“It appears to be either a double suicide or a murder-suicide, according to investigators, the coroner, and pathology,” Sgt. Megan Richards of the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office in Canon City, Colo., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The scene did not show a struggle or that one woman was held against her will.”
As teens, sisters Amanda and Sara Eldritch, 33, developed OCD, a mental health disorder that leads to intrusive thoughts and compulsive behavior. They became disgusted with the human body, even their own, and harbored various medical fears. “We would think we were poisoned,” Sara told Oklahoma City local station News 9 in 2016. “We would pick through our food to make sure it was OK.” The sisters also struggled with suicidal thoughts.
As adults living in Broomfield, Colo., they took 10-hour showers, washed their hands for 20 minutes at a time, and used up to five bottles of hand sanitizer a day. Before leaving the house (a rare occurrence), they underwent a preparation ritual of not eating or drinking until they were dehydrated, to avoid having to use public restrooms.
“We had a serious rubbing alcohol problem,” Sara told News 9. “We could go through five bottles a day, each, and that was on our skin.” Amanda added, “There was one point when we were using so much hydrogen peroxide on our faces that it turned our eyebrows orange.”
The sisters also told the outlet that they wore gloves to clean, do laundry, and cook, the latter of which they did by rinsing produce in boiling hot water. “Blueberries change color because they’ve been rinsed for so long under hot water,” Sara said. “We cook our food pretty much by rinsing it.”
At the root of their anxiety was a fear of dirt and filth. According to the International OCD Foundation, the sisters’ behavior is known as “decontamination compulsions,” which involves an aversion to not only dirt and germs, but bodily fluids, garbage, certain chemicals, and even soap.
It’s common for those afflicted to excessively clean, disinfect, or avoid certain places altogether. Per the website, “‘Washers,’ as they are referred to, are probably the most visible among those with contamination obsessions. It is not unusual for them to wash their hands 50 or more times per day. In more extreme cases, hands may be washed up to 200 times per day. Showers can take an hour or longer, and in severe situations can last as long as eight hours.”
Over the years, Sara and Amanda tried various forms of therapy and medication, without success. Then, in the spring of 2015, they were offered a rare opportunity.
Sara and Amanda became the first people in their state to undergo “deep brain stimulation” to control their OCD, a treatment typically used on people with Tourette’s syndrome and epilepsy, among other conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, the process involves implanting electrodes in particular areas of the brain, which emit electrical impulses that control the abnormal ones.
While the surgery is generally considered safe, risks include complications like brain bleeding and, in the aftermath, stroke or seizure.
For the sisters, the treatment represented a major breakthrough — they stopped taking medication (which they called “Band-Aids”), and enrolled in cognitive therapy. They also became more comfortable with dirt and with shaking hands with people, shortened their showers to 30 minutes, and used rubbing alcohol only to clean their homes.
“We are currently surviving and striving for thriving,” Amanda told News 9. Her sister added, “We’re trying to feel like useful members of society. I want to be someone who could ever have a job, have their own home, friends, a social life.”
Their mother, Kathy Worland, also told News 9, “I’ve heard laughter from them, which I haven’t heard for years,” Worland said. “Even though they do have a debilitating depression at times, I’ve seen joy.”
Amanda told Littleton Adventist of post-surgery life, “We didn’t realize you didn’t have to be miserable all the time. The day is so much longer and brighter.” And they appeared on the television show The Doctors to share their experiences.
On Monday, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that Amanda and Sara Eldritch’s bodies were found Friday in a car parked near the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, both with gunshot wounds.
A GoFundMe page that’s raised more than $10,000 was established on behalf of Worland, who described her daughters as “amazing young women with big smiles and even bigger hearts. … Sara and Amanda had an impact on everyone they met, and touched more people than they could have ever realized. While they will be missed so very much, Sara and Amanda will live on in the hearts and memories of everyone they left behind.”
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