Annette John-Hall: Embracing OCD as a part of her

in the video-editing room. She hopes her film will help others understand obsessive-compulsive disorder. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
in the video-editing room. She hopes her film will help others understand obsessive-compulsive disorder. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer (Temple senior Alyssa Lomuscio)
Posted: March 20, 2012

Alyssa Lomuscio kept getting stuck.

Stuck in her thoughts, words, and actions. A lot of times, she'd get too stuck to function. Then she'd panic.

Getting stuck caused Lomuscio a whole lot of grief, so much that she almost entirely isolated herself during her senior year in high school. She passed up her prom and graduation party rather than risk revealing her secret shame.

Lomuscio suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

You know, the brain burp that causes you to execute exhaustive rituals like washing your hands, or reorganizing your closet by primary colors, or triple and quadruple checking to see if you left the oven on or the door unlocked.

Only, Lomuscio's OCD is a lot more complicated than that. OCD affects sufferers in a million different ways, she explained last week.

The Temple film major is hoping that her senior project, a 15-minute movie, A Jaded Life, will give people a better understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder - and maybe even prevent kids from bullying other kids who have it.

But she also has a more personal agenda. She intends to use the film as her public coming-out party. After years of hiding, Lomuscio is finally embracing OCD as part of who she is.

"In high school, we watched a movie about OCD, and kids laughed," the Clinton, N.J., native says. "I remember feeling two feet tall.

"I knew then I wanted to make a film to show people what it was really like."

Dark thoughts

Lomuscio remembers the dark thoughts invading in grade school, during a particularly sad period when a number of loved ones died, one after another.

Both of her grandfathers passed away. Her brother's grade-school friend. A school administrator. An elderly family friend who choked on a piece of steak and died at - of all places - a funeral repast.

"I started thinking that my actions would harm somebody I loved, or what I did would harm someone in the future," she says. "It wasn't logical, but my mind would tell me it was."

Her destructive line of thinking went something like this:

That woman looks like my second-grade teacher. ... My second-grade teacher must be really old by now. ... My second-grade teacher is going to die - and it will be my fault.

She soothes her anxieties by going through a series of gestures: swallowing, focusing on her finger, and thinking that if anything bad happens, it will happen to her.

"That's no consolation," Lomuscio says with a wry smile, "but it's comforting to me."

'Something different'

Of the estimated four million OCD sufferers in the country, about one million are children and teens, and most are not properly diagnosed.

"Alyssa always said, 'There's something different about me,' " says her mother, Mary Lomuscio. "I hesitated to believe it because she was getting good grades."

Still, Mary Lomuscio couldn't help but notice her daughter's unusual tics - how she had to say good night to mom, dad, brother, and dog in succession, the very same way, until she thought it was all perfect in her mind.

"Alyssa would come up with plausible explanations for it," Mary Lomuscio says. "As a parent, you wanted to believe nothing was wrong."

Ironically, Mary Lomuscio works as an assistant to special-needs kids. If there's one thing she has learned through her own daughter's experience, it's to "be supportive ... and believe."

For her part, Alyssa Lomuscio copes by keeping busy. While OCD is rarely completely cured, many patients get relief through therapy or medication.

Alyssa Lomuscio does neither. An All-America fencer, she worries that medication will violate the NCAA's strict anti-doping policy. And she's not about to give up one of the few activities that gives her relief.

"Fencing is the one time I can zone in and not think nothing," she says, "because everything is muscle memory."

But even Alyssa Lomuscio's fencing is not devoid of tics. Before a match, she grabs her eye with her finger, looks down, and then looks to the sky.

For a proud mother, the gesture has come to represent a daughter's singular focus and determination.

"If that's a ritual, "Mary Lomuscio says, "then it's a good thing."

 


To watch a preview of A Jaded Life go to http://www.indiegogo.com/A-Jaded-Life

Contact Annette John-Hall

at 215-854-4986 or Ajohnhall@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @Annettejh.

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