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I thought I was the only one who suffered from it. Not until after I had recovered did I realize that I wasn’t alone. About 2 percent of adults and 1 percent of children experience similar symptoms. Only later did I learn that it had a name: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

The symptoms I experienced for several years were the compulsion to touch things a certain number of times and relentless anxiety if I resisted that compulsion.

Some people say this disease is caused by stress or trauma. I don’t think that was the cause in my case, but through my junior-high years, I lived with the embarrassment of these symptoms in front of my friends and family.

Imagine not being able to walk through a department store without touching at least five articles of clothing 12 times each. Or think of what it would be like to be surrounded by other teens as you walk down the hall to your class, looking down constantly to make sure you didn’t step on any lines in the floor tile. Then, if you accidentally stepped on a line, you’d have to back up and step over it again. Picture being unable to leave a room without touching the doorknob about 15 times.

It was awkward and frustrating, but I felt powerless to stop because the obsession prompting the behaviors was so frightening. I could not get over the fear that someone in my family—or even a friend or acquaintance—would be injured the same day I failed to count or touch things a certain number of times.

Toward the end of my junior-high years, I started developing a relationship with Jesus. I spent time reading His Word, praying, absorbing Christian testimonials, and filling my mind with thoughts of Jesus’ goodness and love. I had faith that nothing was impossible with Him, and yet still the OCD symptoms remained. I still felt compelled to touch certain items repeatedly.

During this same time, my older brother, Joshua, had also become a Christian. I had seen God transform his life in awesome ways, and this was a huge encouragement to me in my own spiritual walk.

One day I told him about some of the compulsions I struggled with. (Somehow I had managed to hide the symptoms from him.) He looked at me with a gentle smile and said, “Karen, you know that isn’t biblical. You think you have to do these repetitive things but you don’t. Jesus doesn’t ask it of you, and you have to choose whether to obey Him or this compulsion.”

My brother pointed out that I was saying the compulsion was stronger than God, and I wasn’t trusting God. Instead, I was behaving as if the disorder were in control of me and my family and friends.

After that conversation with my brother, I began to change. Resisting was difficult at first, for the fear embedded in the obsession was strong. Yet I had already purposed in my heart to trust Jesus and not my feelings.

Eventually I became free of the bondage I had been in by trusting in Jesus and by the power of the simple truth told to me in such a gentle way.

I think sometimes that we underestimate how much power there is in the plain and beautiful truth of the gospel. I am so grateful for how that power set me free.
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Editors Note:

Karen recovered from her early-stage Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) without professional help. Her treatment of OCD behaviors by willpower supported by religious faith is not so common. A combination of medication and/or behavioral therapy, which teaches the person how to deal with and diminish obsessions, can successfully treat OCD. Other common obsessions include:

Fear of contamination
Fear of violence or aggression
The need for symmetry or orderliness
Sexual obsessions Cleaning (such as frequently washing hands)
Checking (such as checking repeatedly that the stove is turned off)
Repeating (such as repeating a word or an action over and over)
Slowness (such as spending hours arranging objects)
Hoarding (such as being unable to throw away newspapers and junk mail)

If you suffer from OCD, the following three Web sites may help you to begin the healing process:

Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation
The Awareness Foundation for OCD and Related Disorders
Anxiety Disorders Association of America

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By Karen DeBoe. Reprinted with permission from Signs of the Times, April 2005. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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