I am more than happy to announce that this is a success story I am writing, and that means the world to me.
My name is FotinI Charalabidou, I am 23 years old and I live in Athens, Greece. I have been wanting to share my story with you for a while, but in this present period, actually for the very first time, I caught myself, being in a place where I feel a lot more comfortable to do so.
To start with, my OCD came up for the first time when I was 12 years old. It was the time when I was about to leave my school and attend a new one and I was quite stressed about all the unpredictable changes that were about to follow. I guess that made an ideal condition for my OCD to occur. As a result, first of all came a constant worry about my sleep. My sleep became more and more difficult and while facing that difficulty I started having many stressful thoughts rising in my mind, so I ended up being trapped in a vicious circle. At that time, I also became afraid of a certain kind of music and I constantly had these thoughts in my head telling me that I must always listen to it and that it would be unacceptable to think about or listen to anything else but this specific music. The thought was that if I did, that would automatically make me a completely “wrong” or “bad” as a person. And I recall desperately telling myself “These thoughts cannot be rational. I need to shed these thoughts of my mind. What is wrong with me? Why am I troubled once again about a thought that earlier I have decided not to take seriously again?”… But it seemed like no reasonable thinking could calm me down and I was deeply ashamed to talk about these thoughts to my parents, because I could not show how much I was troubled by this “nonsense”, so I needed to find on my own a way of fighting this unknown and huge problem.
When September came and I started on going to my new school, I gradually lost weight, I sometimes vomited and I even remember having fever every now and then, because of all this unbearable anxiety. Every day, from the moment I woke up until the time I went to sleep I was afraid that I might not have studied well enough before attending a class, which led me to spend an exhausting amount of hours each day on studying to be prepared well enough for school.
That was the main reason why I did not find enough time to relax a bit and, of course, at the end of the day, that proved to be a habit that worsened my anxiety and my OCD. So I would definitely say that such a condition dragged me down to another vicious circle. I reached a point, where I asked compulsively again and again the same questions in the classroom, which made many of my teachers complain and let the other students think and tell me that I was “stupid”. This whole situation was the reason why my trichotillomania symptoms appeared. Of course, at that period of time there were plenty of other devastating obsessions and compulsions during each day. For example, I used to tap things compulsively, in order to avoid something really terrible from happening and I excessively checked the windows, the doors and the oven before going to sleep. Honestly, I clearly remember not to be able to stop crying and I have also kept in my mind the image of my skin, that had gone bad in my hands, because of all this suffering from anxiety.
I was very young at that time and I had not even thought about visiting a therapists` office. There were times that I, actually, thought that I might be going mad and that thought depressed me as much as any other.
If somebody asked me what changed and I got better, I would probably raise my shoulders and tell them that I do not know. Indeed, there finally came a period of time, when I gradually felt much more positive about the future and finally, I ended up being absolutely relieved. That was the time, when I appreciated the simplest things in life. I was ecstatic by the feeling of absolute freedom from my past debilitating fears and, at last, I could relax a bit, take care of my body, hang out with my loved ones without being absorbed by my obsessive thoughts. I could even daydream, think about the parties, chat with friends of my own age and think about my first kiss, as every healthy teenager needs to do!
My clue, is that I got better because I finally managed to catch my breath occasionally from all this exhausting work I was doing and have at least some tiny moments of fun. Since I found relief without doing some kind of therapy back then, I also think that there must be a kind of defensive mechanism in my body when it comes to exhausting stress, so that when my stress reaches a peak, after a period of time it backs away and gives me the opportunity to escape from my vicious cycles.
Anyway, I feel obligated to point out that in the following four years I felt a lot more healthy and I had a quite normal life. This does not mean that I did not worry on many occasions, it just means that I did not suffer from such disturbing intrusive thoughts and compulsions all the time. But, unfortunately, my story does not end here, as I encountered another OCD crisis five years later, while being in the process of preparing myself for taking the exams to enter university. Back then, I had such a variety of obsessive thoughts and compulsive urges, that I highly doubt if there is much point in referring to every single one of them. However, I feel like I must, at least, mention some of the most important memories I have. To start with, once again everything started from some sleeping problems. I am still impressed by the fact that I was unable to sleep, because I was shivering as I thought of the most deeply fearful thoughts and images. Again, I started to vomit occasionally, due to high anxiety and I lost much weight, which I was about to gain later, as I ate compulsively being in a state where I practically could not study for the exams anymore, thus I was deeply depressed, disappointed and angry towards my own mind. At this phase, I was troubled by lots of the same obsessions that I had back when I was 12 years old. Some other thoughts were telling me that I should speak very carefully to others, in order to make completely sure that I won’t tell unwillingly any lies or give false information. As a result I had difficulty speaking to people, I avoided talking about certain issues and I, oftentimes changed what I had said, even if it were not in fact a lie or an inappropriate statement. In addition, I suffered from many religious OCD thoughts, many of whom kept telling me that I should commit suicide, because that is the most ethical act I could choose. It, gradually, became more and more clear to me, while being in therapy, that all these obsessive and compulsive symptoms must derive both from a massive need to be in a constant and perfect control of every single impact of my actions and from a great fear of all these exhausting responsibilities I had taken over.
Indeed, there came a time when I was old and mature enough to ask for a professionals` help. Long story short, I can’t even imagine what my life could have been like if I did not choose to give it a go and try therapy. Thank god, my parents were supporting me so much and were capable of affording these therapy sessions!
Back at that time, I did not even know that I had OCD and I searched for help in a therapist who was specialised in Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis. That might not be the ideal approach for me to choose at this specific period, but it proved to be appropriate enough to save my life. I, also, visited a psychiatrists` office and I started on an antidepressant medication. So, I stayed on this therapy for one year, then I attended a three year Gestalt group and personal therapy. So, after a long period of time that I was feeling great again, my psychiatrist told me that I could gradually stop taking my medication, in order to see if I was going to be able to live a life without OCD and without having to take the antidepressant for the rest of my life. So I cut down on my medication. After four or five months, a third OCD crisis occurred, leading to great suffering once more. I had thoughts that I could harm my pets and my family and I was also afraid that if I get absorbed by a book or by music or anything interesting, then I won`t notice if something terrible happened. Also, I had intrusive thoughts of me being so interested in my own activities, that I might end up underestimating other people or having no interests in common with them. Can you imagine how absurd these thoughts were? I actually compulsively deprived myself of the joy of being interested in anything and, of course, that led to feelings of anger and depression. So I searched a lot on the internet to find information about OCD and I, finally, decided to try the Cognitive and Behavioural (CBT) approach. In my opinion, all kinds of therapy proved to be very helpful and interesting, but at the time being I am insisting on CBT, because it helped me manage my everyday life in a quite direct way and it seems to be more specialised in my particular disorder. Since that episode, my doctor tells me that it would be better for me to continue taking my medication forever.
Also, I was given much help, by hanging out with people that offer me joy and security, by treating myself as a human who needs much care, rest and joy and by the application of some precious mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness meditation helps me let my thoughts arise and be in a state where I can differentiate myself from them so that I can examine them more easily if I still have to do so. Also, I was surprised at how helpful my being close to nature proved to be… Taking small trips in beautiful natural places and hanging out with my adorable pets made me far calmer. Even the simplest creative activities gave me a bit of confidence and that was of importance to keep me going. And, of course, listening to inspiring podcasts, speaking with people who have success stories to tell and watching nice documentaries can give a boost to try common or alternative ways that could relieve me. It goes without saying that I am always careful about the sources of information I choose. It is common knowledge that, on one hand, there are people on the internet who upload material in order to scare and draw the attention on them and, on the other hand, there are others who actually have the motivation to inform properly, to inspire and help in their own way.
When it comes to prevention, I think it is of importance that I exercise, so as to become more and more capable of noticing the sequence in which the symptoms appear. For example, in my case, OCD is triggered in certain periods when I have great anxiety and sleeping problems. So, the next time that I will observe my anxiety taking off, I will immediately take the measures that have proven to be most effective for prevention and treatment of the OCD symptoms. Moreover, I will communicate soon enough with my doctor and my therapist.
At last, I am more than happy to announce that this is a success story I am writing, and that means the world to me. I am able to sleep, to work, to study, to take care of my body and to have fun. In fact, I have created a facebook group and a blog, where I publish some translations of articles and other material about OCD, from English to Greek. I could not ask for more! And I will never ever forget the people who supported me.
If you suffer from OCD, keep in mind that I have the deepest faith in you. Do not give up the effort and offer yourself what you really need. Speak to people who know how to help you and try to rest sometimes, even if that means that you won`t be able to cope with all your responsibilities. Things are about to get way much better for you, believe me!
With love and respect,