There is no way anyone could have known that normal childhood fears could turn my world upside down and have me living in constant fear. As I grew older my behaviour became obsessive. I was living in fear every day.
Early adolescence: My fears as a young child were probably not that uncommon. I was afraid of the dark, afraid that something was hiding in my closet or under my bed. Plagued by nightmares which grew into night terrors. I was terrified to walk down the hall in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I was sure that someone was lurking in the dark hallway. I would have to sleep with a light on in hopes it would somehow keep away the nightmares. I would often find myself with a blanket and a pillow sleeping on my mom and dad’s bedroom floor just to feel safe.
Teenage years: My fears only escalated. All of the things that scared me as a young child was still swirling around in my head. I was still afraid to leave my room in the middle of the night. I would check my closet before going to sleep. Although I would get lectured on the cost of electricity, I still slept with the light on. Now that I was older I was able to stay home by myself. Late at night, I wouldn’t go into the basement. I had to double-check to make sure the doors were locked. If my parents were away I would sleep in their room where I could lock the door behind me. I would have to check under their bed and in their closet. If I got up to go to the bathroom, I would check again before going back to sleep.
Early adulthood: My first apartment by myself was in downtown Burlington. I was on the 15th floor and was certain I would not be afraid because I was up so high (who would scale a wall to break in?). I had underground parking which didn’t bother me during the day, but at night I would run to the door, afraid that someone was following me amidst the dark shadows of the garage. I found myself checking closets, behind the shower curtain, under the bed and, double-checking locked doors. When I moved to St. Catharines, my behaviour started to get obsessive. I found myself counting as I locked and relocked the doors. 1, 2, 3 – 1, 2, 3 – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. I repeated this over and over again until I was certain the doors were properly locked. Before going to bed, once again I found myself checking all the closets, behind the shower curtain and under my bed. If I got up in the middle of the night I would have to do it all over again. Obsessively counting as I checked the doors were still locked, the closest, and so on. Over and over again I was up in the middle of the night repeating these behaviours. Sleeping with the light on was a must but did not help ease my fear.
I was terrified all of the time. Constantly afraid someone was hiding in my apartment to torture or kill me. I was too embarrassed to tell people I knew for fear they would laugh at me. I felt so much shame. For other reasons in my personal life, I sought out a therapist. After talking with her multiple times I felt safe enough to share my terror and obsessive compulsive bevaiours with her. She told me to write a list of all of the things I had to check before I went to bed. I was told to put a check beside each task after I completed it once and then keep the list on my bedside table. If I awoke during the night, I was to look at the list and take comfort in the fact, all of the tasks were complete. Within the first week, I stopped double-checking closets and doors. After a few weeks, I stopped the ritual of counting as I locked the door. I couldn’t believe it was working. My therapist was brilliant! After about a month I stopped with the list completely. Although I still slept with the light on (to help with the nightmares), I had stopped doing all of those things I obsessively did before. I felt less scared. Occasionally I would slip backward if I watched something scary on TV, but I would just get out my checklist again and I would feel safe.
How it changed my life: I live in a beautiful home where I am not afraid of the basement. I do not check in my closets or under the bed. I am not afraid to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I still have nightmares and sometimes sleep with a light on, mostly I sleep with my blinds up, so the moonlight coming through my window gives just enough light that I am no longer scared of what lurks in the shadows. Sometimes I still double-check my doors (no counting). My therapist gave me my life back. I never would have been able to live by myself in a house fearless if she hadn’t given me the tools I needed to help me stop obsessing over them.
I still have some obessive compulstive tendencies with other things, but that is another story. If you are suffering from OCT (obsessive compulsive tendencies), or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), know there is help. It is possible to live life without the fears that are driving you to ritually and compulsively repeat certain behaviours. If my story helps at least one person, then it was worth making myself feel vulnerable.