Sometimes I have this cynical, sneaking suspicion that we only see the world once, in childhood. Everything that follows is memory.

Childhood wounded me. My wounds left deep scars, which healed over but never completely disappeared. Those marks of abnormal pigmentation stare back and remind me of the terrain traversed.

I have written once or twice about my own journey navigating obsessive-compulsive disorder for publication and then promptly laid the idea to rest. It’s certainly not due to a lack of content–in fact, I have so much to say on this topic that I think that if I start, I'll never be able to stop.

My childhood was great. I mean, every need I had was consistently met; we celebrated the smallest of things (like blowing our noses); I embarked on adventures with my friends; I loved a cast of doting pets, and my sisters and I built blanket forts to have slumber parties in. I had adventures with my friends. My mom even used to release colonies of monarch butterflies into our living room for us on warm spring days.

The magic never changed or went away. Unfortunately, looming puberty meant that my brain was changing, and part of this change was the onset of a disorder I had no idea how to manage. The warm chrysalis of innocence ruptured prematurely, and I was left exposed and unequipped, scrambling to pick up the pieces.

The first time my heart got broken, I was 11. And I was the one to break my heart. I felt let down by my biology and the years that came before. I felt that I had lost everything before I even had it.

The onset of my mental health disorder was and remains the most emotionally poignant experience of my life. My life is a series of narratives that tend to jumble together, all centered around that first year when my disorder began rearing its ugly head.

The innate tendency of trauma is forgetfulness. The brain forgets details that the body marks in scratches–not forgotten information, but stored.

My therapy journey began at age 10, precipitated by the aforementioned rapid onset of debilitating symptoms (very common among young children experiencing OCD). I was quickly overtaken by deafening intrusive thoughts that pushed me into doing time-consuming compulsions.

Something always felt wrong, and I could not cope. No matter what I did, I was always left feeling distressed and dissatisfied. Nothing reassured me, and I was miserable in my body (aside from the normal feelings of puberty). I would have a scary thought, and then four or five hours of my time were wasted doing compulsions in an attempt to “correct” that singular thought.

Therapy in that first year of my onset was more crisis prevention than anything else. I still had not received a diagnosis and was frantically searching for answers. It is hard enough to treat OCD, but it's even harder when you don’t know what’s happening. And the resources and understanding of OCD just weren’t readily available like they are now.

I got my diagnosis nearly eight months after I began therapy and finally had something to work with. Treating OCD involves some talk therapy, medication (SSRI’s), and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, essentially behavioral modification in response to intrusive thoughts). If I could go back in time, I would map out these tenets of treatment for my little self. But when your amygdala is on fire, you don’t think of OCD as something that can be treated. You just see little fires everywhere.

I spent years going to different therapists and trying different medications, to some avail. I exited crisis mode simply because it was no longer sustainable. The brain and body cannot operate forever in a distressed equilibrium. Puberty and the awkwardness of adolescence balanced out my symptoms in a way, too.

Between ages 11 and 18, I largely survived and occasionally thrived. If anything, my achievements were great, and I met my best friends. I was intrinsically motivated by this disadvantage and the unrelenting desire to make my life better. I didn't think I could make my brain better, but maybe my life could be better instead. Then I’d really be happy, right?

I’m 23 years old now and have largely recovered. I’m in the stage of looking back on that period of disorder and trauma and attempting to grieve the experiences I missed out on because of OCD. I suffered a lot in ways that were not necessary.

You can’t erase certain experiences and the damage they caused, but you can rewrite it in a way that serves your present and future narrative. Years and years of therapy taught me that.

I never felt better when I reached a certain milestone, or got something I wanted. My answer was in every other moment between those highs and lows. If you can’t exist there in harmony, you will never be able to appreciate anything that happens. The days really are long, and the years are short.

I still have symptoms. A good amount of them, in fact. There is no 'getting rid' of intrusive thoughts; they are something that everyone has. And I just so happen to get them a little more frequently than most people.

I’m constantly invited to internally participate in my disorder, which has nowhere to go without my involvement. I still go to therapy every week of my life and work hard to regulate my sensitive nervous system in ways that are constructive, not destructive.

So long as uncertainty exists–which is always, as such, life–the urge will present itself to engage. It’s my choice and responsibility as an adult to decide what I give my attention and energy to; I simply can’t choose everything.

And how damn empowering that is!

I have reclaimed most of my narrative and forgiven many of the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. My past is my past, and I am now supplied with an arsenal of tools to weather stormy conditions.

I write about it, I cry about it, I remain vulnerable in safe places, and I make concerted efforts to live the life now that I always wanted to live. I make up for lost time by doing better now.

I live in a place of forgiveness as I reach up towards the sun because I have felt the warmth and there is no going back.