It doesn’t have to control you, you can be free.
I’m Chelsea and I’ve been living with OCD since as early as I can remember. My earliest memory of OCD was being in my room, I was probably three, and I’m having an image of a dog attacking me repeated over and over in my mind making it impossible for me to sleep. My OCD grew and changed with me as I got older, but because it was only intrusive images and no obvious physical compulsions it was hard to identify until was 30 years old! 30 years of living with OCD with no help… until this year. This has been a transformational year for me, to say the least, and I’m excited to share my story with you.
So as I was saying, my OCD changed with me as I got older. Since I was about seven I had an ongoing obsessive image of someone stabbing me at night when I was trying to sleep. I would check under the bed and in my closets multiple times a night to see if anyone was there. Every night I had to sleep with the light on and most nights I ended up in my parents bedroom because I couldn’t sleep.
When I was in my senior year of high school I had images of a tsunami hitting Long Island, where I’m from, every night. I would try to fall asleep but my OCD would start and I’d have to turn on the TV to see if there was news of a tsunami hitting Long Island. I remember knowing it was not a real fear but it felt so real to me that I had to check! I’d run outside at night to listen to see if I could hear a tsunami coming toward my house only to come inside and still feel unsettled.
I went to college, specifically in an area that wouldn’t be impacted by a tsunami, and pushed myself hard, graduated, became a producer but kept finding myself in relationships that were unhealthy for me. I was attracted to people and situations that were dramatic and hard, and let’s be honest, I was a drama queen! But drama was a good distraction for me. I drank a lot, smoked way too much weed and was living as far from the moment as I could because the moment was way too scary.
About a year ago I broke up with a boyfriend and started realizing I had not found a relationship that was good for me because I had not really figured out what was going on inside me. I was running and hiding from something I didn’t want to listen to. My OCD about a year ago was terrible. I was probably drinking 5-7 nights a week and smoking about everyday just to escape reality, or the reality that I thought was real. The images were terrible, they could be triggered by a horror film or a scary idea and they could ruin full days of my life.
It wasn’t until I was listening to a friends mental health podcast, Call Us Crazy, that I realized I had OCD. It was my ah-ha moment and I was so excited. I compulsively researched OCD (typical) and immediately felt less alone. All of these scary thoughts that had been haunting me were experienced by tons of other people to! And the best news was there was help. Mt. Sinai’s OCD program seemed like the best so I called them the next day. Talia, the Clinical Research Coordinator, heard my story and was so kind and helped get me into the program as soon as possible.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started therapy. I remember crying every time I went in for the first couple weeks because I was so relieved to get my fears off my chest. I put my fears, guilt and shame all on the table and slowly they started melting away. Dr. Meadows was compassionate but he runs a tight ship, if I was going to do this, I needed to take the weekly assignments seriously and with his help he gently pushed me to success. One day he asked me “why did you do these assignments” and I said “because I didn’t want to piss off Dr. Meadows”, he laughed. Therapy is a lot of work on the patient’s part. Dedicating the time and keeping on top of the assignments could easily fall to the wayside, but the good thing about my OCD is I don’t tend to forget anything that I have to do, I’m constantly reminded – thanks brain!
After the first couple months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Immersion Therapy I would cry when I walked out of the office because the world around me was changing, or I guess for the first time I was seeing my world for what it truly was and in my life experience – it’s pretty f*cking great.
I have become more present with friends and family because when they are talking I am no longer caught up in an obsessive thought. I have become more straightforward because I’m not scared of what might happen if I say something that could make someone upset. I realized that my OCD was making me feel bad about myself and then one day I looked in the mirror and I realized… I’m pretty awesome.
A lot of things have changed in my day-to-day life since therapy started. I have more mental space to work on creative projects like writing, directing, reading and painting. I actually like spending time alone. I can have honest conversations with people I love. Dating has even become a breeze because I’m no longer being twisted up by confusing feelings and I’m able to see and hear people for who they truly are and I’m able to express myself in a way that is honest and free of fear. And, most importantly, I’m starting to really feel good about myself as a person.
But, if you’re someone with OCD and you’ve done the obsessive research, you know that the symptoms most likely will never be 100% gone. I would say my symptoms have subsided about 98%, but there are days and they have come up that an image or scary idea comes into my head but I have the tools to, as Dr. Meadows would say to, “Punch OCD in the face.” Of course not every day is going to be perfect, but OCD is like a bully that you have to stand up to. Now I see my OCD, I say “Hello OCD, how are you doing today? Terrible as always I see.” and then I punch it in the face OR I don’t even acknowledge it and I’m able to let it go. It doesn’t have to control you, you can be free.
What I’ve realized from this training is that our minds are very complex and no one should have to figure out their mind alone. If you know what’s going on and you decide to help there’s all this space for fun activities, healthy relationships and happiness. Life doesn’t have to be stressful, what a concept…
There’s a lot of fear and shame that comes with OCD making it hard to talk about, thus why so many people don’t get help. My advice is, no matter what you’re struggling with, talk to a professional because they work with patients like you and me everyday, and if you think you’re going to sound crazy to them, good luck!
My website – http://www.chelseastoutenburgh.com/