When I was a little girl, I always slept with a blanket on my head.
I suppose that statement requires a little bit of explanation. I don’t mean that I pulled my comforter up over my head to cover my ears when I went to sleep, like I do now. What I mean is that I had a dedicated “head blanket”. It was actually my baby blanket—a small, square, pink blanket with little flowers all over it and ruffles around the edges. If you grew up with me, you will most likely remember this blanket well because I couldn’t go to a sleepover without it. I needed it to protect me.
See, for some strange reason, when I was a child I developed an obsession that caused me to need my head blanket. Night after night, I was terrorized by the fear that there was a bad guy hiding under my bed. I believed that if my head wasn’t covered just so, he would reach up from behind my pillow and grab my unprotected head. No amount of checking or reassurance would alleviate this fear. And so I developed a very specific ritual. I would fold my little pink blanket in half (soft side out), tilt my head back, and wrap the material around my head almost like a bonnet. Only then could I lay my head down on my pillow at night and feel a sense of security.
I have no idea where this fear came from, or how I came up with this “solution,” but I know it wasn’t fleeting. It stayed with me for years. I must have been a teenager by the time I started drifting away from using my head blanket. And I didn’t exactly grow out of it either, I simply adapted the behavior over time to something that would be considered less “weird” or “childish” by my peers. Because, really, how do you explain to your boyfriend that you still sleep with your baby blanket? Right?!
This was only one of the habits I picked up as a child in order to appease the nagging feeling of anxiety inside of me. From repeating ritualistic prayers for safety to constantly seeking reassurance about my performance and behavior, I was never truly at ease. Naturally, as a child, I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea that these thoughts and urges were actually obsessions and compulsions that drove each other, and drove me, into a constant cycle of “not good enough.”
I have been dreading writing this post. The truth is that I am still stuck in this cycle. I don’t want to admit it, because I have overcome so much in my life. But not this. And when I think about the obsessive compulsive tendencies I still struggle with on a daily basis, I feel unnervingly out of control. Every single day, my thoughts and ideas are influenced by these hidden anxieties that I don’t always even realize are there. But when they start coming into the light and I realize yet another way that I’m living in a state of ritualistic falsities, I feel so violated. It’s like my safety blanket is ripped away, leaving me completely exposed and vulnerable. Everything that I thought was safe, everything that I thought was real, suddenly doesn’t feel so safe or real anymore.
I don’t know what to do with these feelings. I don’t know how to process them, because I have never processed them before. OCD was something we talked about in therapy when I was recovering from my eating disorder, but it wasn’t something I ever really identified with. These preoccupations and impulses were always something that hid subtly beneath the surface, while the bigger issues—like depression, an eating disorder, and addictions—got all the attention. But when I conquered those things, my obsessions needed somewhere else to take refuge so that they could continue controlling my life. And what did they find? Religion.
What could feel more invasive than realizing that your mental illness has infiltrated the most personal and important aspect of your entire life? What could be more devastating than going back and wondering if all those actions you took, thinking you were obeying God, were actually just propelled by a compulsion to alleviate a deeply rooted sense of guilt and shame? I question almost everything now. Was that really God? Did I hear Him right? Or was that me? Did I imagine that? Am I making things up in my head? Am I just crazy? What’s going on here?
Thankfully, I am able to find a small glimmer of hope in the midst of it all. When the confusion in my mind becomes too overwhelming, it is important for me to separate the facts from the feelings and remember what I have come to know.
I know that I didn’t make up the story of Jesus. I didn’t make up the part about how He, being fully God, came to earth in order to identify with mankind, or how He died on a cross to pay the price for my sin so that I wouldn’t have to. I didn’t make up the part about how He chose this fate because of His unrelenting love for mankind—for me.
If I believe that all of this is true—and I do, I really do—then I have to remember that God knows me better than I know myself. I have to remember anxiety doesn’t come from God. Peace comes from God. Therefore, I can know that when I am anxious, it is not some cosmic sign from God that I have once again failed. I have to remember that He knows exactly what I am struggling with, and exactly how my limitations affect my ability to relate to Him. And finally, I have to trust—I HAVE to trust—that in His love, He will find grace for me in the midst of my mess.