I haven’t written in a while, maybe a month, as much as I love to write (er, type) the words just wouldn’t come. I was so strong and ready to share my stories, my anxiety and my journey through pregnancy, but one day I just couldn’t find the words. I opened this page hundreds of times and thought about writing, sharing what I learned, what I feel, but it was too difficult. Too difficult: the way it is for me to get behind the wheel of a car without panicking, the way it feels to breathe when an intrusive thought pops into my mind and it gets stuck. And like a broken gear I obsess over it for minutes, for hours, for days. I couldn’t sleep until I was absolutely too exhausted to keep my eyes open because my mind would not let me, because my fear was so real that I could taste it and I just knew I had to keep my eyes open. The days weren’t any better…the dangers in my house were all so real, chemicals, germs, medicines, what if I tripped and fell, but going out of the house was worse, there were too many scary things out in the world. Things I had never thought of that suddenly occupied my every waking moment and my dreams. The compulsions were meant to help my anxiety, counting the medicine to make sure they were all there and I took the right ones. Checking the stove 20 times before I laid down so I knew it wasn’t on. Washing my hands over and over, every time I touched something. Avoiding everything that frightened me when the compulsions didn’t help.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Do you know what it is? I didn’t. First, let me tell you what it’s not. It’s not being a perfectionist, it’s not re-arranging your CDs in alphabetical order because you like being organized. It’s not a joke, it is never a joke. In simplest terms, OCD can be described as obsessive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts that your brain gets stuck on and the compulsions are too “cure” or make these thoughts and the anxiety they bring with them go away. I know many people have heard of OCD and think of hand-washing. That is one very common compulsion, but it’s not just washing. The root of the issue is fear/anxiety of germs and contamination…the very thought that your food, things you touch, your pet, your loved one ….anyone is contaminated and you have to wash your hands over and over and over until you finally “feel” that you are safe and clean. People with OCD spend HOURS a day on various compulsions. The problem is that feeling of relief only lasts a few minutes until your brain tells you to begin the cycle of obsession again.
But what’s so bad about washing your hands, you might ask me? Nothing. If you wash them once, but what happens when you wash them until your skin cracks and bleeds, until you can’t leave the sink because you just KNOW you are going to contaminate your food, your water, your home so you stay there and you wash over and over, until the bottle runs out of soap, until your hands hurt, until someone drags you away from the sink and you cry. This is just one example, symptoms can get much worse.
I’ve always been a “worrier” and a mother hen to everyone. I’d constantly check on people to make sure they were okay, they were happy, things were good. When I went to sleep at night, I’d check the locks, three maybe four times to ensure they were locked or check the stove and take a picture to make sure it was really OFF. But these quirks and this checking only lasted a few minutes and I went on with my day. There were other small things, going back inside to make sure the lights were all off and things were unplugged. Texting Richie several times to make sure he made it to work okay. But overall, this was just me, I was a worrier, until it became more than that.
My first notable “episode” lasted several days. I was driving in the dark and began to panic about getting into an accident. I couldn’t stop obsessing for HOURS at a time. After several days, I calmed myself enough to drive. The initial fear went away and I became more cautious, driving even slower and trying not to drive at night. When I was first pregnant, before we even found out, a police vehicle passed me and I began to obsess again. What if I was supposed to pull over? What if I’m going to get a ticket for speeding or something? What if? What if? What if? For me, the compulsions were all in my head, replaying the scene, asking for reassurance that I did everything right, telling myself that I wasn’t going to get a ticket….
The anxiety and the obsessive thoughts got worse, I only felt safe if Richie drove. Getting to work was torture because I drove the absolute slowest I could go and was paranoid about driving. When Richie left for Korea, I began having panic attacks. I would worry myself so bad that my body would suddenly seize up, my heart would race, breathing would become difficult and I felt like I was going to die. Many people have panic attacks and anxiety without OCD, but mine were related. If I couldn’t stop my anxiety with a compulsion, than I fell into panic. My obsessive thoughts turned to my health, I was convinced something bad was going to happen to me, I’d get sick, the baby would get sick, there was something catastrophically wrong with my health and it was going undetected. The worst part of it all was that everyone (doctors included) kept chalking it up to “hormones” and it was normal to be anxious. But I knew this wasn’t just hormones or anxiety, I knew that I was barely functioning most days.
After one of my doctor’s appointments I came home and cried for hours because I was too afraid to move for fear of triggering more anxiety. I had been on a wait list to see a counselor, but I finally was so fed up I called and refused to call back until I had an appointment scheduled. Richie came home and things eased up a bit, but when we were not together, I was falling apart. My obsessive worry transformed over and over, germs, driving, bad food, contamination, medication, health anxiety. After seeing the counselor a few times I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. As terrible as it feels, my symptoms are mild to moderate. There are those with OCD who can’t leave their home, who can barely eat or sleep or function because they spend all their time obsessing then performing compulsions to quell the anxiety.
I resigned from work to help work on my anxiety. I’m taking a class and spending time preparing for Sophia’s arrival. Staying busy in the house, keeps me from obsessing. Though, there are some days I don’t have the strength and I mostly just cry because I’m exhausted. Leaving the house triggers intrusive thoughts and anxiety. Large social situations cause stress which is why for the past month or so I’ve pretty much avoided doing anything unless I have too.
But I don’t want to be this way. The reason OCD is so different than other mental disorders is because the sufferer knows that these thoughts/worries are not real and they do not want them, but they don’t know how to “turn them off.” There is so much more to it, but people can fear violent thoughts, health anxiety, contamination, religious fears and so many, many more. And most are ashamed of these thoughts and don’t want to tell others because they fear judgement. I felt the same way, I was sure if I shared how much I really worried people would label me as “crazy.” But then I realized that the only way to feel better was to conquer my OCD and get to a controlled level. Logically, I know that I’m healthy and germs aren’t just waiting to attack me and that driving slowly and cautiously will prevent almost all types of vehicle accidents, but the OCD is a tricky bastard and likes to plant seeds of doubt in my mind.
All that being said, I can feel myself getting stronger. Through a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy, habituation and erp (exposing myself to the things I fear and changing my response to realize that there is no real danger) along with research, reading and meditation, I am starting to feel a bit more like myself. There is no cure for OCD and in many cases it can be exasperated or come on due to pregnancy. My therapist thinks that my symptoms will lessen once Sophia is born and my hormones level out. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I don’t want to give up. While there is no “cure”, people can learn through meditation and therapy to control the OCD and not let it run their lives. I’m not there yet. I want to be and with the help of my loving, darling husband and my mom and my therapist I am getting there slowly.
I wanted to write this because I wanted to tell everyone out there, you are not alone. Whether you have anxiety, OCD, PTSD or some other mental illness you are not alone. It can happen to ANYONE at any point in life and it can be overwhelming, but there is treatment and support for you, just like there is for me. Don’t give up.
The following video is a slam poet sharing his take on OCD. Now, he doesn’t not suffer from the disorder but I feel that he gives a glimpse into the every day torture it can bring. If nothing else, I think its a good poem.
I know this is long, it could be longer but I am exhausted. If you have any questions, comments, concerns let me know, ask me. I’ve read a lot and experienced A LOT lately. I’ll write more later, I could write hundreds of pages and never be done. You may not understand and frankly, some days I don’t understand. All I ask is for an open mind, compassion and prayers for strength.
I will leave you with this:
Be kind for everyone you meet, is fighting a harder battle.