Once upon a time in a land not far enough away, a girl was minding her business when alarm bells started ringing…
My OCD really, probably started in childhood, but for the sake of time, I’ll say it became “real” last September. I’d even consider it to be very mild in that my OCD episode lasted less than a week, and then it was gone. My first experience with OCD was hit and run OCD. I drove by a bicyclist, which is pretty common here in Western NC, and almost immediately, alarm bells started ringing. Not literally, but also sort of literally. I remember my brain telling me that I had to go back, that I had to make sure I didn’t hurt the guy, that I needed to check on him to make sure he was safe. Of course, I told my brain that was ridiculous and I refused to turn around. I mean, after all wouldn’t I know if I hit someone? My anxiety and the alarm bells just kept getting worse the further I drove. By the time I got home, my hands were shaking and I almost couldn’t breathe for the panic that was welling up inside of me. The logical part of my brain thought if I checked the passenger-side of my car, and I didn’t see anything like dents or scratches, then that meant I didn’t hurt anyone. So of course, I checked my car. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a scratch that I didn’t remember being there before. But really, how often does a person check their car for dents and scratches, especially on the passenger side? My brain went to anxiety overdrive. I remember walking into my house with what felt like a completely blank stare, because in my mind I had just hit someone and left the scene of an accident. How could I tell my husband what I had done? Or my parents or my friends? What would they think of me? Would they think I was a monster? What about the general public? In my small mountain town, the community crucifies (not literally) anyone who would dare harm a bicyclist. Would anyone believe me that I didn’t know I hit a person? I was so wracked with guilt, shame, and anxiety, that I made myself sick. I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t focus on my homework that was due that night, and I couldn’t sleep. I probably slept two hours. Every time I closed my eyes, I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head. I was trying to find some proof that I didn’t hurt anyone. I kept telling myself I know I didn’t hurt anyone, but my brain kept asking me “Are you sure?” Of course, we can’t just click rewind on our lives to make sure we did or didn’t do something, so I gave in to it. I couldn’t be sure I didn’t hit the bicyclist. Although the anxiety subsided over the week, it was one of the scariest times in my life. I couldn’t understand why I was having anxiety and panic attacks, seemingly out of the blue. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know OCD was anything other than hand washing and/or counting. My husband and I had only been married for a couple of weeks when this happened, and I kept forgetting to take the “just married” sticker off my car. After this incident, I left that sticker on my car for a solid month, for fear that when the police inevitably showed up to throw me in jail, they might think it was suspicious that I removed something that could easily identify my car as the one in the accident. I checked local news sources every day to see if someone had reported a hit and run. I did this for about as long as I left the sticker on my car. I did eventually stop thinking about the hit and run that never was. Sometimes I can tell the story and be completely fine. Other times, my anxiety kicks and my OCD likes to ask “Are you really sure though?”.
A couple of months later, the first week in December, I had an anxiety attack so bad that I decided I had to see my doctor to find out what was going on. My husband was out of town, and I suffer from separation anxiety, but this was much worse. My doctor got me in touch with a behavioral health consultant and she taught me how to control my anxiety, to a degree, and assured me that I wasn’t losing my mind or going crazy. She diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I think it’s important, or maybe not, to note that I hadn’t experienced anything OCD related since September.
Fast forward a few weeks, into January. OCD reared its ugly little head again. Only this time, it was harm OCD. Once again I was innocently driving home while I was listening to a Game of Thrones podcast. Now, I don’t remember the specific verbiage, but the guys on the podcast were talking about how writers and authors come up with some of the most sick and twisted things to grab our attention. And I thought, “Yeah, that makes sense.” But then I thought “Wait a second. Who thinks of stuff like that? Crazy people think of stuff like that. Hold on. I’m thinking of stuff like that!” And so began the rabbit hole that is HOCD. I couldn’t stop thinking of ways to harm others (as twisted as that sounds). It was terrifying to me. Anytime I tried to stop thinking about harming other people, I just thought about it more. I remember for dinner that night, I was using a rather large knife to chop potatoes. I was terrified of that knife. It scared me to look at it, to hold it, to touch it. But I had to use it so that dinner would be ready by the time my husband got home. I slept very little that night. At work the next day, I was having violent thoughts about my coworkers. I was so scared and nervous that I couldn’t write because my hands were shaking so badly. That night I was staying at hotel with my friends for my best friend’s birthday. I was miserable. I was having harm thoughts about my friends and I was so scared I would hurt them. Not that I wanted to! But damn, it was so scary. I barely ate anything that night. I couldn’t sleep at all. I cried for a good 30 minutes in front my friends. They were comforting me and telling me everything was going to be okay. All they knew was that I was having a bad anxiety attack. Over the next couple of days my OCD morphed into me having thoughts about harming myself. That was especially scary because I remember my brain telling me just how easy it would be to hurt myself. I quickly became terrified of the knife drawer in the kitchen.
I knew something was wrong so I made an appointment with a therapist, still not knowing I had OCD. Hell, I had convinced myself that I had schizophrenia (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I was still terrified because of the stigma surrounding it). I couldn’t get in to see the therapist for three weeks from the time I called to schedule an appointment. When the receptionist asked why I needed a therapist, I only told her it was because I was having strong anxiety attacks. Which wasn’t a total lie, I suppose. During these three weeks, OCD tortured me. My OCD evolved into so many different types of OCD (HOCD, ROCD, POCD, checking, counting) I felt like my brain had DID, although my mind always went back to schizophrenia. I googled constantly, just to make sure I was fine, or to make sure that GAD was the real culprit and not something more sinister. I would read the same articles over and over again, just to make sure that I didn’t miss something.
Throughout my research, I would come across OCD, but I never considered it. I mean, I don’t wash my hands 248 times a day or count everything I do. I couldn’t have OCD! Alas, a few days before my first appointment with my therapist, I decided to click a link for OCD. I could have cried with happiness. Everything I was reading described me to a T. I can’t begin to describe the elation that I felt that it was only OCD. It wasn’t until my first therapy session and subsequent research that I realized just how scary/controlling/misunderstood OCD is. I felt so validated that I wasn’t losing my mind (totally), but it was a little horrifying to find out that this is something I will always struggle with. A burden I will always have. A little (or not so little) black, wispy monster that will always follow me around and collect every fear I have, no matter how fleeting, to use against me.
I’ve never told my husband about specific thoughts, but while I was in the throes of HOCD and waiting for my therapy appointment, he actually helped the most and didn’t even realize it. He told me that everyone has crazy and weird thoughts. Which makes sense and is totally true. It may not be helpful in the long run, but this was sort of like an AHA! moment. I realized that the only thing weird about me is that my thoughts get stuck like a vinyl record with a scratch. When I think of it that way, the monster that’s OCD seems less scary.
Obviously, some days are better than others, and some days are even MUCH better than others. There are days when I refuse to be a victim to OCD, and there are days when I let the darkness and the anxiety consume me because it’s just too exhausting to fight. In a weird way, sometimes the anxiety is comforting.
I do take medication for anxiety, but it’s specifically for anxiety. 7.5mg Buspar two times every day. Sometimes I don’t think it works because I still have anxiety occasionally, but I do think it helps with my OCD. When I’m not taking it as directed, my OCD seems to be much worse and less controllable. However, if I take it twice a day, I still have OCD, but it’s much easier to manage. I’m also in therapy. For cost reasons, I’ve gone down to only once a month, but I believe it has been a life saver! It is truly the only place I feel comfortable discussing my OCD. I’ve tried being open about it with friends and close family, but that just didn’t really work for me. I also attend a group therapy session at my therapist’s office. We meet once a month for a little over an hour and just talk about triumphs and victories we have or things we need help with. I’ve found that it’s so important to celebrate my victories, no matter how small. It builds me up and reminds me that I am not a victim. I tried meditation for a few weeks, but it didn’t really work for me. I prefer yoga! Honestly though, one of the things that’s helped me the most is listening to The OCD Stories podcast. It’s sort of like free therapy! It’s comforting to hear others’ stories about their struggles and how they’ve overcome them. I enjoy listening to folks say how they’ve recovered or that they’re in recovery because, really, isn’t that what we all want? Listening to the podcast helps me to stay positive, and I think that’s so important. It can be hard work to remain positive, especially when you’re constantly having negative feelings and thoughts, but I truly believe that learning to accept the thoughts is so helpful and a good start to the positive journey of recovery.
While I think I still have a long way to go, I remind myself that I’ve come so very far from where I was. And that’s a start.
My blog – https://katiewitheyesclosed.tumblr.com/