When she was 13 years old, Jennifer’s neighbours’ home was burglarized, an event that left a lasting mark on her. Anxious that the same thing would happen to her, she feared for the safety of her and her family. She felt responsible for protecting them. Before going to bed, she started inspecting all the locks to make sure the family was safe. She would repeat her rounds every day, then several times a day. Dark thoughts invaded her mind. Jennifer imagined that someone was hiding in the house and was going to attack her family in the night. She knew it was just an unpleasant thought and that there was really no one there, but all the same, she was unable to shake these thoughts and the growing anxiety they caused her. Her inspections became more and more frequent and turned into a demanding ritual that grew increasingly elaborate. Whenever the process was interrupted, she felt compelled to start again from the beginning. For close to two years, Jennifer conducted her secret rounds, which ended up taking four to six hours to complete. Although her problems went unnoticed at school, her obsession with perfection began to spill over into her work and her need to have everything just right. In addition to being frightened and depressed, she became exhausted. But when she began thinking about ending it all by taking her life, she realized she had to talk to someone.
Embarrassed by what was happening to her, Jennifer chose her confidant carefully. She went to see a friend who had also experienced mental health issues. In her company, Jennifer felt less judged. Her friend listened to her attentively and told her about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Jennifer returned home to research the topic further. Reading up on it was a sort of deliverance for her. She confided in her mother, who was shocked but took her to a health professional. Jennifer began therapy and started taking medication. She was introduced to a community of other people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Knowing that she was not alone comforted her and gave her hope that she would get better. During her journey, Jennifer has relapsed, stuck in rituals for 16 to 20 hours a day, with one ritual taking up to 8 hours. Despite this relapse, Jennifer remains confident and is working hard to maintain her balance. With help from her family, friends and colleagues, she feels well supported and even manages to laugh about her OCD at times. Jennifer is now willing to share her story with others. She knows that by talking about her own experience, she can help educate others and put a face to mental illness.