Is this the last time…?
I’ve been thinking about what to write on here for a few days now. I want to get it right, because it’s so rare that I get the chance to talk about an illness that really is silent. And lonely. And isolating.
OCD has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and sadly, it controlled my life for a very, very long time. I knew something wasn’t right for years, but everyone around me told me that I was just “too sensitive” or was “a worry wart”. It took until I was 22 years old for me to be diagnosed with the disorder – a day that was both liberating, yet devastating at the same time. I was happy to finally have an answer to why I was the way I was; why my brain worked the way it worked; yet I learned that it was a disorder that would never “go away” or be easily “fixed”.
My OCD has manifested in different ways throughout my life, but it always has one common theme: it latches on to the things, people, places, events, etc. that are the most important to me at that particular time. Sometimes it’s my health, school, sports, music, family members, friends, sexuality, relationships, work, religion, germs… you name it, I’ve obsessed about it. Unlike what you see in movies and on TV, my OCD is “invisible” to most. It’s centered around intrusive thoughts and mental compulsions. I don’t put things in order all of the time or wash my hands compulsively; I have intrusive thoughts and then compulsively cancel them out with other thoughts or by seeking reassurance.
When I was in graduate school, I reached rock bottom. I had suffered for so long and had reached a point where I knew that I was either going to take my own life, or that I needed to get help. For a long time I tried to keep my illness hidden; I was so embarrassed and ashamed. But I finally made the decision that I had to take care of myself. It literally was a matter of life or death.I entered myself into an intensive anxiety-OCD program for one month. Looking back at it now, I can honestly say it was the single hardest thing I have ever done, but it was also the best gift I have ever given myself. I got my life back.
I could go on and on about all of the things I learned there, but I will just share a few. It’s okay to ask for help. You have to “try different, not harder” as they said at treatment. You can’t just fight harder and harder thinking that it will get better. It’s not as simple as “not worrying so much” as so many people without OCD tell us to do. You have an illness and it’s okay to ask someone to help you. Try different. Try new therapies and medications. Retrain your way of thinking. Change your routine. Expose yourself to your fears. You can have the life you want, you really can. You aren’t your OCD. It’s a part of you, yes, but it doesn’t define you. I never thought I would be able to simply sit on the couch and just be. Before I went to treatment, my intrusive thoughts would be at their worst if I did something like that. My mind was never quiet. My intrusive thoughts got louder more frequent. I turned to distraction to separate myself from my brain. My intrusive thoughts made me question who I was as a person. But I’ve learned that I’m not my intrusive thoughts. And neither are you. I never let myself imagine having a happy future… a dream job, moving to a cool city, traveling to another country, getting married, having children…. because I didn’t think it was possible. I lived hour by hour because of my OCD. I reached a point where I gave up on having dreams, because I thought I wouldn’t be able to achieve them with my OCD. I planned to just pass through life quietly and alone, catering to my OCD every second of every day.
But, with a lot of help from many different people, I can honestly say it doesn’t have to be that way. I can’t believe I am living the life I have right now. I still have some really bad days, even weeks, but I now have the tools to get through them. Treatment didn’t end when I left the program – sometimes it seems my life revolves around follow up appointments with my treatment program and sessions with my therapist, but, it works. And it’s a small price to pay for the relief and peace I have found.
When I had really bad moments with my OCD, I often wondered why I was alive. Why was I alive when I was at war with my own brain every second of every day? I was exhausted. I was fighting a war against myself. No one knew how hard I fought just to get by; to do the minimum. I don’t know if I will ever understand or be at peace with having OCD, but I know that I want to help others with this illness. Talking about it is the first step to ending the stigma and encouraging people to get help. You are a person. A daughter. A son. A student. A dancer. A friend. A teacher. A nurse. A parent. An animal lover. You are not your OCD. I hope that anyone who reads this can see that and believe that in their heart, even if it’s just for as second (I know all to well how OCD makes you doubt yourself). If you can believe that for just a second, that’s good enough. Through talking to your friends or family, a therapist, getting medical help… whatever it may be, you will be able to start to believe that for 5 seconds, then a minute, then a day… YOU ARE NOT YOUR OCD. YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS. And you are not alone. Right now you may not believe it (I sure didn’t for a long time), but I promise that you aren’t. Underneath all of those obsessions and compulsions is a wonderful, amazing, person who deserves to be happy and live their life to the fullest. Never doubt that.
Categories: The Wall
Well said, Andrea!! You rock. Thank you for your encouraging message of hope. I’ll share this with those I know who suffer from OCD. You are a beacon of hope.
What a beautiful post. I’m an OCD sufferer who became a therapist specializing in treating OCD. I would like to pass on your wisdom in this post to my clients who also cannot at the moment see themselves living with any degree of freedom. You provide hope. Thank you sincerely.
Thank you for the time and effort you took to write that inspiring message. I still can’t believe that it is possible to have a quiet mind at times, but if you can, I can too. And I’ll pass on the don’t try harder but try different on to my weekly group session. Good advice to pass on.