Thirteen-year-old Michelle LeClair has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is one of three children profiled in the season finale of "Primetime: Family Secrets," airing Aug. 4.
Michelle feared that other students were contaminated, preventing her from going to school or any public place where she would see her classmates. Her crippling fear kept her isolated at home. The following is Michelle's story in her own words.:
Living with OCD
By Michelle LeClair
OCD is a real disorder that effects the way a person thinks and acts. It effects an individuals' thoughts and actions. OCD takes control of your whole life and once it does, it is hard to get your life back. OCD makes the world a scary place where you cannot and will not venture into. It controls your actions, it controls your thoughts and it changes your personality. It shuts you off from your family and friends and closes in the world around you. Your world becomes smaller and darker until it is just you and OCD with OCD in the driver's seat.
At first I told myself that the compulsion of wiping and washing things was real because of the concern for germs. So it made perfect sense. So I kept wipes with me and washed my hands with them every time I touched something because I didn't want to get dirty. Then the OCD became more invasive of my life. It was not enough to wash my hands with the wipes -- now I could no longer touch anything because somehow it was contaminated -- dirty. So I would need to wash the paper, pencil, the desk, my hands and on and on. I kept washing it because the germs were still there. I couldn't think of anything except being contaminated and washing away the contamination.
OCD was telling me: "DON'T TOUCH IT. IT IS CONTAMINATED. YOU WILL GET DIRTY IF YOU TOUCH IT." It is then that the OCD took total control of my life. I tried to hide it from everyone, but then it became overwhelming. Even if I didn't touch anything somehow the OCD convinced my brain that the air around it is contaminated and therefore so was I. So going outside and being with people was no longer an option. My life stopped. My world started caving in. I stopped interacting with people. I stopped touching everything and everyone.
So to keep my secret I pulled away from those who knew me best, my family, my friends. I started hiding the washing. I tried to fool everyone into thinking I was becoming more independent. I start doing my own wash and preparing my own food. I fooled myself into thinking I could keep up the washing and keep everything clean until the need to have everything sterile took over my every action. My clothes had to be washed again and again because they touched the outside of the washer or I thought they were not clean enough. Each article of clothing had to be washed separately. I couldn't sleep because I needed to have clothes for the next morning and nothing was clean enough. I was exhausted trying to keep up the charade.
The OCD was creeping further into my brain. It made me stop in my tracks. It is like someone is in your head telling you -- "No Don't do that, don't touch that it is dirty. You will get germs." It made me pull my hand back as I reached to touch a pencil. Then, the anxiety starts, "Did anyone notice? What if they did. What will they think of me? They are going to think I am strange, weird! No one will want to hang around me. They will start with whispering behind my back and then starring at me. They are doing it now I know it." Yes, OCD starts right in taking over my thoughts and convincing me that things are its way.
At first I am able to fool everyone, then it comes crashing down. I pull away from my friends. They can't come over. They have germs. I can't go out with them. They are contaminated from school. My only safe haven is my own little space in the house. If I can only keep it clean and not have anyone contaminate it I will be fine. I keep trying to convince myself. It is a lie. I can no longer keep up the charade that everything is fine. I break. I need help. My world has shrunken so that all that it includes is OCD and myself. It is so very lonely and depressing.
Life as I knew it was over. OCD had taken control of my every thought and action. From the time I woke up OCD was in control. The anxiety started right away. What can I avoid? How can I get through the day without touching anything and getting contaminated. Every moment was a battle with OCD. It became exhausting. Everything else in my life ceased to exist.
OCD tried to prevent me from seeking help, because with help OCD will lose its control over me. For some the OCD actions become immobilizing. I hated the way OCD made me feel. I could not go to school. I wanted my life back but I did not know how to do it.
It is a huge step to ask for help. I was lucky to have my family support me and assist me in the process. My OCD had taken so much control of my life that I was unable to go to school. I needed to take prescription drugs and start Cognitive Behavior Exposure Therapy. With help from my therapist and with my mom working with me, I was able to take back control over my life.
I had to start small and keep talking back to OCD and reminding the OCD and myself that I was in control and not the OCD. It took a long time for me to gain the confidence to take back my life. But little by little I was able to go back into the world and become a part of the world again.
It is scary to know that OCD had so much control over my thoughts and actions. Now that I have the tools to combat OCD, I can recognize when it is trying to control me and I am strong enough to stop and go through the steps to put OCD out of my mind.