Samantha Caramela is constantly bullying herself. Every day and night since she was a little girl, this “24/7 bully” inside Caramela has been telling her that she is selfish, a harm to others, and that she doesn’t deserve love. This bully is making Caramela fear herself consistently, but Caramela is finding a way to defend herself. This bully is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
“Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behavior, causing severe anxiety and involving obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values,” according to the International OCD Foundation.
Samantha is affected by obsessions, which are thoughts that occur out of her control on a daily basis. Her scariest obsessions are triggered by circumstances, big or small. At a young age, one of her triggers was throwing up, while another was the thought of a family member’s death.
At one point, Caramela’s OCD told her that she wanted to hurt her parents, so she went out of her way to avoid them. Her OCD told her she was going to be poisoned, so to fix the obsession, she tried to avoid eating all together.
Monmouth University specialist professor and licensed clinician, Dr. Jamie L. Goodwin-Uhler, believes that OCD can be rooted in childhood experiences. “I tend to think of OCD as often having a sort of symbolic significance to the person and likely having roots in anxiety-producing and/or traumatic development experiences, often in childhood,” Goodwin-Uhler said.
At age four, Samantha encountered another young child who wanted to “experiment” with her and threatened Samantha to stay silent. Her mind, however, could not.
As a young girl who told her parents her every thought, Samantha began to feel guilty for not telling her parents of this circumstance. Caramela said, “I felt like a horrible person if I ever had a rude thought and needed to tell them as soon as possible to relieve the shame.”
Samantha was misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia by a doctor at age seven. The same doctor also said that she wanted to hurt others. When her mother defended Samantha and said her daughter wouldn’t hurt others, they sought a new doctor. Samantha was then diagnosed with OCD and could finally start to feel better.
Being a young girl constantly plagued with obsessions, Samantha struggled at her Catholic elementary school. She felt judged by her peers and staff, with one teacher even kicking her out of class during a panic attack and calling her a “disruption.”
Gina Chiarello, a life-long friend and neighbor of Caramela, remembers watching a school play with her when they were children, and Samantha saying, “We need to leave. I need to get out of here.” With the play being a trigger, Chiarello said that Samantha and her mother left the auditorium almost immediately.
“Parents and counselors spread rumors that I was a danger to the students, and even I started believing some of them. Being in that type of atmosphere, especially while struggling with a debilitating disorder, is excruciating,” she said.
Having left that atmosphere, Caramela is currently a junior at Rowan University. She is studying creative writing and is using her writing to educate others on OCD. Bright-eyed and slender, Samantha can be seen walking on Rowan’s campus with a journal and iced coffee in hand. If anyone notices Samantha, they don’t notice her “bully” and triggers unless she talks about them.
The triggers that have affected her since her time at Rowan have changed, but still affect her daily life immensely. She has been dating another junior, Kevin Momat, since her freshman year at Rowan, and has been open with Momat about her daily struggles.
“When Sammi (Samantha) is conflicted with something, it’s all a matter of time. I used to try and get the answers quick and was frustrated if I couldn’t know them right away, but now I know I just need to give her time to figure out whatever she needs to and I know she’ll confide in me,” Momat said. “I trust her that she’ll tell me what’s on her mind and she trusts me to know I’m going to be there for her no matter what.”
In a short written work titled, “When Love is a Trigger” Samantha speaks of her relationship. “It’s so frustrating because these thoughts are so convincing, causing me to second guess every fleeting feeling, argument, whatever it is,” Caramela writes. She tells herself that she is in love with Kevin, but her OCD responds with “You don’t.” This response from her OCD is Samantha’s current biggest trigger, and the one she’s most afraid of.
Caramela has thoughts about cheating on Kevin, about falling in love with someone else, and can experience “false guilt.” This false guilt convinces Samantha that she is being disloyal if she just speaks to someone of the opposite sex. These thoughts plague her so much that Kevin can become a trigger.
“I become so irritated from my repetitive thoughts that one simple action of his sets me off. Then comes the guilt for reacting a specific way, for being moody, naggy or what most call, ‘human’. I feel so much guilt that I feel as though I slapped him when all I did was give him a little attitude,” Caramela said.
In addition to therapy and internships, Samantha keeps busy by serving as the president of Her Campus, an online global journalistic community for women. Caramela works herself very hard in order to focus on her assignments and duties rather than her OCD.
Goodwin-Uhler believes distractions like Caramela’s can be useful. “Distraction can be an effective in-the-moment technique of handling anxiety; there’s nothing wrong with it if it works to diffuse the anxiety. However, I would recommend exploring the underlying meaning and potential causes of obsessions/compulsions, as well as learning other behavioral techniques, for complete treatment,” Goodwin-Uhler said.
“I think the worst part of OCD, for me, at least, is the constant doubting, the shame and guilt, the irritability and depression—the side effects. There is never a day where I am not stuck in a threatening, downward spiral. It’s intimidating and lonely because no one ever really understands your thoughts and why they have such an impact on you,” Caramela said.
To cope with these feelings, Samantha has returned to therapy and is using her writing prowess to educate others. She has created a new blog called SammiSays.org, where she offers advice and posts about her experiences with OCD and her life to others.
“I began writing for myself, in journals and such, because getting it down on paper was so relieving. It was like I was reading thoughts of another character, so I wasn’t so harsh on myself. I tend to be more accepting and understanding of other people. Over the years, however, I decided to share my story.” She wrote a column for her school paper called “Diary of the Anxious” her freshman year and continues to write about what’s going on in her own hear—her thoughts and her bully’s.
“I want to help others because I know how it feels to be trapped in your mind, especially when it is such a dark place to be,” Caramela said.
Samantha continues to walk around campus on a daily basis, carrying her journal and coffee. She carries her bully too. Incredibly though, the bully doesn’t carry her.
PHOTO COURTESY of Samantha Caramela