Off The Radar: An Interview With Chase
How Chase reclaimed his life after living with undiagnosed OCD.
Escrito por Esther Fernandez
01 Chase started experiencing intrusive thoughts as a child, but had no idea what they were.
02 As he silently struggled for nine years, he also dealt with depression, bullying, and isolation.
03 One day, he confided to his mom’s friend about his thoughts, and finally discovered he had OCD.
04 After a delayed journey through diagnosis and recovery, he now wants to share his story to help other people feel less alone.
Hi Chase. So excited to finally meet you. Can you introduce yourself, and describe when you first began struggling with OCD?
My name is Chase Craft, and I first started noticing OCD symptoms on Memorial Day of 1984. I was watching a TV program, when one of the characters died by suicide, and I got an intrusive thought, "I could commit suicide and it would be easy to do." I immediately tried pushing the thought out, but it came right back and said, "You could get a knife from the kitchen right now and stab yourself."
I was confused and kept trying to stop the thoughts. Eventually, I wore myself out and went to sleep. Then, I woke up in the middle of the night, and the thoughts kept coming. What made it feel twice as scary was that it felt like legitimate impulses — like a force dragging me to the kitchen to pull out a knife and stab myself. I was ten years old, and I had never heard of OCD. So you can imagine how terrifying it is for somebody so young. I would cry and tell my mother that the bad thoughts are back.
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Did you ever specify what they were?
I said I had thoughts of committing suicide, and she told me to get the thoughts out of my head.
So immediately encouraging compulsive behaviors?
Yes, exactly. She would tell me to stop the thoughts, and kind of put all the responsibility on me. It wasn't long after that when the thoughts had morphed into me getting up in the middle of the night and stabbing my family. It was horrifying. I was only 10 or 11 years old, and at that age, it didn't cross my mind that this was an illness. I knew rationally that I wasn't going to harm myself or anybody. I knew that the thoughts didn't make any sense. But that did not ease the torment, aggravation, or emotional turmoil. As you know, OCD doesn't respond to logic.
I was miserable that summer. I spent many nights crying. My mother didn't know what to do. Luckily, when school started back up, the thoughts kind of died down because I was busy. But I was still struggling, so my mom took me to a social worker. I told her I was having bad thoughts, and she suggested, "Well, why don't you try saying 'Bad thoughts leave, good thoughts come in!'"
More compulsive behaviors!
Yes. And while she didn't mention any type of disorder, she did say something true: "Chase is a very, very sensitive person. He thinks unlike most 11 year olds. He's hypersensitive to violence and people's feelings." Other than that observation, I just suffered with different types of intrusive thoughts from 1984 to 1987.
What was your and society's understanding of OCD in the 80s? Was OCD even on the radar for you?
It wasn't on the radar. My mother just became overprotective. For example, she wouldn't let me see certain movies if they had too much violence. And this would upset me, because all the other kids would get to see them. My dad would tell me, "Well, son, you know how much you cry and struggle with these thoughts. That's why she's restricting you." And his exact words to me were, "You're your own worst enemy." Again, putting all the blame on me. So I shut up after that, and never revealed anything else.
In a past article you’ve written for us, you also mention how you were bullied in school. There was a line I thought was really powerful, "I was being abused on the outside by my peers, and on the inside by my brain."
It was a double whammy: I would get physically bullied, and I struggled with undiagnosed OCD. Even after I left middle school and the bullying wasn't as bad, my mother enrolled me in a private Christian school, and that's when my religious OCD was triggered. After that, I didn't really suffer at all from Harm OCD. My brain was suddenly dominated by religious intrusive thoughts because of the environment I was in.
My worst year was my freshman year. I was suffering badly academically and wasn't functional, so my parents knew something was wrong. I had gone through all sorts of tests, and they decided — along with my teacher and therapist — that I needed to be hospitalized. So I was hospitalized in April of '89. Of course, I never disclosed my thoughts during that time because I had no idea what they were.
You would think that mental health professionals would understand. But even back then, you were cautious about disclosing certain information.
Well, back then, the telltale signs of OCD were raw hands from hand washing. I did exhibit more overt or stereotypical symptoms, like rechecking if the stove was turned off, or making sure a door was closed. But even those symptoms, I didn't know were a part of my OCD.
Ultimately, the most paramount source of torment was the intrusive thoughts. I was constantly fighting them, and I had no idea that this was making them even stronger. Many days, I would go to school and work with an anxiety-drained body. It just took a lot out of me. I ended up missing out on a lot of things because the anxiety and the bullying led to depression and isolation. I mean, I just couldn't function. Things went on like that for nine years until I graduated high school in 92.
What did your day to day look like when you were really struggling?
I would sit in my room and listen to music. For some reason, music had a healing effect on me. My mind would just drift out and I would get into a daydream state because that's kind of how I dealt with the suffering.
That makes perfect sense. I feel like a lot of people with OCD struggle with dissociation, derealization, and maladaptive daydreaming. We sort of enter a different world and disconnect from the source of our pain.
Well, it was the only thing I knew how to do. I also had a job where I bagged groceries after work, so I had a full schedule. To be honest with you, I think that's probably what kept my OCD from getting much worse: going to school and work. If I had just stayed at home, totally dysfunctional or incapacitated, there's no telling how I would have ended up.
I agree. I feel like that's also why we saw more people getting diagnosed during the pandemic, myself included. Because I think normally, I was able to go to school and talk with friends.
Now that I look back, I understand why summer time was the worst time for me.
Yes! You would think summer is fun, but for people with anxiety, all of that free time is stressful.
So you were struggling for a really long time, until you finally reached your breaking point. You decided you were going to see a psychiatrist and sort of tell it all. And then you meet your mom's friend.
Well to set the scene, I was working part time at the grocery store. My undiagnosed OCD switched from religious back to harm, and the harm thoughts came back with a vengeance. Thoughts like me harming my family, kidnapping a hitchhiker and killing them, running over people at night with my car. It got to the point where I would frequently have stomach aches, and would throw up from all the nerves. I tried out another job, but that really didn't do anything. I also tried getting into exercising, but that didn't do much either.
One day, my mom had a get together and invited her friend with OCD. However, my mother just thought she was having hormone problems, and didn't think her experience was related to what I was going through. Her friend and I sat on the couch, and she talked about how she was hospitalized a few times. When I started telling her about all of these symptoms I had, she said, "You've got OCD!"
She then told me about this book, which was really the only book about OCD at that time. It was called "The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing" by Judith L. Rapoport. I checked it out at the library and read through it and thought, "Well I'll be damned!" Everything started matching, and I was so relieved to find out that this thing actually had a name.
After that happened, I went through with my psychiatrist appointment. In order to get a good idea of my history, my psychiatrist had sent release forms to all of the past mental health professionals I had seen — therapists, doctors, counselors. I had seen around eleven people throughout my life.
He ended up sending a form to the very first therapist that I saw, even back before the intrusive thoughts started. I was in the fourth grade and had trouble focusing in school. So that first school counselor revisited my original chart from decades ago, and called my mother to tell her, "I misdiagnosed Chase."
She had only sensed emotional problems, but couldn't put her finger on anything specific. And because she didn't think I could function well in a regular school program, I was sent to a school designed for kids with learning disabilities, like dyslexia or dyscalculia. They constantly reinforced the idea that the kids were disabled, and that's where a lot of the bullying came from. Of course, this was back in the eighties, and they didn't realize the damage they were doing. There were a lot of troubled kids in one place that took out their troubles on me.
Fast forward to me as a young adult, after graduating high school. I got a notice that I had been misdiagnosed. While I was happy to finally have an answer, I was also irritated that I went through nine years of living hell...
When you could have been saved from so much suffering?
Yes. It's taken me a long time to heal over this. I was embittered for years, because I lost my high school years. I lost so much to OCD, and it was over a misdiagnosis.
I hear that sentiment a lot with people. The grief. The trauma. Accepting the loss of the life that you could have been living. And this isn't just a year or two for many people. It's decades.
What have you done to manage your OCD since then?
At first, I got by with medication. When I went back to college when I was 25, I actually thought that I had an attention deficit, so I got put on Adderall. It didn't do one thing for my attention deficit, but it did reduce my intrusive thoughts by about 98%. It also gave me rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure, so they put me on Ritalin instead, and I did fine with that. Then, about three years ago, I had another flare up of Harm OCD. I got put on Prozac, went back to a psychiatrist, and decided to start ERP therapy.
I've been in ERP since last summer, and the only reason I was able to get into it is because my insurance finally covered it. That was a major barrier in the nineties: ERP therapists were few and far between, especially down in Lousiana. At the time, OCD was mostly treated with medication and general talk therapy, which had no real impact at all. When you did find an OCD specialist, they would charge so much money and insurance would only pay for so much, if at all.
So I’m grateful to be in ERP. My therapist currently has me writing my thoughts out 25 times a day. She says it's a process called cognitive difusion. There's something very healing about writing your thoughts out and seeing them on paper, because when you get them out, they don't look as threatening.
They kind of lose their power.
They lose their sting! Surprisingly, it happened pretty quickly. But I understand why a lot of people are hesitant about ERP. It's not fun.
It's a tough therapy! You usually go into therapy thinking, "I'm going to talk through my problems. I'm going to get some reassurance." And these therapists are cold. They're like, "You might kill someone. Let's write about it. Let's make up scenarios. Let's watch horror movies." They go all in.
I've had to write stuff that I just… I couldn't bear it. But once you start writing it over and over again, and your mind gets used to it, your amygdala learns that there's no danger. It then stops sounding the alarm, and the obsession fades away. I've only been at it a year, but I have gotten pretty good results relatively quickly. And a year is a short time compared to 39 years of suffering.
As we start wrapping up, what advice would you give to someone who is struggling?
Seek help as soon as you can. You are so fortunate in this day and age to have the Internet, and there’s so many people who are becoming more open with mental health struggles. Thanks to organizations like Made of Millions, people feel very comfortable saying they have bipolar disorder or clinical depression or anxiety. That's a wonderful thing, because mental health was so stigmatized back then. Now, it's become more accepted, which it always needed to be.
I know I'm not the only one that has suffered for a great length of time, and there's no telling how many others are out there that are misdiagnosed. I connect with people on Facebook and in OCD groups, and some people are really struggling to find a therapist. Some are scared to disclose their thoughts. Some won't go to therapy, even knowing that these thoughts have a name and that there's treatment — they're still scared to death to go.
It is just the most torturous disorder. I mean, no disorder is good, but OCD is especially torturous. It robs you of joy. It robs you of peace. It robs you of life. It takes any and everything from you, and doesn't give anything back. It's just a vicious disorder. But my advice is to get into treatment as soon as possible anyway, because it does work. Your life's at stake, but you don't have to suffer. You can get your life back.
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