Stephanie, 33, Ontario, Canada

I get stuck in a never-ending mental analysis of why “this is something to worry about” and why “this is not something to worry about”.

Steph Page ImageOne February morning, I was eating breakfast and browsing social media as usual, when a thought floated through my mind: “What if I made a mistake in the past? Horrible things will come of this.” And in the next second, I experienced what I could only comprehend to be a panic attack. Heat flooded my body. All I could do was put my head down on my desk. I could not stop thinking about this possibility, no matter how remote it seemed. As the day went on, eventually I confided in my partner. I was so scared I could barely speak my concern. When I did, he assured me that my worry was unfounded. That helped at first, but then I couldn’t stop there. I contacted other people who I thought could give me an answer. None of them were worried either. But I still couldn’t totally shake it. Finally, just when I thought I’d resolved this potential problem in my mind and could let it go, I thought of another, and then another, and another, and another—until I had a list of possible ‘mistakes’ that I feared could have catastrophic consequences in the future. As time went on, I no longer lived in the present. I was trapped in the past and future. I was in a constant state of panic. I became a shell of myself, moving through day to day life while performing a constant analysis in my head, reviewing memories, assessing whether there were mistakes or not, what I could do about it now, and on and on and on. Just when I thought I’d eliminated a worry, my brain would scrape the bottom of the barrel and come up with something else to add to the list. Any glimmer of uncertainty pulled me right back in. I began to change some of my everyday behaviours too, as I wanted to pre-empt doing anything that I might end up worrying about later. This began to impair me further. Now some of my greatest strengths—being conscientious, responsible, diligent—were a double edged sword. Every morning I awoke with a sickening feeling of doom.

I managed to maintain a façade of functioning, for a while. Only people very close to me knew something was wrong, but none of us knew what it was, quite yet. Eventually, I had to take a medical leave of absence to focus on treatment. Thankfully today I am in recovery.

Although it seemed that OCD hit me out of the blue, after having gone through treatment I can now see that OCD was there all along. For a long time, I experienced an immense amount of stress in my life, always feeling like I had to think of everything, to take responsibility for ensuring everything was in order—or else something could go terribly wrong. But I didn’t have the insight at the time to see this thinking, nor the behaviours I undertook in response to it, as problematic. Despite the suffering, I’m grateful for that “what if” thought that sent me spiralling. I don’t think I would have ever sought help otherwise.

My OCD might be considered a less visible type—many of my compulsions were mental (such as reviewing past memories over and over again) or embedded in social relationships (like seeking reassurance). Indeed, many people have commented to me that they never would have known anything was wrong or suspected that I had something like OCD. I hope my story provides one example of the diversity of forms that OCD can take.

Categories: The Wall

23 replies »

  1. Great job on the Podcast, Stephanie! It was hard to listen to because I know exactly what you were feeling. I’m glad others out there who are fighting the same thing will be able to hear someone who has fought the same battle.

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    • It means a lot to me that you listened to the podcast, Graham, and thanks for your note here! I hope it wasn’t too hard for you to listen to. To know how much you get what I was going through is huge for me. I wonder if it was also maybe hard to listen because you could imagine/understand everything I left out? I really couldn’t get into specifics about my obsessions, and I don’t know if I conveyed the depth of the 24/7 mental compulsions (mental review/analysis) – but I know you know what that’s like. Your comment here prompted me to revisit our convo below, and I’m just grateful to have met someone with such a similar OCD experience. Are you in touch with Adrienne – can you pass the podcast along to her too? Solidarity!

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      • I totally understand why you wouldn’t want to get into the specifics of your intrusive thoughts. Going into the exact subject matter can be both scary and embarrassing. The only people I’ve ever trusted with the specifics of mine are my spouse and my therapist. It was a little hard to listen to for that reason, you’re right. I could feel how I know it made you feel. And I also thought you did a wonderful job communicating the circuitous and self-compounding nature of mental compulsions. You’re really quite brave. I found myself wondering if I could have done it – especially the very first podcast!

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      • Thank you so much, Graham! Your supportive and encouraging words are very much appreciated. 🙂 You hit the nail on the head when you wrote “circuitous and self-compounding nature of mental compulsions” – I’m glad you feel I somehow conveyed that! And same here – I’ve only shared the full scope of my obsessions with my partner and psychologist, and a few trusted people who I felt compelled to “confess” a few select obsessions to. I couldn’t even really get into detail in my group therapy.

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  2. Stephanie, this sums up so much of what OCD does to me. I’m sorry you’ve gone through it too, but it’s amazing to know I’m not the only one who’s been in that place. Thanks for sharing your experience. It means a lot to me and I’m sure many others.

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    • Graham, I have to tell you I read your post and it was like you described my own OCD better than I have! It was an incredible moment for me to read your post. I actually sent it to some people close to me and said, “This is my OCD!” Reading your post helped me to cement a better understanding of my own experience and that is truly an amazing thing – THANK YOU!

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      • I’m glad my post helped you like yours helped me. I did the same thing when I read yours – “Look! Somebody else has what I have!” For a long time, I thought I was the only one who dealt with this. Things like this make you feel less alone in it.

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      • Graham: thanks for the recommendation to read Stephanie’s experience. There are three of us that I know of now! I feel a little more hopeful and a little less alone.

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      • Stephanie, meet Adrienne. You should read her comments on my Wall post when you get a chance. Apparently, we are so not alone in this we could start a club 🙂

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      • Graham, Adrienne, this just blows me away! I read your comments, Adrienne, and I can completely relate. Oh, that bit about % certainty!! Yes! Sigh… Thanks for making the connection amongst the 3 of us, Graham. Such an odd feeling to feel so elated about sharing misery! But solidarity is good :). It’s been a weird journey grappling with “our brand” of OCD. I did group therapy, and while I related to the ‘distorted OCD thought patterns’ of the other group members, I’ve never met anyone that dealt with my particular flavour of OCD. I am so grateful you both shared.

        One thing that I’m still trying to make sense of is that this seemed to hit me out of the blue, and was about a year-long episode (and the fact that it pretty much quieted down after a year was completely due to the therapy). I was definitely a worrier, worst-case scenario thinker before – I would even think of something from the past every once and a while that might upset me for a bit – but nothing like this that just STUCK. It felt like it went from 0 to 24/7.

        Really really glad to “meet” you both. Haha, we should start a club indeed!

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      • Stephanie, my most recent bout with it hit me out of the blue too. I had dealt with it off and on for 12 years (since my first real bad bout with it), but mostly it was pretty manageable. Like you said, I’d get stuck in the past from time to time, and it was stressful on a few occasions, but manageable. I’m just like you – always a worst-case-scenario thinker and a worrier. I’ve also got an overactive conscience and feel guilty about everything 🙂

        But this last fall, It just hit me one day, just like it did you, and I was almost immediately a
        mess. I wish I knew why it can do that. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever felt.

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      • The similarities are astonishing, Graham! I’m so sorry you’ve have such a recent bout and really hope things are better now. I sometimes worry that it could pop up out of the blue again.

        What am I doing “trying to make sense” of OCD anyway?! It’s a sneaky beast that can’t be made sense of!

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      • It was a rough go for about four months this last time, but I’m a whole lot better now. Got into therapy for the first time in November. The therapist got me in to see her on one of the worst days of my life. I never thought I’d be in therapy! I’m the guy who is supposed to have it all together, under control and be prepared for anything. But it has helped immensely, as have some good meds. It’s been a humbling experience, and I suppose I needed that on some level.

        I worry about it popping back up too. I am still working on dealing with the last fear I got locked on to, but it’s getting better every week. I am convinced my OCD will pop up in some other form someday – it’s chronic, even with meds, or so they tell me – but I hope I have tools and support to beat it when it comes again. Finding people like you and Adrienne, who know what it’s like, has been a huge milestone in moving forward.

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      • Yes ma’am, I am doing much better now, thanks to therapy and the right meds. It was tough to accept at first. As I thought of myself, I was supposed to be in control and always prepared. I wasn’t supposed to need help, much less therapy. Guess I learned some humility through it.

        As recent and as bad as my last bout with it was, I feel terrible for you – dealing with it for as long as you did. If I hadn’t found help after those first couple of bad months last year, I don’t know what I would have done. I think you’re right that there’s no answer to where it came from or why. I just hope that, if nothing else, such a difficult experience will help me grow as a person; help me extend more grace to others than I did back when I had convinced myself I had it together.

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      • Ha! Well I wrote that response once but when I hit reply it never showed up. So I did it again . . . and then they both did 🙂

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      • I’m so glad to know you’re getting good treatment, Graham, and that things are improving. There is NO SHAME in that! Getting help is certainly NOT a sign of not being in control – if anything, getting help is a show of strength in the face of an illness that does everything is can to take that away from us. So take that, OCD!

        When I say the ’bout’ lasted a year, it did, but not at the same intensity for the whole duration, because I did get help. There were about 5 months of intense, 24/7 thoughts before I started treatment. Throughout the course of treatment things got better bit by bit. It was about a year out – actually maybe a little more – from that initial “what if” thought that sparked the whole spiral, that I started to feel like I was in “recovery” and no longer thinking about those things.

        After going through treatment, I have come to realize there are some other facets of my OCD that I haven’t yet dealt with (like I re-play conversations in my head to make sure I said the right thing or nothing could be misinterpreted). But these things seem to be on a different scale to me. They don’t impair my life in the same way. Eventually I will tackle these as well!

        Let’s keep it up! 🙂

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      • I know what you mean about little OCD things you didn’t realize you were doing before. They don’t completely dominate your thinking like the big ones can, but I never fully realized till I started therapy and learning about this stuff how many smaller annoying or intrusive thoughts I applied the same compulsive rumination to.

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      • Totally. And even these “less” consuming thoughts, still keep us stuck in our heads. It’s amazing what I continue to learn about my own OCD – including from this dialogue with you and reading your post. Just being able to identify things as part of my OCD makes me feel like I have one up on it – I can call it out. Thanks again for reaching out, Graham, and sharing your story. Solidarity, friend!

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  3. Hi Barbara, Thanks so much for your comment on my post! It’s great to know we’re not alone. Sorry to hear about your struggles though. Sounds like that must have been very stressful, going to psychics to try to get answers for doubts/questions fuelled by OCD. Hope you are doing better now.

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    • Hi Stephanie, yes Its better after medications and my boyfriend support but still o nly we can understand each other and I wish we could saying to each other “I feel the same” every day……

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      • Well, I’m saying it now, through cyberspace! 🙂 “I FEEL THE SAME AND I TOTALLY GET IT!” 🙂 Hopefully when you feel alone you can look at all these amazing posts on The Secret Illness and know that there are lots of people who also feel the same and get it. We are definitely not alone. Really glad to know you have the support of your boyfriend and are getting treatment. It does get better!

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  4. Omg I thought Im the only one! Im waiting constantly for something to happend that deffenetly something from the past I was in every psychc on the planet go find out. Fear killing me

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