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OCD

OCD

Taming Olivia

Please, please, please remember this… No matter how awful OCD feels for you now it can be managed, it can be treated and in many cases, it can be fully recovered from.

Hi, I’m Catherine, I’m 36 and I’ve lived with OCD for as long as I can remember.

It’s morphed and shape-shifted many times throughout my life and has also varied in severity and intensity.

I’ll briefly tell you about my experience before talking about the things that have really helped with my recovery – I ultimately want my story to be one of hope and encouragement.

My childhood was very much focussed on keeping my loved ones safe, it centred very heavily on external compulsions. I counted, checked… recounted and rechecked everything because I believed it would help keep my family safe.

I checked taps, switches, plug sockets, window latches, basically everything and anything. It was hugely time consuming. I also had to repeat things until they felt just right and at times it was very difficult for me to lead a normal life. There were times I was heavily reliant on others to do the simplest of tasks.

Apart from telling my boyfriend, who would go onto become my husband, I kept my OCD a secret until the age of about 25, when I told a few family members. I lived through those previous years in silence and with no mental health support at all.

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OCD

It started as a thought of hit and run

Once upon a time in a land not far enough away, a girl was minding her business when alarm bells started ringing…

My OCD really, probably started in childhood, but for the sake of time, I’ll say it became “real” last September.  I’d even consider it to be very mild in that my OCD episode lasted less than a week, and then it was gone.  My first experience with OCD was hit and run OCD.  I drove by a bicyclist, which is pretty common here in Western NC, and almost immediately, alarm bells started ringing.  Not literally, but also sort of literally.  I remember my brain telling me that I had to go back, that I had to make sure I didn’t hurt the guy, that I needed to check on him to make sure he was safe.  Of course, I told my brain that was ridiculous and I refused to turn around.  I mean, after all wouldn’t I know if I hit someone?  My anxiety and the alarm bells just kept getting worse the further I drove.  By the time I got home, my hands were shaking and I almost couldn’t breathe for the panic that was welling up inside of me.  The logical part of my brain thought if I checked the passenger-side of my car, and I didn’t see anything like dents or scratches, then that meant I didn’t hurt anyone.  So of course, I checked my car.  And wouldn’t you know it, there was a scratch that I didn’t remember being there before.  But really, how often does a person check their car for dents and scratches, especially on the passenger side?  My brain went to anxiety overdrive.  I remember walking into my house with what felt like a completely blank stare, because in my mind I had just hit someone and left the scene of an accident.  How could I tell my husband what I had done?  Or my parents or my friends? What would they think of me?  Would they think I was a monster?  What about the general public?  In my small mountain town, the community crucifies (not literally) anyone who would dare harm a bicyclist.  Would anyone believe me that I didn’t know I hit a person?  I was so wracked with guilt, shame, and anxiety, that I made myself sick.  I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t focus on my homework that was due that night, and I couldn’t sleep. I probably slept two hours.  Every time I closed my eyes, I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head.  I was trying to find some proof that I didn’t hurt anyone.  I kept telling myself I know I didn’t hurt anyone, but my brain kept asking me “Are you sure?”  Of course, we can’t just click rewind on our lives to make sure we did or didn’t do something, so I gave in to it.  I couldn’t be sure I didn’t hit the bicyclist.  Although the anxiety subsided over the week, it was one of the scariest times in my life.  I couldn’t understand why I was having anxiety and panic attacks, seemingly out of the blue.  Of course, at the time, I didn’t know OCD was anything other than hand washing and/or counting.  My husband and I had only been married for a couple of weeks when this happened, and I kept forgetting to take the “just married” sticker off my car.  After this incident, I left that sticker on my car for a solid month, for fear that when the police inevitably showed up to throw me in jail, they might think it was suspicious that I removed something that could easily identify my car as the one in the accident.  I checked local news sources every day to see if someone had reported a hit and run.  I did this for about as long as I left the sticker on my car.  I did eventually stop thinking about the hit and run that never was.  Sometimes I can tell the story and be completely fine. Other times, my anxiety kicks and my OCD likes to ask “Are you really sure though?”.

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OCD

Taking the necessary steps to recovery

My experience started when I was just a toddler, I had a massive stuffed animal collection and if anyone touched or moved it I would get a panic attack and begin to rage. I felt as if my world was going to end if they weren’t in a specific place, it progressed onto different topics as I got older. After my parents divorced I suffered from intrusive thoughts of me hurting myself. Not by suicide, but by smoking. My parents smoked around me all the time and I hated it, I had nightmares and thoughts of me smoking a cigarette and drinking alcohol which I also had an issue with.

I’d get thoughts of me stealing my mom’s cigarettes and smoking them. It was debilitating and terrible, after that came the thoughts of suicide and my own father wanting to hurt me. I’d text him and call him every night because I missed him after the divorce and I had to be sure I was okay and that he wouldn’t hurt me.

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OCD

Recovery through faith and exposure

Another important thing to keep in mind is that if it feels like OCD, it IS OCD.

My name is Devin,

And I will never forget the day when it started and never relented. I was heading to class up at the university and had a strange, but distinct feeling of guilt for some reason. I thought to myself: “Ok… I don’t know why this is making me THIS bad, but whatever.” It persisted and persisted, and took all day to leave me.

As the years went on (that incident was about 7 yrs ago) I felt increasingly worse and worse about different things and never understood what was going on. In truth, it blindsided me and was a huge factor in me losing my faith at the time.

I had decided at the time that well if God was going to ‘make me’ feel this way, than forget Him. My loss of faith was more complicated than that, but this was a major factor in it. I constantly felt like if I wasn’t following each of the commandments right or perfectly, I was going to hell.

I would watch a show that had swear words or a questionable scene, and suddenly my mind would tell me I would be burning in an eternal pit of torment. I knew that maybe what I was watching wasn’t the best thing ever, but I didn’t understand why I was ‘made’ to feel so guilty about it!

To this day, I still feel horrible about doing things I shouldn’t, although now I know what’s going on in my mind, although it doesn’t make it any less horrible and tormenting. I am constantly checking Facebook posts to make sure I haven’t posted anything offensive, reviewing in my mind if I may have somehow offended someone. I am criticizing my wife when I feel like she does something I feel is dishonest and try to get her to repent of her ‘sins.’ After all, I want to save her too right?

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OCD

OCD Without Apology

Needles.

Hypodermic needles were my first fear.  The doctor’s office became home to my nightmares.  Sharp objects—knives, spears, and swords—became my first obsession.  My first compulsion was to hold a sharp object against my chin—GI Joe’s scuba knife, a Fort Apache spear, or Galahad’s tiny sword—grit my teeth, and count.

When I was 13, I needed a booster shot.  In the weeks before it happened, I developed a new obsession: glass.  I collected sharp pieces of glass from the roads and sidewalks.  I collected rusted bottle caps.  I collected sharp stones.  It had never occurred to me before, but what if a sliver of glass gets caught in a car tire, gradually sinks deeper and deeper into the tread, and finally causes a blowout on the freeway?  If I didn’t keep filling my coat pockets with the dirty little “hazards” I plucked from the ground, someone might die in a car accident.

When I was 19, I rolled out of a moving car and ran as fast and as far as I could.  It probably saved my life. If it hadn’t been for the two black eyes, the gravel embedded in my back, and the two painful head wounds beneath my bloody hair, I would not have recalled anything but a chilling scream.  I desperately wanted to remember more. I wanted to remember more when I panicked without reason and pulled my car to the side of the road, when I turned and chased the images that lurked along the dark edges of my brain, when I told the story of how I’d rolled out of a car and mysteriously wakened entangled in an electric fence.

I remembered being alone.

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OCD

How do you know it’s right?

You can expend precious energy chasing the holy grail of 100% certainty, or you can choose to settle for 95%, or 70%, or even 20% certainty.

When I was a graduate student, I worked for months to prove the main mathematical result in my dissertation. I struggled with this proof. I churned out pages of chicken scratch calculations. I manipulated equations in my head while I ate, showered, vacuumed, and exercised. I had math dreams.

Finally, I thought I’d nailed it. It was a large and hairy beast that sprawled over many pages. I showed it to my adviser and declared, “I’m 95% sure it’s correct.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Well, you’d better be 100% sure,” he replied.

That’s when I realized that he wasn’t planning to check it himself. He was just going to trust me. And then I started to worry. What if there was an error in my proof? What if the central result in my dissertation turned out to be wrong? Could they take away my PhD? And if I got a job based on work I’d done in my dissertation, could they fire me? Would my career be ruined?

I checked my proof carefully many times. But I still couldn’t be 100% sure it was right. I knew there could be a glitch in my logic that I simply wasn’t smart enough to pick up on, no matter how many times I checked. After all, how many times had I turned in math homework – confident that my answers were correct – only to find out later that there was a major flaw in one of my solutions? And the stakes were much higher here. I asked a classmate – someone a lot smarter than me – to check my proof, and he thought it was correct. But I knew it wasn’t his dissertation or his responsibility, so I couldn’t completely trust his assurances.

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OCD

My disorder does not define me

My disorder does not define me and it shouldn’t define you either.

If you are reading this looking for a miracle cure for your anxiety or OCD, you can stop now.  This is not that kind of story.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that kind of story doesn’t exist in reality.  I should know.  I spent the better part of the last three years searching for it.  Instead, this is the story of my journey with OCD.  And while every individual’s story is going to be unique, it is my hope that by sharing I can help someone feel less alone in their struggles.

It was sometime in mid-April 2014.  I had just celebrated my 34th birthday.  The last few years had brought an incredible amount of joy into my life with the birth of my first daughter, a successful career as a teacher recently earning his master’s degree, a healthy social life, a loving wife, a nice home, and many hobbies to occupy my free time.  On the surface, I was living the life that that I had always dreamed of.  However, there were also some significant stressors that impacted me during those years. My mother and sister both survived bouts with cancer, my wife lost her job and was out of work for a few months, we had a pregnancy end in miscarriage, and my cousin died by suicide after a long battle with OCD.  Throughout all of these experiences, I kept moving forward, attempting to brush them off and never fully dealing with the emotions that came along with them.  In particular, my cousin’s death affected me in ways that I never allowed anyone else to see.  His OCD was something that I wasn’t aware of until his death.  However, I was no stranger to OCD myself.  On two separate occasions, after my wedding and the birth of our first daughter, I experienced bouts of intrusive thoughts significant enough to prompt me to research them and to determine that they might indicate a problem with obsessive compulsive disorder.  Fortunately, in both those instances, the thoughts subsided without causing any real interference with my day to day to life.
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OCD

OCD focused on racism and anti-semitism

…there is a lot of comfort and support to be gained from knowing that somehow we are all in the same ship.

Dear all,

I want to remain anonymous, because I have a story which is still difficult to tell. (I hope I can make myself clear as I am not a native speaker.) I am a 41 year-old male living in Europe, and have been dealing with OCD symptoms from a very young age (3rd grade). Like many others, I have come to know its different types (contamination, sexual orientation, pedophilia, harm, relationship) and all of them were and still are equally nasty to me. I have been lucky enough to receive professional help (since I was 22) and with medication I function reasonably well. What I want to write about here is an OCD variation I did not read about yet, on the web or in books, but one that has been bothering me since I was 16.  It is an embarrassing type because it is focused on racism and antisemitism. In fact it is so embarrassing, that I almost feel compelled to stress here that I am not a racist or an anti-Semite (as I used to promise and swear to myself when I was younger).

I grew up in a progressive Christian family (I am non-religious now), and my parents always taught us to do the right thing and be there for others. They also showed this in their own behavior: Our family lived in Africa for a couple of years where my father was a tropical doctor, and my parents are still very active in helping refugees. As a kid I learned that racism and prejudice were not acceptable, and in school I learned about the Holocaust as the ultimate evil. And then, as a late adolescent, I started to get these unnerving thoughts. It is very difficult to put them in words, because they were vague and not very outspoken. But somehow they made me doubt the wrongness of antisemitism, and racism more generally, which I found shocking.

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OCD, Relationship OCD

Lessons learned from Relationship Focused OCD

I encourage you to find a therapist who you connect with, and fight to get to the other side! You are worthy!

My first day of my first experience in intensive therapy I was asked to write down my thoughts one day from wake to sleep. I kid you not, by 9am I wrote “exhausted and yawning” (I had gotten up at 6:30). I looked at the journal and realized it was literally one page of thoughts already (probably more but I didn’t want to write it all) and it had only been 2.5 hours. These thoughts consumed about 95% of my day, and were draining me. I felt like I needed to find answers, but at the same time I didn’t know where to go, knew there weren’t actual answers, and part of me didn’t even feel like I needed any. I was trapped.

“Who do I want to be with? What if she isn’t the right person? What if I should be with a guy? But, wait, I have been with guys… How did I feel? Is that who I see myself with? Was it different from this? Should I try again? It’s expected of me. How should I feel? What if I doubt this and can’t commit? Does this feel right? Am I sexually attracted? But emotional means more to me…but you just doubted sexually so what about that?…  What is life? Do I want to be here? What if that car hits me as I get out of my car to get the mail?  Would I care? This is too much to deal with. What if my family never accepts me being with a girl? If they doubt it, maybe I am wrong. How do I know? What makes me happy? Should I move or try to go out more? No but that’s not who I am, but who am I? But wait, I want to be with her but do I need to explore myself more before committing? How do I know? I want to be with her. I had never acted this way with anyone else: losing track of time or had 7 hours feel like 1, sharing as much as I did with someone, yet my brain kept fighting me! I wasn’t used to this feeling. Comfort, calm, connection, and oh wait love–no, never! With a girl…was this right? Did I really feel this way? What if I am wrong?”

This is maybe two minutes of a day’s worth of thinking. Believe me it went on and on, uncontrolled, exhausting, circuitous, torturous circles of mental rumination. It tore me to pieces. I could go on and on, but you get the point. The answers weren’t there; the internal dialogue and questioning never ceased, and I couldn’t escape.

Our brain loves uncertainty and just following human nature, if you feed it, it gets hungry for more. OCD hits ya where it matters most (for me: relationships). I was tortured, stuck in my head, silently screaming so loudly that some days you could hear it through my smiles. I would ask friends, talk incessantly about the topic, but that was only temporary reassurance and fuel for the OCD cycle. The thoughts would only return a few minutes later, leaving me right back to where I started (fun, right?).

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OCD

Conquering my battle

I want you to please know that you are never alone, there are so many people who really do understand what you are going through

I often find myself awake at night with my eyes full of tears, crying out to God asking him, “Why? Why do I have to lie here in panic, why do I have to spend every waking second of my days full of anxiety?” We can ask God that question all we want, but the whole time the answer is right there in front of our eyes. What’s the answer? The answer is that life is full of battles, hardships,and trials, life is not perfect and it was never meant to be. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can stop asking the question why and start accepting the battle that you were given to fight, even when you feel as if you can’t fight anymore. God only gives you what you can handle and with knowing that, you can know that you can conquer any hardship that comes your way.

This past year I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Anxiety, and Depression. I think I always knew from a young age that I dealt with these disorders, but it wasn’t until now that I decided to do something about it. If you let these disorders go unhelped they only get worse and you eventually find yourself crying out for help.

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