If you have a pulse, you have experienced anxiety at some point in your lifetime. Anxiety takes many forms and manifests in different ways for different people. During the season of this pandemic and civil unrest most of our general anxiety levels have ticked up. As I have noticed the impact of this global anxiety, I have also been reflecting on how I got started on my journey towards being a psychotherapist. My own journey started with a unique flavor of internal unrest, OCD.
A Little More Than Teenage Angst
In my mid-teens, I thought I was quite literally losing touch with reality and felt like I was unable to control my own mind and body. I considered myself crazy and felt helpless and hopeless. I was experiencing crippling anxiety, which turned into a deep depression, which in turn made me more anxious. Some days, I swear I could feel and smell my brain synapses frying.
What I was experiencing felt so embarrassing, I didn’t want to acknowledge it with anyone. I got to a breaking point and my parents helped me identify a need to see a professional. I would soon come to discover that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and I was so relieved to find out that there was a name for the cluster of symptoms and behaviors I was experiencing. Hilariously enough, during our stupid high school days with everyone claiming to be “so OCD,” and some how sound like valley girls even though I grew up in Massachusetts, it didn’t occur to me for one moment that I may have legitimately have this disorder. I was messy, disorganized, averagely hygienic, and barely noticed imperfections in the world around me.
My OCD Diagnosis
I learned that my particular subset of OCD surrounds checking. Basically this means that I don’t have the benefit of cleanliness, order, or even whimsical magical thinking. I just have the benefit of REALLY knowing if I locked the door or turned off the lights. It is the bullshit of OCD subsets. I am just anxious with no productive benefit to name.
What if I didn’t lock the car or the lights are still on? I definitely did not close the fridge. What if I said something really offensive to my best friend. Let me make sure I packed my school bag for the zillionth time. I know I definitely offended someone, and my house is going to burn down because I left the stove on. Thankfully I also left the kitchen sink running so they will even out. But what if the heat from the house burning down and the cold water running mixes and causes a barometric depression and there is a fucking hurricane where my house used to be? This is why I can’t have nice things.
I knew the obsessive intrusive thoughts were not realistic, making things all the more maddening. It’s like my body was being possessed by Obsessia, the patron saint of making sure that everything that is fine, is in fact fine, and she is not a very forgiving saint. My therapist assured me that I wasn’t being possessed, but rather I was experiencing compulsions. “An action or behavior that you engage in, in an attempt to find relief of….” Yeah, yeah, yeah..whatever, lady. I know you are just in cahoots with Obsessia. Through some mindfulness based CBT treatment and handy dandy Zoloft, I was well on my way to recovery.
With OCD, and any mental illness for that matter, there is definitely some controversy on using a recovery model when thinking of treatment versus managing a chronic illness. Weirdly enough, the longer I have worked in this field, the more useless I find diagnosis criteria because the reality is mental illness is a part of mental health. It is all on a health spectrum.
When someone is stabilized from a deep depression, I don’t consider them to be a recovered majorly depressed person. Much like I don’t find myself to have recovered from OCD, I still have it. Sometimes it flares worse than other days, but overall it is much better managed. I am surviving with OCD. Like with most mental health issues, nights tend to be harder and I have my series of checks that I do, but I am okay with it right now. It doesn’t feel as dark as it once was.
Treatment for OCD can be very painful. I know. I have been there. While it isn’t necessary to find a therapist who also has OCD to treat you, there can be some wonderful benefits when it comes to the normalization of such a stigmatized diagnosis. Also, the way that your therapist can relate to the particular type of anxiety, which can be so hard to articulate, can be really helpful. I remember how influential it was for me to meet the psychiatrist I had that prescribed my Zoloft. He told me about his battles with OCD going through medical school and provided me with so much hope. The first thing he advised was that I don’t need to feel like I will have to rely on medication, or hardline CBT, or exposure therapy for the rest of my life. It gets better. I can regain mastery over my mind and body again.
I am here to also let anyone suffering from OCD know that too. This is a highly treatable part of your health, but it takes a lot of work. If you are suffering from OCD, and live in Virginia, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. If you are a therapist treating someone with OCD and are seeking peer consultation, I would also be equally happy to make time for you as I can! Stay tuned for additional posts I have on OCD where I will be tackling more specific nuances.