Of course, these are just a couple of minute benefits on a long list of disadvantages and difficulties, but to me, they matter.
Since early childhood, I have been living with a monster in my mind. To me, this is the most accurate way to describe OCD, as it, quite simply, feels like a separate and conflicting being that lives inside of me. When I was a kid, the monster had a face but never a name. A middle aged vampire. A young guy wearing a back to front baseball cap. Sometimes I could have sworn I’d see the vampires shadow on my bedroom wall, haunting me. But, in reality, it left no trace of its existence. It, and all of its weapons designed to hurt me, were simply a figurement of my imagination, I told myself. My brain being bad. It was only years later that I learnt there was a name for my suffering: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
My struggle started around the age of seven or eight. My struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder began when I was around seven or eight years old. Back then, it was more irritating than anything. I began to feel unignorable urges to touch and stare at things until they felt ‘right’ and, after a while these compulsions helped ease the anxiety I felt about childhood phobias. From this age, I was already beginning to feel different from the other kids. I felt stuck in my own little world most of the time, trapped in a battle with the urges. By the time I reached ten, the obsessional side of my OCD developed majorly, keeping me up all night and leading me to spend every night in the bathroom, carrying out compulsions. At this point, I remember two obsessions being present; the phobia of losing my hair due to the condition alopecia (which my mum’s cousin had suffered from) or by being diagnosed with cancer, and the fear that something bad would happen to my family if I didn’t carry out a series of ritualistic compulsions. I remember feeling a crippling sense of anxiety in the middle of the night, when everyone else was asleep, convinced that my hair was going to fall out, and brushing it compulsively until I became sure that it wasn’t. I remember feeling ashamed and disgusted about the unusual and bizarre compulsions the monster told me to participate in, or else, my family would be in danger. It was a scary and confusing time of my life, but back then, it was bearable, and I was unaware that anything was really wrong.
In episode 6 of The OCD Stories podcast I interviewed Jon Hershfield. Jon is the author of two books on OCD and a therapist who specialises in OCD treatment.
Jon gave some great responses to questions around meditation and mindfulness, and how you can use them in your recovery from OCD. We talked about this idea of the acceptance script, and how that can motivate you in your recovery. We also touched on various concepts around types of OCD thoughts. There is a lot of good advice in this episode and Jon is a good guy, so we hope you enjoy it!
What is important is that they will very likely find a well of strength inside themselves that they never knew existed.
I remember exactly when my “Pure” OCD became a problem for me. If I think hard enough, I can remember having mild symptoms of anxiety and some intrusive thoughts before then, but they never affected my life. My first big episode did, and that was what tipped the scales from “I’m a little high strung” to “Something is wrong with me.” I was incorrect about just what was wrong with me, and still am a lot of the time, but I was correct in thinking it wasn’t normal to be as distressed as I was by the thoughts that raced through my head.
I was lucky in that I was able to make it to about age 25 without huge mental illness problems. I was a little depressed as a teenager. I had dealt with the stress of an increasingly mentally and physically abusive marriage with a man suffering from PTSD for about five years by then, and I definitely had rocky moments. What I also had was a general sense of control. I could pull on my big girl undies and get to work. When OCD barged into my life like the Kool-Aid Man bursting through walls, I felt like I lost that control.
I was going on vacation to see a friend on the other side of the country by myself. I’d made the trip several times before, as I had lived in her area for a few years prior to this trip. I was happy and excited, but I got sick literally on the way to the airport. I got a nasty stomach virus that had me kneeling in the bathroom at Logan Airport for several hours. I called my then husband and told him what was happening. His reaction was “I’m not turning around now. There’s too much traffic. Just get on the plane.”
It’s a mental illness, and a nasty one. It will take your loved ones, your success, your hopes and your dreams. But only if you allow it to.
I think it’s best for me to describe my bumpy road to recovery to you by painting you a picture. Imagine a tall, thin and incredibly awkward girl. She is shy at first, and enjoys all of the things that society deems to be “normal.” In elementary school she enjoyed Barbies and Arthur, High School it was bashfully flirting with a new interest: boys, and not to mention, learning how to operate a vehicle (and trying not to cause her dad to rip his hair out in the process…). In college, she enjoyed the campus life, music, and that guy she had been selfishly stringing along…but that’s a totally different blog post. Yes, she is a girl. So she can have the snarky, cat-like moments that just about any westernized girl is capable of having (especially when she gets hungry…). However, she has never truly done something with the intentions of hurting, belittling, or betraying them.
Sounds “normal” right? Yes, yes. I know. The word “normal” is a relative term and doesn’t really have a definition. I know. But let’s just be a bit Freudian here for a second, and agree that the picture I just painted is not abstract. It’s simple, slightly ordinary, a bit boring, and…normal.
So if a thought came in, I would embrace it and say “oh is that it ocd, is that the best you’ve got, bring it on“
My ocd story: Pre-diagnosis it started around the age of 6 where I would spend a lot of time at night ensuring that the pillow on my bed was a certain distance from the wall, to prevent myself from hitting my head on the wall and harming myself. This compulsion, like any compulsion simply never satisfied the ocd, so I would often sleep on the floor as another compulsion which made it more “easier”, so to speak.
Moving onwards, I would go many months symptom free, only to be hit by new variations, so in retrospect my ocd, looking back often waxed and waned over the years, pre diagnosis. Health obsessions, relationship obsessions, was I supposed to be a girl obsession, checking on the kids when they were babies eg are they breathing properly, what if the blankets go onto there faces etc, which was very exhaustive.
Into my mid 30s I had horrid thoughts that I may have harmed the kids when they were babies, and these thoughts were so strong I actually started to believe in them, what ever compulsion I carried out, they just came back stronger and more powerful. Compulsions were ruminations, drinking water to try and flush them away, drinking alcohol also was used as a compulsion as it had the ability to eradicate the thoughts, until the next day of course, where it was back with vengeance and of course the dealings of a hangover too.
I felt like I lost a huge boulder that had been sitting heavy on my shoulders and in my heart for years.
WHAT IF I’M A PAEODPHILE, WHAT IF I’M A PAEDOPHILE, WHAT IF I’M A PAEDOPHILE,what if i’m a paedophile,whatifi’mapaedophile – fast and furious the thoughts came, every way I looked this one question that threatened my whole identity loomed large in my mind. Coupled with flashing images of naked children, things I may have potentially done to children all made me sick with the horror.
The trouble is with OCD, it’s not just one obsession that torments you. I would plead with my mind to give me something else to worry about but inevitably a new obsession would come and it would be just as awful as the last. I built up strategies to try and tear the anxiety down. The misleading thing is it would work for a while and so I would become convinced that I had finally outrun it. What I didn’t realise was that every trick, strategy and counter attack was actually just reinforcing the OCD. Every thought I suppressed, every occasion I avoided was all just fueling the OCD fire.
You have a choice. You do not need to let OCD stop you!
I interviewed best selling author Bob Burg on his OCD story, his improvement and his advice for how you can succeed despite OCD, not because of it.
Bob is a remarkable guy. He has written 9 books including The Go-Giver which has sold over 500,000 copies. It is a parable about the power of giving and authenticity in business. It has had a profound impact on my life, so it was an honour to chat with Bob and hear his OCD Story. I hope you enjoy!
I hope people can relate to it and realise they’re not alone.
20 months ago I was diagnosed with OCD. It was something I could always relate to. Growing up, every time I saw a documentary on TV about OCD it all seemed uncomfortably familiar. I remember seeing a man who couldn’t go to bed until he had arranged the pots on his fireplace in a way he felt comfortable with. He was in agony. I could relate to him but because my OCD wasn’t the stereotypical type of OCD the public are familiar with, I too, never saw my condition as being OCD. I’ve always been tense and sensitive. Never a confrontational kid and always, generally, well behaved at home and at school. I never have liked to rock the boat so whenever things came up in my life which did just that my fight or flight response, I now know, never worked properly for me. I bottled it up and carried it round with me. I was quiet and shut down. People often have referred to me a the ‘quiet one’ or ‘sensible one’ amongst my group of friends which to the outsider it must look like that. However, I did recently hear a quote which said that sometimes the quietest people have the loudest minds. I can relate to that as well. There have been times I can feel myself slipping into my head and becoming anti-social. I dont want it to happen. I want to project myself and show my true self, but sometimes I get lost in thought.
My first real involvement with OCD was when I was 10. Around that time me and friends were making prank calls, sending pizzas to people’s houses, silly stuff, harmless really but no doubt annoying to the people we were doing it to. Then one day I made a prank phone call to the 999 operator. This came back to haunt me, as later that day the operator called back and spoke to my Mother who was furious. “What if someone who was in a burning house couldn’t get through to the operator because of you” or something along those lines were said. Also, I was told my Grandpa, who was my best mate growing up and who died when I was 6 (and also a phone operator for the fire brigade!!!) would’ve been ashamed of me.
My therapeutic journey has barely begun but I feel more positive than I have in years.
I have wondered many times when my OCD story started and I have to conclude I always had a propensity to over-analyse and fixate on things from a young age, but instead of growing out of it and becoming more confident and learning the crucial art of letting issues go, I let my feelings hang around and fester. I learned to live in fear with the expectation of the worst outcomes.
I don’t ever remember not being afraid. I was always terrified, I felt I never fitted in and I was socially isolated. I stuck to routines in order to preserve a feeling of security; when I was at school it involved arriving at the same time every day, using the same routes to get to lessons etc. As an adolescent my symptoms were the worst, I felt extreme anxiety in doing things my peers did, like going to the cinema. I had a brief period between the ages of sixteen to eighteen, when I felt more optimistic and I felt accepted by new friends at a new school where I took my A-levels.