Thirty years is a long time. Thirty years of mental pain and constant battle. OCD never takes a holiday or decides to give you rest one day a week. It sticks with you, day in, day out. It comes with you wherever you go.
Only those 3% of the world’s population who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have any idea how debilitating, terrifying and paralysing it can be.
OCD is rarely mentioned in the media and never in the Church.
The International OCD Foundation describes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as ‘a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.’
One of my first memories of OCD (though I never knew it had a name) goes back to my early teens. Up to that time I had a very normal, carefree childhood. My brother who grew up in the same safe and loving environment never suffered from it.
We lived happily in a small apartment in Central France. One day I was alone and about to leave the house to go outside. I locked the door. I then checked if it was properly locked. Then I checked again. And again, many times, till the handle broke. On that day, a damn in my heart had cracked, opening the way to a flood that almost swept my life away. Over the years I have come close to drowning under the furious waves of Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviour. Without Jesus I would have gone under a long time ago.
OCD took over my life. What I thought would only be a ‘teenage thing’ that I would eventually grow out of kept a tighter hold on my mind as time went by.
I began checking everything from making sure house doors were locked properly, my car handbrake had just the right pressure, lights turned off as I left a room and hundreds and hundreds of other fears. The list became endless…
The people suffering from OCD know very well how foolish it is to worry about such things but for some reason they do. Telling them not to worry will not change anything. It will actually make them even more frustrated as they perfectly know how irrational their obsessions are…
For a number of years I felt responsible for anything that I thought was out of place: whether it was a plastic bag in a public park or an item ‘over the edge’ on a shelf in a shop.
It was as if I could ‘see’ what others could not and therefore felt responsible to do something about it. The ‘saviour’s mentality.’
As a young pastor visiting members of our church or sitting at their home for a meal was mental torture: I could see so many things in their house that I felt I had to fix. Concentrating on a conversation became extremely difficult.
Very few people knew what I was going through. A few close friends and my family. I think my parents and my brother have suffered as much as I did, not knowing how to get me out of my pain. But they prayed. Oh yes, they did! Mum and Dad have prayed every day for years. They have fasted, cried to God for their son trapped in an unending turmoil.
OCD took a life of its own. Over the years the nature of OCD changed but the pain never decreased.
I remember trying to explain to someone once how it felt to suffer from OCD. I said: ‘Worrying about a book for example which happens to be out of place on a shelf or slightly over the edge is as tense mentally and emotionally as if I was seeing a child on the edge of a bridge who could at any moment fall of. That is how terrifying an OCD can be.’
When travelling overseas, OCD always came along. It does not need your authorisation to travel or a visa to enter with you into a country.
I could be in Brazil preaching my heart out at a youth event. From the pulpit my mind is battling with a tap I fear is dripping in my house thousands of miles away in Phnom Penh, or a plant I forgot to ask the neighbours to water in my absence. Then as I finally landed in Cambodia, OCD goes into reverse, and I start worrying about a window in my hotel room in Brazil I think I forgot to close or that stove I fear I did not turn off properly before I left.
Things get worse when I start writing or phoning back that hotel to ask them to have a look at that window or that plug… I’ve lost count how many times I’ve written those kinds of mail.
OCD never gives you any repose. The mental machine is constantly switched on. It never really turns off. It waits for you like an ugly beast as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.
For most of these 30 years of battle I have only really known a few days of real peace of mind.
I can look back at some specific days when the level of mental pain reached very high peaks. If 10 is the highest on the ‘pain scale’, some days the pain level actually went up to 9 or 9.5. I remember it going up that high on several occasions. It reached 9.5 a few years ago while travelling in Thailand. I was waiting for a plane in Bangkok heading to Burma where I was to visit some missionary friends. I can hardly take any more pain. I am walking up and down at the airport terminal and OCD is walking with me, giving me no rest. I remember asking this Western looking girl sitting down with her computer if she knew of the password so I could connect to the internet. I was desperately trying to contact anyone out there for prayer. She looks up at me and said: ‘Are you Timothée Paton?’ Surprised, I respond ‘Yes I am.’ Then she adds: ‘You probably don’t remember me: You came and spoke at our youth group some years ago. How are you?’ ‘I looked at her and said: ‘Well, to be honest with you I am not well at all. I really do need the Lord.’
‘I’ll pray for you’ she said. All the passengers on her flight had already boarded the plane. She took my hand and ask God to minister to me. I never saw or heard of her again.
As I reached rock bottom, the Lord in His Grace led me to one of His children right there in the middle of an airport.
Down that long road of pain God has often brought wonderful people just at the right time to encourage and guide me. If you are one of those reading this, do know how forever grateful I am for your help.
Over the years I have probably ‘tried’ every kind of spiritual and secular help you could think of. I flew out several times overseas (a couple of times to America) to seek assistance from professional counsellors. From Sozo prayer method to EMDR to Theophostic counselling or cognitive therapy.
I have learnt that the more you feed OCD the more it wants. Every time you give in to a fear, you feed the beast.
Today at age 45, I thank God I am doing better. He has been good to me.
There have been breakthroughs and setbacks. Thankfully in recent years I have known more breakthroughs than setbacks.
The first real breakthrough came years ago when in Cambodia. Back then I was a member of the WEC Field Leadership Team. One day at one of our meetings I turned to the other five members and opened my heart about my battle with OCD. I felt a release.
When you bring your pain, your struggles, and your weaknesses into the open, you have just made your first step towards restoration.
The Psalmist wrote: ‘When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.’
I wish I could say I do not suffer anymore. What I do know is that I am travelling the path of healing.
But I also know that God’s ultimate desire is for His children to be free. One major breakthrough came not long ago when in France visiting my parents. I spotted this Bible verse from 2 Timothy my Mum had stuck on the bathroom wall: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’. Those two words ‘sound mind’ which I had already read many times jumped out and spoke life into my spirit. There is truly much power in God’s Word!
My parents wrote to me recently: ‘We love you with all our hearts and if love could have delivered you over these 30 years, then you would have been free long ago’.
You are wondering why today I am sharing my long struggle with OCD. (It was hard to write and even harder to send out). For several reasons:
- First to encourage anyone out there to find somebody they trust and can open up to. The Devil wants us to keep hidden our sufferings and our inner battles. We all go through pain. We all battle with temptation. God’s Grace is available to you whatever you are going through today. Find somebody to talk to. Find a prayer partner.
- Secondly, to remember that those of us in ‘full time ministry’ suffer like everyone else. Many who have followed me over the years have often seen one side of my life. But behind the smile there is often pain and discouragement and even, at times, hopelessness.
- And finally I share this testimony to highlight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affecting millions of people around the world. OCD is no respecter of people. It affects politicians and movie stars as well as people living in a slum.
The Body of Christ needs to stand up for those struggling with mental issues. Those souls in need are found in every church congregation around the world. They might be sitting right next to you on Sunday morning. Too many of God’s people are suffering in silence. There is nothing more uplifting than to know you are not the only one in the fight.
Looking back at my life I know that OCD could have kept me from moving out into serving the Lord. OCD could have easily been the number one excuse not to go to Cambodia. But I decided to trust God and to keep on walking with my eyes on Him. I heard the other day someone saying that ‘Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking.’ So true.
Whatever challenge you are going through. Whether it is in your mind, in your body, in your family, your workplace, or in your relationships, you have a choice to make: you either sit by the roadside and give up. Or you rise up and keep on walking.
I’ve decided to keep on walking.