Editor's note: Nation Ford High School, which is in its second year, will soon say goodbye to its first graduating class. In the weeks leading up to graduation, we will share stories from students who persevered despite obstacles that could have stood between them and a high school diploma.
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Part II of a series
Ian Wallace used to wash his hands obsessively.
For the Fort Mill teen, resting on carpet and sitting atop a family couch was taboo. And so was running cross country.The problem wasn't that the Nation Ford High School student wasn't good enough to clinch a spot among the state's top runners. Instead, running through the woods among dirt, trees and branches is what stumped him."I spent so much time trying to dodge the tree branches that I got lost in the woods," Ian said. "I didn't even cross the finish line. I got totally lost in the woods. I ended up coming out somewhere else that I shouldn't have. It was that bad."Dodging tree branches and anything else deemed "contaminated" is commonplace for anyone who suffers from obsessive-complusive disorder. The disorder can cause children and adults alike to focus uncontrollably on fears such as dirt or germs. Those fears then triggers certain actions such as repeated hand washing.For 18-year-old Ian, the plants in the woods were unacceptable."He thought plants were dirty," Pamela Wallace said about her son.But that thought and subsequent plant avoidance caused Ian not to secure his desired place among state runners last year. So, last summer, the teen conquered his obsession with the woods by running nearly everyday in a wooded area."I stopped letting my anxiety about plants interfere with my running," he said. "It doesn't inhibit me like it used to. I can get hit by a branch, but it doesn't paralyze me now."He stood up to his fear and claimed his spot among top runners at this year's state-level cross country event, where he finished 28 out of 130 runners."I'm really proud of Ian and how he's pushed himself this year to work and get pass his fears," Jennifer Sorscher, a Nation Ford High guidance counselor, said. "I could see how another person might just throw his hands up and give up, but Ian just showed fierce determination to overcome his obstacles."Not only did Ian do well in track, he also showcased his skills in school, where he is ranked 78 out of 260 students. Being able to conquer his anxieties is "worth a pile of gold," he said."If it means getting over this, I'd trade all the gold in the world just to feel a little bit more normal," he said.OCD diagnosis
One in 50 adults in the United States has OCD, according to a Web site maintained by the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation. Ian was diagnosed when he was in the third grade, Pamela said."A teacher noticed he was washing his hands and standing up a lot," Pamela recalled. "He didn't want the [other] kids' book bags touching his book bag."The family didn't deny the disorder or try to hide it."We fought back," Pamela said.Armed with medical treatment and counseling, Ian's OCD went dormant about eight months later."There was still things he wouldn't do," Pamela said. "OCD is always there.Ian moved on with his life. Nearly a decade later, the OCD resurfaced."It flared out of control during his junior and senior year," Pamela said. "This time, the OCD was triggered in part by Ian working to obtain two specific goals."His doctor asked me if something was stressing him (Ian)," Pamela said. "I said, 'Yes. He was worried about a math class he needed to do well in and he was worried about being among the top seven runners on the varsity team.' It was important to him."So much so that he successfully completed the math class last December and triumphed in the woods."I was coming down a hill trying to keep my spot when I slipped and slid down a few feet," he said. "I leaped back up and took off (running) again, ignoring the mud that was caked on me. It was all the way up my thigh."Normally, Ian would have lost his focus, slowed his pace and concentrated solely on how and when he would get the dirt off him, he said. Not that time. But another anxiety, centered around Krazy Glue, showed up."All of a sudden, he [thought] that the chemical in Krazy Glue could give him cancer," Pamela said.Ian added, "Or something else fatal."As a result, he stopped using Krazy Glue on model ships and small items he normally enjoyed crafting. But it gets worse."I stopped using my furniture," he said. "I stopped using my books. I stopped using my floor."Instead, he walked atop towels and he suddenly shunned a project he had been working on."I had a collection of 300 ships that I built," he said. "All of a sudden, they became untouchable. It begin during the summer when I started training [in the woods]. Then this fall, everything spiraled out of control. I was afraid it (Krazy Glue) would result in my certain death."Touching the glue or anything the glue touched was taboo, he said. And there were repercussions if his family touched the glue or touched anything with the glue on it."We couldn't even hug him," Pamela said. "We had touched stuff in the house that he thought was contaminated. That was the domino effect."But Ian persevered. During the last few months, his anxieties have become less of an issue."I am determined to never let them freak me out to the point that they had previously," he said. "I possibly might never entirely get over my fears, but I hope to."So, he's following his doctor's orders."He told me to do things that I've never done before," Ian said. "I'm trying."At home, Ian touched one of his boats and didn't do his normal "hand washing frenzy" routine. He touches his face now. He touches the carpet."Without washing my hand afterwards," he said proudly. "Resisting that would help ultimately reduce my anxiety."At school, he picks up a pencil off the "dirty" floor."Before, I would have just left it," he said.And the den couch is no longer "contaminated.""It was contaminated, but I'm working on strategies to get through it," he said. "I refuse to let the thought of contamination about the couch invade."Ian plans to attend college at Francis Marion University in Florence - and coping with OCD is prep work, Pamela said."He's really strived and succeeded in what he needed to accomplish, especially with the OCD," she said. "He's my hero."