|Me in sixth grade.|
In the fall of 1974, I was 11 years old and in the sixth grade. I was very shy and timid. I could talk with my friends, but being around people older than me—teenagers—or anyone I didn’t know made me silent and unable to carry on a conversation.
It was hard for me to know what to do with myself when I was part of a group. I stood awkwardly or looked for somewhere to sit that seemed safe. I felt like everyone was staring at me. I felt like everyone thought I was ugly and stupid and certainly not cool.
I didn’t know it then, but I was probably suffering from generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety even then.
And obsessive-compulsive disorder was beginning to make stronger claims on my life.
One Friday night, my second older brother and I went to the local high school football game with a neighborhood group of kids, siblings that lived nearby. I wanted to go because I liked to hang out with these other kids, and it was fun to go on outings despite my shyness.
When we arrived at the gate to the football stadium, my brother and friends went up to the ticket counter and bought their $1 tickets.
I hesitated. I was too scared to go up to buy the ticket, not sure how to act. I had the money in my pocket, but I was too afraid to get it out and offer it to the people at the ticket counter.
Then my brother and friends started walking away, into the stadium. I didn’t want to be left behind—the idea of being alone there was frightening—so I followed them in. Without buying a ticket. Without paying my way.
I can still feel how guilty I felt, the heaviness that hung over my chest, the adrenaline that shot through me.
My brother said, “You didn’t pay. You need to go back and pay.”
“I did pay,” I said. I was too embarrassed to admit what I’d done, but I was also too afraid to go back and pay for a ticket.
So now I had a lie to add to my crime.
I didn’t watch the game. Even if I had understood football, I wouldn’t have been able to get the guilt out of my mind and my heart. Every now and then my brother would remind me that I hadn’t paid, and I would lie again.
I was near the breaking point by the time we got home. I went into my room, took out the dollar that I should have spent going into the football game, and tore it up. My reasoning was that I wouldn’t benefit from having an extra dollar.
Of course, that was just one more crime I committed that night.
I don’t know how much time elapsed before I told my mother, but I do know the sense of guilt hung on me and didn’t let go. I knew what I had done was wrong, and I was sure I was in trouble with God because of it.
One day I started crying and couldn’t stop. When my mother asked me what was wrong, I told her the whole story.
My mother did not tolerate stealing or lying. But she was gentle with me on this one, probably because I was so upset and so obviously sorry.
“Well, ask God to forgive you,” she said,” and put an extra dollar in the church collection plate.”
And I did.
I was wrong to go into the football game without paying. But this incident illustrates to me my burgeoning case of OCD.
That was the first confession that I remember giving to my mother. It would soon become the norm for me to ruminate over my sins, or what I thought were my sins, and confess them, known sins and all, to my mother.
I would desperately search for forgiveness from her and from God, praying the same words over and over, trying to get them right.
“Oh, Lord, please forgive me. Please forgive, please. Oh, Lord, please forgive me. Please forgive me, please.”
Have you experienced anything like my football game experience because of anxiety?