A Wolf in Me Clothing

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My deepest, darkest secret.


Graphics by Joseph Poehlman and Jackie Rodriguez


It’s 1 a.m. and the moon has started to ascend past the corner of my bedroom window. I feel my mind fleeting out of view almost as fast. I hate this part, mostly because I don’t know why it keeps happening or how to fix it. The trigger is always a thought — a vision that blasts away the notion of how I perceive myself. Almost immediately after, I feel a chill ripple through my body. My heart explodes into a flurry that makes me want to throw up.

The chill is long gone, replaced by an unnerving heat that makes me feel like my skin is melting away. The air in my lungs has been replaced with a vacuum I can’t fill no matter how many breaths I take. It’s so much easier to break this cycle during the day when there is someone to talk to or something to do. I love the day. There is an armistice with my mind and myself during the day.

But every night when I’m alone with my mind, the thoughts start to emerge from the quiet and the struggle resumes. I lose track of what is happening around me as the symptoms return. In the thick of this change, stands me, trying with all my might to stop the repetitive thoughts I have for blood.

My name is Daniel Venegas, and I am a Werewolf…

That statement merits a bit of clarification. I am your mostly average 20-something-year-old college student with one exception. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Brigitte Matthies, a licensed clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor of Psychology at California State University of Los Angeles, explained, “Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness that is described in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a disorder that is made up of obsession, and compulsion together. The obsessions are recurring thoughts that the individual has [that] they really wish they didn’t have, and would want to get rid of; but they are not successful.

“The compulsions are behaviors that the individual does that they also aren’t particularly happy with, and would like to get rid of but can’t. They are compelled to do the behaviors and they can’t seem to stop the thoughts from coming into their mind. And so these obsessions and compulsions take up so much of their day and cause so much anxiety, that it affects their social and occupational functioning.”

The National Institutes of Mental Health described individuals with OCD as people who “feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life.”

When most people think OCD, they think of people who always have to have things a certain way, or wash their hands a lot. While that is partially true, there are other obsessions and compulsions that can manifest.

NIMH also states, “Common rituals include a need to repeatedly check things, touch things (especially in a particular sequence), or count things. Some common obsessions include having frequent thoughts of violence and harming loved ones, persistently thinking about performing sexual acts the person dislikes, or having thoughts that are prohibited by religious beliefs.”

This is where my story comes in.

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I received some help with it, but stopped after a couple months because I thought I had it under control. What I didn’t know was that anxiety, if left untreated, can manifest into other mental disorders on the same anxiety spectrum.

I always considered myself an outgoing and independent person. Anxiety changed that perception of my identity. I started to go out less and less, stopped working, and stopped going to school. Relationships fell by the wayside as I could no longer relate to friends who were moving forward with their lives as I struggled every day to maintain some semblance of normalcy. And when I thought things could not get worse, they did.

One day when I was sitting at home — because that’s all I did at this point — my anxiety began acting up. I tried shuffling my thoughts to something other than the fact that my heart was palpitating and I couldn’t breathe properly. A thought unlike any thought I ever had popped into my head.

What if I killed one of my family members?

My heart dropped like a bomb and started to race at a pace not unnatural for hummingbirds. I felt a cold surge through my body, followed by intense heat. I locked my door and stared at the wall, wondering why I had just thought such a horrible thing.

What the fuck is wrong with me? There were no answers, and the question just kept repeating itself. I tried to go to sleep, hoping that this would all go away like a bad dream. Instead, I tossed and turned in fear until the sun came up. Everyone except my mom had left the house for work or school by the time I finally decided to come out of my room.

I ran to her and told her I was losing my mind and that I needed to be locked away for the safety of everyone. My poor mother. I have never seen a more worried look on her face. She drove me to the nearest mental health clinic.

I remember the car ride there being the longest one I have ever taken. I was contemplating what my life would be like in an insane asylum. I would miss the people left in my life, but I was doing this for their safety. I always had a clear picture of my future and what I wanted to accomplish in my life, but now that picture was muddied and blurry.

We arrived at the hospital and I told them I was going crazy. The guy at the front asked me if I wanted to hurt myself, and I responded “no,” but I was having thoughts that scared the bejesus out of me. He said he couldn’t admit me if I didn’t want to harm myself. I was too ashamed to tell him what was really on my mind, so my mom decided to try one more place before taking me to the ER, where they would just tie me to the bed and sedate me.

We arrived at this other mental health clinic and we asked that I be seen by a psychiatrist. I instead saw a nurse practitioner who asked me the same questions as the other guy. I told her exactly what was on my mind.

She then asked me a question that I would later realize to be the key to my disease. Did I actually want to hurt my family members? Of course I didn’t want to hurt them, they mean the world to me and I love them dearly.
She smiled and said, “You are fine then. I’ll schedule an appointment for you to see a therapist in a month.” A month? Why was nobody taking this seriously? I felt like the boy who cried wolf, except that I was the wolf.

That month was hard. I avoided my family as much as I could and asked them to lock their doors at night when they went to sleep. I would lock my own doors because of the constant fear that I was going to do something to them or someone else. That fear kept me from doing everyday things. Something as simple as going outside was out of the question for fear that I would attack someone like some crazed wolf man.

When I finally saw a therapist, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I had no idea that it could manifest in the way that it did with me. As alone as I felt, my therapist assured me that I was not the only one. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders (including OCD) are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18 percent of the U.S. population). Of those 40 million, only 2.2 million suffer from OCD. This illness also does not discriminate when it comes to who gets it.
The association states it is equally common among men and women.

“The median age of onset is 19, with 25 percent of cases occurring by age 14. One-third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood.” This illness does not discriminate by your standing in society either. “There are celebrities that have it. Howie Mandel doesn’t allow people to shake his hand due to his germ phobia. Howard Hughes, the famous aviator, had it quite severely also,” said Matthies. Celebrities like Charlize Theron and Lena Dunham have been forthcoming about their experiences with this mental illness.

Unfortunately for those of you reading this who have OCD or know someone who does, there is no cure. Matthies added, “While they are always looking for better medication, there doesn’t seem to be a silver bullet that somehow stops this.”

There is however an upside. This disease can be treated. According to the International OCD Foundation, “The most effective treatments for OCD are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication.” When both of these treatments are combined, they usually help a person who is willing to seek help live a relatively normal life.

Since undertaking a combination of medication and therapy, my life has finally gotten back on track. I lost three years of my life hiding from the world for fear that I was a danger to everyone in it. There are good days and there are bad days. On the bad days, it’s hard not to feel like a monster for having some of the OCD thoughts go through my mind.

So why come out with this now? Why tell everyone my deepest darkest secret? The reason is two-fold. First, I feel that mental illness is not understood or talked about like other illnesses in this country. Most of the disorders on the anxiety and depression scale are looked at like second rate illnesses because they don’t display the same symptoms as other diseases that affect the body.

The symptoms are not always physical, but they are equally debilitating. Because it affects behavior, however, it has been stigmatized in our culture. If more people came out with their experiences, maybe the conversation would gain more traction.

The second, and more personal reason I am writing this is to address those who might be going through what I have gone through. When I first began to experience my symptoms, I felt like no one understood what was happening to me and that there was nobody to talk to. If there had only been someone out there who came out on the other side of this like I have. Maybe someone who had chronicled their struggle and shown me that I could still live a fulfilling life. This would have made all the difference in the world. They would have made those first years less terrifying and potentially filled me with hope that I could still have a somewhat normal life, instead of facing a Howard Hughes-like isolated existence.

So this is my howl. I know there are other people out there who are going through the same experience and feel like they are alone. To those of you who might be hiding this and feel like it is eating you up inside. To those of you who feel like you’re a danger to those around you and the ones you love, I want you to know you are not a bad person.

I want you to know you are not alone. I have been through what you are going through. I know the intense fear and the mental anguish it brings. I know the feeling of loneliness this illness creates in you. I want you to know it is possible to learn to live with this disease. I want you to know it is possible to have a good life, even with this illness. Most of all, I want you to know it is possible to be a wolf in me clothing.

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.