08/28/2014 06:06 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2014

What It Took For This Woman With OCD To Feel Like Herself Again

Susan Richman's excruciating battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder began with a mouse.

In the mid-1980s, Richman was fresh out of law school and living in San Francisco when she spotted a rodent in her apartment. The discovery got her "thinking about germs," and she took action.

"Before I knew what I was doing, I was cleaning almost every bit of my apartment with isopropyl alcohol and Lysol," Richman told HuffPost Live's Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani on Thursday.

That incident turned into an unhealthy fixation with cleanliness that quickly spiraled out of control. "Before long I could barely walk outside without thinking about germs flying at me from garbage trucks or people who walked past me," she said. "I managed to get to work, but it would take me hours to get there because I kept back-tracking to see what I might have stepped in."

Her condition reached a fever pitch when she felt compelled to "go through this eight-hour decontamination ritual" when she arrived home every night. Richman said she felt "imprisoned by my mind" and began having suicidal thoughts.

Seeking treatment from a psychotherapist didn't seem to help, and eventually Richman ended up in a hospital, where she took drugs that didn't seem to have any noticeable effects (aside from a 70-pound weight gain). After 20 months without improvement, she left the hospital and tried exposure therapy. Three weeks later, she was feeling "completely normal again." Richman admits she wasn't fully cured and won't ever be, but she did finally feel like herself.

"I got my sense of humor back. When I flew back to Chicago and my mom met me at the airport, I met her with a great big lick of the airport floor," Richman said. "That was to show her that indeed I was better."

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