So it’s been a little while since I have written. I love to start and finish things, but I do not tolerate middles too well. I am trying to see the joy in the journey though. I think it would be a good idea for me to give a little history of my OCD journey so far. There is nothing that helps me more than reading something someone else has shared and thinking “ME TOO!!!!” Hopefully this will help anyone who struggles with OCD, anxiety, or depression realize that you are not crazy and you certainly are not alone.
I guess it all started when I was little. Looking back, I can see lots of signs that pointed to an anxiety disorder. For example, every time I got the stomach virus, I would absolutely flip out. I would stop eating after that and have a hard time controlling my anxiety about vomiting. I can also remember sobbing on my way to school just because it caused me so much apprehension. Until the 3rd grade. My mom also said that teachers would tell her that if anyone in my class got in trouble about something, I would have a hard time with it. I guess I feared the same thing would happen to me.
In high school is where things got REALLY rough. I would get pretty nervous on the first day of school every year and sometimes I would get sick. That was nothing compared to my senior year spring semester though. I suspect that first bad OCD episode began because I was about to move away to a college 3 hours away where I didn’t know anyone. That was pretty brave of me and I still cannot believe I did that. I’m so glad I did though. Back to high school though. That spring semester, I had terrible insomnia from anxiety. I was only sleeping 2-3 hours a night. I was also not eating normally and I can remember being SO depressed and moody due to my anxiety and lack of sleep. There were so many nights I just cried and cried because I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I told my parents that I had to get some help. So, we went to a psychiatrist and started medication. I was so ashamed, but my desperation overcame my pride. I told myself I had to hide this about myself at all costs. No one could ever know. I felt like I had let my family down and that I wasn’t a strong enough Christian. I thought that if I just prayed enough or memorized enough Bible verses, I should be able to make my anxiety go away. I felt so alone and isolated. In retrospect, this was just OCD trying to bully me and keep me in its box.
College was much better. Like 1,000 times better. I don’t know if it was because it was such a positive environment or I had a self-confidence boost because I was actually able to excel there. I secretly feared I would have to pack up and go home. Either way, I think my OCD laid dormant for those 4 years. I got married the summer after I graduated to my amazing husband. He was so supportive and understanding about my anxiety. He has never ever made fun of me or said a cruel word about the way my brain works. He has been with me through this whole journey, supporting me and praying for me. I am so thankful for him. God gave me such a hero to help me through this life. About a year or two after we were married, OCD hit me with a vengeance. I was filming an assessment to pass a certain level of natural horsemanship training with my older horse, Pride. Passing was so important to me and I had doubts that I could do it. I believe this pressure I put on myself is what triggered the episode. I began having some of the same symptoms as in high school, like not sleeping well and not eating as much as I wanted to. Lots of nausea and tightness in my chest. I knew I could not go back to that dark place that I endured while in high school. So, for the first time, I began to seek out therapy for OCD. At this time I didn’t actually know that I had OCD. I thought I just had a problem with anxiety. However, that psychiatrist I went to in high school told me the best thing he could have to put me on the right track. He told me he thought I had obsessions without compulsions. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I thought I would at least try to find someone who specializes in the treatment of OCD. Even if I didn’t really have it, maybe they could point me in the right direction. So I found a counselor who specialized in OCD and anxiety disorders about an hour away from my house. My husband called her for me and we set up an initial appointment. I was really nervous. Secretly I wondered if she could even help me. I hoped against hope that she would.
I immediately liked this therapist. She was kind and compassionate and real. That’s what I really wanted. I wanted someone to understand me and not judge me. Someone who could relate to me and help me feel like I was not alone or crazy. I am so thankful that God led us to her. She told me that I did have OCD (not just obsessions, but also compulsions) and that it was very treatable. We began to talk about the things that scared the heck out of me and these thoughts that seemed relentless. We talked about the ways that I coped with them and the maldaptive things I was doing purely because I didn’t know what else to do.
In a nutshell, my OCD began as what I like to call “moral” OCD. I obsess about anything I deem as “bad”. I would have lots of obsessions about doing something that breaks God’s commands. Some people call this scrupulosity. I would compulsively replay thoughts in my mind to make sure I didn’t want to do something bad, i.e. kill someone. I would also fear disappointing God so I would compulsively pray for people and feel like I had to read my Bible for a certain amount of time each day. Today my obsessions are primarily centered around disappointing my parents, my horses “liking” me and wanting to be with me, and being a responsible wife. My therapist and I began working on my hierarchy (things that I fear and obsess over) through ERP-Exposure and Response Prevention. This is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. ERP is basically where you purposefully enter a situation or thought that causes you anxiety and resist your compulsions. So for me, this means writing a “script” of whatever thing I fear and embracing the thought that it may or may not happen. An example would be “I may or may not disappoint God if I don’t read my Bible today. I may or may not harm someone else. My husband may or may not be disappointed in me. My horses may or may not like me. I am going to embrace this uncertainty so I can recover.” For other people, it may be touching something and resisting the compulsion to wash their hands. It just depends on what form OCD takes for them. Interestingly, I never actually would think any thoughts all the way through because I would always do a compulsion to try to stop the thought and block it out. This kept me in the vicious cycle of OCD. It looks like this:
Scary thought —>Stop thought with some compulsion, like saying “Jesus”—> temporary relief from anxiety and belief that my compulsion helps me—> brain brings thought back up because I’m trying to suppress it—> compulsion gets worse and more elaborate, like saying “Jesus”, plus shaking my head “no” to get rid of thought—> anxiety is really not dealt with at all, just avoided, which strengthens cycle.
It is actually very empowering to think your thoughts all the way through and tell yourself they may or may not happen. Then you take all power away from OCD and anxiety. That’s all OCD is: intolerance to uncertainty. My brain tells me I cannot handle not knowing something for sure. Black and white=good, grey=BAD!!! However, my brain is lying to me. I can handle the anxiety of not knowing something for sure and be happy anyway! I had never actually allowed my thoughts to be there and seen that I really could handle the anxiety that I feel.
That is pretty much the history of my journey so far with OCD. I would love to hear any comments you have about your journey with anything that you struggle with. Thanks for reading!