I have a pretty firm hope that the more I act the way I want to be, the more I’ll become exactly that.
The first time my OCD played a role in daily life was when I was in middle school. I was at a friend’s house and we were going to watch a movie. Before he was able to open to DVD case and put the disc into the player, I insisted that he wash his hands. I didn’t want to get anything from his hands on the case. Begrudgingly, he said OK and went to the bathroom. One of the worst episodes of OCD I’ve ever had was about a year ago. I was getting out of bed and checked my phone for the time. As soon as I tried putting the phone down, I felt off, worried, out of control and obsessed. I couldn’t stop touching it, moving it, pressing on the surface. After about ten minutes of this I went outside to catch my breath, though I knew I wasn’t finished with the compulsion. Out on that porch I began breathing heavier and quicker. I started sweating, even though it was a brisk day. I squinted my eyes and held my eyelids closed, trying to psych myself out of what I knew was coming. Then, panic attack time. I spent the next 30 minutes on the couch, listening to Guns N’ Roses, trying to will myself out of it. Nothing worked, though, which I knew would be the case. I just had to manage and ride it out.
The loose point to my OCD story is that you can always make it out to the other side. In the moment, you’ll never get any clarity. Nor will you find any solace. People close to me always try to remind me that I’m not crazy, I’m not the only one who experiences this stuff, and it’s not as bad as I think it is. None of those observations help. Or they don’t help me. I’ve had to find ways to deal with my OCD on my own, because, let’s face it, OCD is a very private thing. I, for one, am not quite embarrassed to show it to people, but I am very hesitant. The judging, confused eyes are unnecessary. And the fast, five cent “advice” from those who don’t have this disorder is often painful.
Wisdom from those who know nothing about a topic is rarely useful, and bordering on useless.
I write about, share on social media, and talk with others about various mental health issues because I want to. Because doing so sometimes sheds light on the issue. It sometimes erases just a bit of the stigma around certain ones. And it helps me sleep at night and function throughout the day; knowing I did my small part in informing, educating, or just plain sharing.
I have been battling OCD since I can remember. The first sign I can recall is that day with the DVD case. The last time I recall doing something because of my OCD was about ten seconds ago, when I checked my phone for the time and stared at the screen until it went black. During this staring I also looked back at my laptop and noticed the angle it was sitting in relation to the table I’m at wasn’t quite right. So I “fixed” that.
If I am making those with OCD uncomfortable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I often, many times a day in fact, interrupt myself while performing a compulsion in hopes that it might go away for good. They haven’t so far, but the way I see it is I’m making progress. That progress, over the last ten years has taken many forms. Admitting That I have OCD. Telling a loved one I’m concerned and troubled by it. Looking up therapists that might have helped. Calling said therapists (I still avoid using the phone like The Plague. There’s just something about calling someone that brings an enormous amount of uncertainty, and I have found that I’m not nearly alone). Going out in the world and meeting the therapists that show great promise. Spilling my guts to them. Answering questions that don’t seem to relate to OCD in the slightest. Having patience around returning to see them over and over. Taking (and sometimes not taking) their advice. Learning what works for me and what is a waste of time. Learning, with aggravation, that some obsessions and compulsions aren’t likely to go away for me. And the flip side; that some are.
I won’t talk long about this, because this piece is about OCD. But I have found that my depression makes the OCD better. My anxiety makes it worse. When I am having a “bad day”, as others refer to it, my OCD is in the background. It’s a little muted. It’s manageable and I can handle it. Sometimes, I can almost forget it’s there. But when I am anxious my OCD seems to be amplified, bigger, more pronounced. It is right in the forefront of my mind and there is very likely nothing I can distract myself with to ignore symptoms. I wanted to just mention Depression and anxiety a bit, because I believe they go hand-in-hand. Without anxiety I wouldn’t have OCD; without OCD I don’t think my depression would be as bad as it is sometimes
What’s the most fitting next part to this? Symptoms, of course. I don’t tell you my symptoms to make you feel better or worse, not do I tell you to compare. I’ve learned that comparing my OCD symptoms and treatments to others’ is like comparing rain drops. They’re going to fall and most of them can’t be stopped. So, off the top of my head, some of my most bothersome symptoms include counting (to myself), touching repeatedly, lining things up so they are “just right”, obsessing over every detail of the day, trying to remember what I did the night before (thank God for search history), constant feelings of guilt or that I am less-than, inability to progress in life (due to fear of failure and success), knee tapping, fidgeting (my sister bought me a Fidget Cube; turns out it’s a little weird holding this thing in my hand all the time), teeth grinding (my dentist is not happy), Not sleeping (mind racing at night), inability to find any kind of distraction that helps for more than five minutes, Horrible and vivid dreams, irritability, constant drowsiness, and lack of energy.
That about rounds out my day, I think.
Some of the things that have helped me cope? I hate to say it, but medication. About six years ago I was in a place mentally where I found it nearly impossible to leave the house. I would feel the urge to peek out the windows through the blinds and make sure no one was in my immediate path. I couldn’t go into stores without having a panic attack (don’t even get me started on supermarkets – paranoia anyone?). I would read the same book over and over, making sure I caught every word in every sentence in the right order. I stopped working, because I felt judging eyes on me all day and couldn’t focus on anything. I drank a lot. Because it helped. Relief from anxiety and OCD is something I would have done just about anything for. I didn’t view having a few too many drinks in one sitting to be that bad, if it allowed me to sit and breathe. After a while, though, I found reading obsessively, spying out the blinds and drinking too much to be temporary fixes and not very healthy ones at that. I needed something close to permanent. I needed a remedy. So, therapy, medication, some love and almost-understanding from family members and the small group of friends I still had became cornerstones of my recovery. Also included in that list? Playing and listening to music, watching movies, reading (in a more controlled way), writing (not journaling, but writing nonfiction about me, my life up to that point, my experiences, etc; still working on a book I hope to publish one of these days), laying in bed at night with my eyes closed and my breathing controlled, getting out of bed at a reasonable hour (often forcing myself to), talking to my cat (no, I don’t think he understands me) and playing with him, practicing being more present, aware and conscious of what is happening around me.
So, is OCD easy to deal with? Easy to “get over”? Easy to push down into your gut and say ‘I’m not doing this today or any day anymore’? Not in my experience. That’s why I get up each day, I push through the weirdness and the voices spiraling in my head, and I “act as if”. I have a pretty firm hope that the more I act the way I want to be, the more I’ll become exactly that. Every OCD journey is different, so don’t compare yourself to me and don’t scoff, saying ‘that’s not how it really is!!’. Simply read this and maybe, hopefully find something that causes you to read the last sentence again, and say ‘hmm’.
https://www.facebook.com/truetoselfcounseling?ref=br_rs (James Mayer)