First, sorry for the late post this week — hay fever has brought me low for a couple of days.
I wanted to talk a little about religious OCD, which I’m currently trying to navigate through.
A few years ago (I’m not sure exactly how far back; the times when my mental illnesses have been very bad tend to run together and not stay put in a timeline), I had my first encounter with religious OCD.
For a lot of reasons, I had begun going to Mass every week at the local Catholic church. My grandmother was a very devout Catholic, and after she passed away, the more I missed her, the more I saw Mass as a way we could still connect. I started going on special occasions and holidays, but the more I went to church, the more missing a Sunday began to make me uneasy.
A move was the big trigger for me. The stress of moving and the lack of Internet or phone data in the first days left me with little to do but read, and my grandmother’s Bible was in one of the first boxes I opened.
I read the entire book in three days, and immediately enrolled in RCIA (a conversion and Bible study class, for the non-Catholics) at the church, which was now just a couple blocks away. I began stopping in whenever I was in the area to pray, and going to Mass each week. And then a few times a week.
For a lot of people, belief is a comfort. For me, it became one more obsession. I began listening to Catholic radio for hours a day, praying several times a day, and researching how to become a nun. It wasn’t just the OCD alone, but the OCD is what convinced me that I wasn’t doing enough to avoid hell.
It was OCD that made blasphemous and violent intrusive thoughts I couldn’t get rid of pop into my head during RCIA and Mass. It was OCD that made me worry that my grandmother might have given me a “bathtub baptism” as a child and repeating the process as an adult would be blasphemous, to the point where any time baptism was discussed in my classes I found myself on the edge of panic.
I hated everything about myself and felt unworthy of existing. Why couldn’t I just be a good, happy Catholic like my grandmother was?
It took almost a year, but somehow I snapped out of this on my own. I still don’t know how. I did almost have a breakdown over it. I haven’t been to church since, out of fear that I would sink right back into that horrible place again.
I don’t think religion is bad. I know it brings a lot of people comfort and happiness. It did for me at first, too. I want that back, but I am so afraid, and I don’t know what I believe anymore, or if I can handle going to a church with set, firm beliefs.
In my last therapy appointment, I asked my therapist for advice on this. The answer seems to be, like in many areas, mindful practice and exposure. Avoiding the subject entirely is not helping.
So although I have a lot of personal and political reasons not to want to return to Catholicism, I think I will try to go to a Mass service this week, just to show myself that I can. Even if I don’t go back, I don’t want to be afraid to have a spiritual life.
Photo by igorzoid