Updated: Mar 11
Shawnte Johnson is an OCD advocate who is actively creating a community for people with OCD through her instagram presence.
What prompted you to share your story with us?
I love the opportunity to support others in this community and appreciate your work to raise awareness.
What mental illnesses do you live with diagnosed or otherwise?
I would consider myself living in recovery of OCD. I find that distinction relevant for me, because I feel I have worked so hard to not be living under the burden of untreated OCD and I want others to know there is a beautiful life ahead if they are willing to do the work to get there. There's hope!
At what age did you first notice your symptoms, and then when did they become problematic? When did you seek help?
Looking back, I first noticed that I would hide OCD symptoms (not knowing that's what was going on) when I was in middle school. They did not become problematic until my early 20s. It was in my mid 20s that I sought treatment. It was a long road to both be committed to doing the ERP work and finding a good OCD specialist to facilitate the ERP process.
Can you share what your first symptoms of OCD were? When sharing with people who don’t have or don’t know they have OCD it’s super helpful to hear exactly what other people have experienced.
The earliest symptoms I can remember are when I was in middle school. I would re-lock the deadbolt of our downstairs door until I felt "just right" and that I was safe to go to bed. I also recall needing to play Christian music at night for fear that something bad would happen if I didn't.
Besides your therapist, who do you feel comfortable talking to about your OCD?
Thankfully, my husband has been my number one supporter and positive role in my mental health journey. I'm fortunate to have a few close friends and family members who know about my diagnosis and treatment. And of course, through this amazing OCD community online I have found tremendous sources of support and understanding as well and accountability and motivation to keep on this recovery journey.
How do you manage living with OCD?
The best thing I do is try to practice honest self-awareness around my intrusive thoughts and using the tools to not let OCD dig it's claws back into my life. The online OCD community through my @lifeafterocd has been huge for me in staying focused to keep on top of my recovery and do the hard work.
Do you believe your illness has held you back in any way?
I would say it absolutely hold me back in every way during my years of not seeking and engaging in effective OCD treatment, but through treatment, I would actually say that I would not take back this incredibly difficult journey. It builds tremendous endurance and confidence.
Do you find that your illness gets in the way of your work?
What have you been able to achieve in spite of your mental struggles?
Great question! I often forget to give myself the credit of what I accomplished while I was in the debilitating stage of my OCD. I was able to accomplish a masters degree, get married and get my first career job. Eventually OCD became so debilitating that it affected all those areas, but I still was able to accomplish them and that's important. Since recovery, I've been able to improve my relationships with everyone in my life, most important to me is my marriage that was very difficult during my time of untreated OCD.
If you didn’t have OCD, how do you think your life would differ?
If I had not gone through OCD, OCD treatment and OCD recovery then I would be very behind in emotional maturity. I still have lots of room to grow, but would not have had to grow nearly as much if it weren't for going through these adversities. The treatment process for OCD is incredibly good at growing you and maturing you if you allow it. I would also say my faith in God would not be as strong as it is now.
Since you are so strong in your faith, have you ever experienced religious OCD?
YES YES YES. I've experienced many intrusive thoughts and compulsions related to Jesus, salvation, praying, etc.
Does your OCD stick to one area of your life or does it creep in to all aspects?
OCD has been pretty good at latching on to every major value in my life (ie. my faith, family, pets, health, etc.).
Can you think of any positive things that have come to your life because of your mental illness?
Community, emotional growth, depth in my relationship with God, self-confidence, self-awareness, boundaries.. many things! I would not take back my experience (although I definitely would not have through that before getting treatment!)
Use three words to describe your experience.
Debilitating, Enduring & Hope-filled
If you could say one thing about your experience. What would it be?
Recovery is not linear! I am not perfect at resisting urges to do compulsions, but it's about continuing to not give up. Get back on track, keep moving forward, and life is full of so much freedom! Fears are worth facing. OCD isn't allowed run my life. That is key!