives expect us to “get over it,” not understanding that OCD isn’t something than can just be ignored. They call us “locas” while telling us therapy isn’t an option because then other people will say we’re “crazy.”
After about one year, I moved past this negative stigma and pushed myself to seek the help I needed to address and control my OCD. Even then, though, I was not vocal about it. I was embarrassed. But, after realizing that these unreal thoughts were hindering my happiness, and also wanting to end this stigma for many other women experiencing it, I realized I should not be ashamed. If I wanted to be peaceful and successful in life, I had to take control of it and open up to supportive loved ones.
On my journey to heal, I have begun addressing my childhood trauma, which I’ve learned triggers the illness, and developed tools to control my OCD. For instance, when I find myself having an intrusive thought, I name it as OCD. By labeling, I recognize that the thought is not real, helping it lose its power. This is crucial. When I notice a pattern of an underlying factor that causes my OCD, I remind myself of that pattern, sometimes even drawing a diagram or simply writing to help me organize my thoughts and separate what my rational self would do versus what my anxious self would do.
Sometimes, even after addressing the intrusive thought, it could still consume me. In these cases, I try to schedule a time to worry about it so that I can move on to other tasks. By the time I get to it, the obsession may lose its significance.
I’ve also learned to be patient with myself and know that this is a process. When I find myself consumed in my OCD thoughts, I try not to get frustrated or annoyed with myself. I believe in me, know that I can persevere through this and will not let it dictate my life.
For women of color living with OCD, know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that you can still realize your dreams and lead a happy life. My accomplishments in life are so much more meaningful to me because my struggle with OCD, and as the celebrated Black motivational speaker Lisa Nichols puts it, “My success is beautiful because of it.”