by Danny Gassaway
These days everyone thinks they have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because they see it on television. Somebody is a neat freak, so obviously they must have OCD. For someone who has struggled with OCD for 29 years, it is sad for me to see. What is it like to really have OCD? This is my journey.
I grew up having panic attacks. At the age of six, I remember going to my counselor one day. I told my mom that my stomach hurt so badly I thought I was going to die. I told her again and again that I thought I was going to die. Immediately, she told the counselor, and they played the game that introduced me to OCD. They pretended to call the hospital, and that I was on my way in to see the doctor. When I realized the severity of the situation, my stomach was OK. I had gotten the reassurance that I was OK. I had OCD, but back then OCD was not spoken about.
I would always tell on myself. I could not get away with anything, and even to this day I still cannot tell a lie. If I have a thought in my head, I feel compelled to tell someone- either my wife or my parents. No one wants to hear that! People ask me, even the doctors ask me why that is the case, and I tell them that if I don’t say it then the thought will race so fast in my head that I will want to cry. It is far from a pleasant feeling. Once I release the thought and I am reassured it is OK, then the thought is gone. Sounds easy right? It is not easy now, but it especially was not easy in high school surrounded by the cruelty of high school kids.
I went to a Christian high school, and I thought that the other kids wouldn’t judge, but I was wrong. There is a lot of discussion today about the acceptance of homosexuality, and I do not want to get into that conversation in this piece, but there was not as much discussion when I was going to school. Now, I am not gay, but my mind convinced me that I was. Why on earth would my mind convince me of such a thing? I spoke with the doctors at the time, and we were all convinced that my mind was doing the complete opposite of what I really wanted to do. Seems crazy right? All of this seems crazy. However, it was just another day in an OCD mind. I had these repetitive thoughts that I was gay. I was beyond confused as I looked at every single female. The constant thoughts pushed me over the edge, and because of the way my mind works, just like telling a lie, I felt compelled to tell someone. I confided in someone and told him that my mind was telling me that I was gay, but that I was not. Can you imagine how this would go over with him? Everyone in the small school knew immediately. If I was on their side, I would have had a hard time believing me as well, but sadly many people were cruel about it. There was a bullying-like atmosphere towards me. While I was not beaten up, I was made fun of constantly. Was what I was feeling anxiety? Was it a type of panic attack? When I was 16, I finally found out what it was.
I was at home watching Rescue 911 while my dad was ironing a shirt. All of a sudden, I got a repetitive thought that I wanted to kill myself. It was the strangest thing. I was the happiest kid outsides of the thoughts battling in my head. I was active and played sports. Why would I get these thoughts? My parents took me to a doctor who finally diagnosed me with OCD. My first thought was “Oh Great! Let’s just add another thing onto the panic attacks.” I was more concerned with the label than with the diagnosis. After all, I had been battling that diagnosis for the previous ten years.
OCD affects so many different aspects. Let me give you another example. Taking a multiple choice test is difficult for someone with OCD. It is almost comical. “It must be C. I swear it is C. The last two were B, then the next one is D, while A doesn’t even make sense, so therefore it must be C.” This pattern would repeat itself with each answer. Finally, at the age of 18, I went down to the OU Health Sciences Center, where they told me that my performance testing sucks, and that finishing college would be like running a marathon uphill.
I bounced around through different schools. From TCC to St. Gregory’s to the University of Phoenix before I finally finished my uphill marathon in 2011 with a bachelors degree from NSU. It felt so good to face that challenge and prove others wrong. I not only had to prove it to them, I had to prove it to myself that I and my horrible test-taking skills could get a degree. It took many years of extra-hard work to accomplish such a feat.
I have overcome a lot of challenges in my life. I have done multiple cycling races of over one hundred miles. In 2007, I swam outside all winter long with no wet-suit to prove that anyone can accomplish something with the right mindset. There are a few cold water swimmers out there, and I wanted to be one in Oklahoma. The coldest water I swam in was 46 degrees and after 45 minutes of that your body feels like fire. I plan on doing it again this year. I did all that for a reason. I wanted to raise money for the Peace of Mind Foundation, which is a non-profit for those with OCD.
Right now, I am working on a challenge of my own choosing. I went to see if there were scholarships for those battling OCD and did not see one. There were disability scholarships, but nothing focused directly on OCD. So I saw that as a challenge and decided that I needed to change that. Even though I grew up an OSU fan, OU is where most of my family has gone, and they were on my mind when I started thinking about this scholarship. After months of constant emails, a signature, and over 1100 dollars raised, we have the Danny Gassaway OCD Scholarship Fund. Each scholarship is a textbook scholarship and we are awarding one per semester.
Needless to say, I have it pretty good. I never thought I would have a family due to the severity of my OCD, but I do now. I never thought I could rollerblade eighty-six miles, but I did that last summer. People did not think I could graduate college, but now I am helping other people graduate through my scholarship. There are more challenges out there, and one of them is to continue to educate people about what life is like for those who have OCD. I also want to challenge others and challenge myself to accomplish things that other people don’t think they can do.
Danny Gassaway is an advocate for OCD. He has raised money over the past several years for non-profits along with his own scholarship at OU. He loves sports and has tried them all. He loves extreme heights and facing fears up close. He likes showing others what they can accomplish with the right mindset. To help with his scholarship fund, please check out his Go Fund Me page.