I am learning to trust I have the ability to deal with the worries and ‘what if’s’ if they became true.
I have OCD. Contamination OCD.
It has taken me many years to write those words without feeling crippling shame or performing a humorous apology. I have embraced the fear and vulnerability and I have found strength and power.
Today I feel healthy: managing my thoughts and doing the work to succeed in recovery. I have dug deep and swam into the dark pockets of my psyche to understand the reasons my OCD manifested. I know the theory of how to heal, so, emotionally I continue to carve a new path of newly created thought patterns. Patterns of understanding and truth and self-care. Patterns that will serve the self of today not the lost and fragile girl of the past.
Trauma and grief I believe are the cause of this dance with OCD.
I have not had any more or any less of these two emotions or experiences than the next person. I have experienced things in my life however that caused me pain and I did not know where to put the hurt that these moments created so I suffocated my grief and my shock and it became fear.
People are fragile and they break. Hearts can hold so much but there needs to be an outlet and everyone’s outlet is different and specific to them. OCD became my friend and my enemy. My protector and my abuser.
My OCD was born with the sudden death of my beloved mother.
It was fed and nurtured by a stint in a U.S jail and a horrific deportation experience, reckless drunken behaviour, leading to regret, guilt, doubt and shame and the need for there to be consequences. My OCD, in part, caused the shocking breakdown of my marriage and took nourishment from it.
Throughout the succession of these traumas, I crafted a series of obsessive compulsions to protect myself. The trouble is they are not protecting me. They were and are limiting and destructive and need to be released.
When locked in the jaws of my OCD it feels as if there is a monster living in my mind. I can fall into periods where I am overwhelmed and stuck. In these difficult and dark episodes, the monster takes up permanent residency. Always there. Sometimes it is thrashing around and causing utter destruction and carnage. Other times it is lying dormant but lying in wait to pounce and upset any equilibrium or calm stillness that may have fallen over me.
My younger self created it to keep me safe and to protect me but over the years it morphed into a torture tool. It can encase my thoughts and my heart and I am a slave to its demands and frivolous fanciful ways. The mind monster can easily take control and I have varying degrees of fight to stand up to it.
It tells me to be fearful, to stay away from what I deem dangerous at all costs. It keeps me in a perpetual state of fight or flight. It constantly ensures I am on my guard, triggering my obsessions and sending me into a series of complicated and elaborate physical and mental compulsions.
A mind which is inhibited by fear is painful. It is aggressively detrimental and fully and wholly exhausting.
A perpetual, looping and relentless mental rumination.
Stress and change can trigger my OCD. I can find myself experiencing days where I spend hours either running things through in my mind to ensure I was and am safe. If I am not embroiled in this remuneration of recounting a past thought or moment, I am watching out for new ones or creating them in my mind. Stuck in the past and the future, desperately striving to stay for just a little while in the present.
I have lost hours and days to investigation. Investigation through carefully crafted conversation to find answers and reassurance from others without explicitly asking. Investigation of time codes, phone call durations, receipts, bank accounts, locks, stains, clothing, feelings, bruises, rubbish bins, and and and….there is no end.
I have spent years trying to taste the unattainable feeling of certainty. Certainty that a particular thing did or did not happen. But I am striving for the impossible. A large part of my healing has been to accept the unknown and truly know that all life is uncertain and to be ok with that. I am learning to sit with the uncertainty. I am learning to trust I have the ability to deal with the worries and ‘what if’s’ if they became true.
I mask it well. I am a confident, independent sometimes funny woman, running her life, going through the regular ups and downs of light and darkness.
But I take with me this thing. This disease of my mind. This life sucking monster which I feared, in my loneliest of times, could eventually erode all of my essence if I continued to feed it daily.
When in the grip of my OCD some of the things which frighten me are: homeless people, drunks, drug addicts, blood, bodily fluids, excrement, doubt, men, my thoughts, guilt, pavements, park benches, grass, taxi drivers, strangers, uncertainty, irresponsible behaviour, alcohol, the dark, guilt, toilets, transport, needles, being alone, the night, myself……
I fear these people, things and feelings, as my OCD has taught me that these are avenues which can lead to the possibility of coming into contact with contamination.
I find the prejudice and judgement of my OCD confronting and shameful and the most troubling element to make peace with. I trust you receive this honesty as not a reflection of my core values or truths but as a choice to tell the brutal reality of OCD.
I have found healing and know how freeing recovery can feel.
Even when in the depths of the clutches of OCD, I conduct a ‘normal’ and brave life. I am strong and resilient.
But I do know how to present myself to the world and I know how to keep the gravity of my struggle deeply hidden. Hidden from even those who are very close to me.
This is something I am gently trying to change.
Mental illness is relentless and we get to create and cultivate our very own personal manifestation. It gets its claws in your brain patterns and grows and expands and suffocates. The mind is so clever that it leans on these learnt patterns and somehow they become intrinsic to your behaviours.
I am now in the process of doing all I can to unlearn these behaviours and heal.
I have deeply explored cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure response prevention, as treatments, and continue to do so.
I meditate, walk, try to practice self-care and self-love.
I explore yoga, reiki, homeopathy, chanting, spirituality, reflexology, talking therapies, visualisation techniques. I am crafting a series of healing tools which I can carry with me.
Self-compassion is critical. I actively cultivate the compassionate and wise warrior inside me. Knowing deep within me, that my wise internal warrior woman will prevail.
I recognise doubt and guilt as the main features of my OCD. I ensure I can keep these at bay by knowing this monster and dispelling its power.
Naming it, talking about it, writing about it, owning it.
I put my face and my name to this illness to dissolve its power and to say ‘me too’.
Two of the most powerful words you can hear, to release the solitary and terrifying existence of mental illness.
I refuse to feel the shame so tightly any more.
I refuse to perpetuate the stigma of mental health.
I refuse to feel less of a woman.
I refuse to see my OCD as a weakness.
We get to write our own stories and I choose to put down the scars and the hurt. Reclaiming my truth and my history. Honouring the broken girl of the past, while holding my wise woman self of today as the warrior who will lead me.
And in part – I surrender and I say ‘thank you’. OCD has enabled me to know myself, to do the work, to see the world with more empathy and humanity. It has encouraged me to look deep inside and to see the ugly truth. The beautiful thing is, that the darkness only makes the light brighter.