Many people live their lives with an unwanted guest. Sometimes it’s cancer. Sometimes it’s AIDS or Alzheimer’s or drug abuse or any number of different maladies. Well, here’s mine: I have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). When someone says OCD, a person automatically thinks about washing hands over and over; or maybe opening and closing the door a certain number of times. Sometimes its other things, more obsessions than compulsions; worrying all day if you left an iron on or if your really put out that cigarette before you left for work. These are just some of the things that someone with OCD worries about. But, it’s more than just worrying. What separates someone with OCD from the public is that the worrying is obsessive, to a point where one cannot do anything until that obsession is satisfied. It does not matter if someone reassures you that the lights are off, you still have to check for yourself.
With all of that in mind, let me share with you my story of OCD, “Life With An Unwanted Guest”. The thing is, I never suspected I had OCD. Never in a million years. I just thought I was a bit high strung, or as my ex called it “high maintenance.” Looking back, there were clues throughout my life. When I was younger, maybe 12 or 13, I can’t really remember exactly, I was supposed to go to a pool party with kids from my Hebrew school class. I was fine until my sister and I arrived at the community center, then all hell broke loose. I ended up sitting in the car for nearly two hours crying hysterically because I was afraid to go inside. I couldn’t really explain to everyone, including my sister or the youth group administrator why I was so scared. I just was. I was petrified of going in. Looking back and knowing what I know now, that was the first anxiety attack which I can remember. I recall vividly just being terrified that I would be laughed at and ridiculed and teased. Why, I was not sure. I just was. I was a good swimmer, I was a nice kid, most people liked me, but I was scared. To this day I still get anxious whenever I think of that event.
There are several other times during my teen years which I can recall may have been anxiety or OCD related events. I was very easily shaken by things. When my mother was sick and dying, every little event would send me over the edge, thinking that was it, I always feared the worst and would always sit and just think about it, night after night after night. Everyone just thought it was normal and natural. Years later, as I sat in the doctor’s office discussing my anxiety and symptoms; it finally dawned on me the reason why I could not let go of the images of my mother laying on her death-bed.
During my 20’s and early 30’s I knew I had anxiety issues. I couldn’t keep a relationship going to save my life. I would always jump way ahead of the person I was dating and he would get scared and run away. Or, I would start obsessing about him; that he was cheating on me or lying to me, even though I never had any proof or suspected anything. Logically, I knew something was off, but I could not control it. When I finally moved into my own apartment, I had a way of organizing things that made people scratch their heads. My CD’s and DVD’s and tapes all had to be in alphabetical order, returned properly to their cases and in the correct category. If by chance I had a recording that fit into several different genres, I would usually contemplate which one it should go in for minutes at a time. In my mind, it was completely normal. I didn’t understand why other people did not treat their CD’s and VCR tapes and DVD’s the same way. There are things I notice now: I had to park in the same spot every day. I had to take the same route to work or school and if I had to make a stop on my way home, the stop had to be on the right hand side of the road so as to avoid making a left turn into traffic (which holds up people behind you and risks car accidents). If a store was not on the road I was to travel on my way home, I could not go until after I got home and then, I would only go if it was going to be on the right side of the road. I would drive the long was just to ensure that where I was going would be on my right hand side.
The only time anxiety would rear its ugly head seemed to be if I was dating someone. Then it would not rear, it would stomp around like Godzilla on Tokyo. It was absolutely horrible. I felt no control over anything. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. My stomach would be tied in knots and I would be nauseous and have other gastric problems. I would not be able to focus on anything, except that which I was obsessing about. When that happened I felt sorry for the person who was my target. It was not them. I owe a lot of apologies to many people over the years; not just love interests but friends and relatives alike.
There was an answer to my problem though and that arrived when I turned 21. Alcohol!! I found that with a lot of alcohol I could control my obsessions and not be as fearful of going to new places. This was something else that had developed over my teenage years; I stopped being outgoing and became more hermit like. Crowds and strangers scared me. It started happening very slowly, but over the years I have noticed that going to places with strangers and crowds was becoming more and more difficult. I’m not just talking about going to a bar or party; I am talking about going to the grocery store or the bank. Hell, even going to dinner at my sister’s house became difficult at times.
There were activities I could engage in which took my mind off of these crazy thoughts; reading, writing, chatting with friends on the computer, watching a good movie, going to the theater, riding my bike. The problem is, when having an anxiety attack, concentrating enough to read or write is a task all in itself. So, I would go out and drink myself into a stupor. How I managed to stay alive I will never really know. I honestly believe that I have a guardian angel up there, and her name is Elaine (my mom). I have done so many stupid things in my life and the worst that happened was getting Hepatitis B. Not that I am saying that is not bad, but when I consider everything that is out there, Hep. B is not bad. I am relatively healthy and there are no signs I ever had the illness. Not only did I engage in risky sexual behaviors, I engaged in risky everyday behaviors. For a solid 5 years, I was a hot mess.
I’m not going to bore you with every single detail of my life, that would take too long and frankly, I’m saving those for other posts. I must have you wanting more. My big “Discovery” came about in November of 2010. How it came about is not very important right now, the fact that it happened is important. Because of certain events in my life; I more than ever believe everything happens for a reason. Being diagnosed with OCD was probably the most liberating experience of my life. It meant that I wasn’t crazy. It meant that other people go through similar experiences as I do. It meant that there was a reason for me acting the way I was acting and that it could be treated with more than a: “You have to calm down.” I am on medication now that handles the anxiety and obsessions and compulsions relatively well. At first when the mention of OCD brought up, I laughed it off. I didn’t think I had compulsions. However, the more I thought about the more I realized I did have compulsions, as stated above. Someone said to me: “Well you don’t wash your hands 20 times a day.” Well, it was not something other had ever noticed. But, I hate getting my hands dirty. I hate it. It repulses me. It isn’t a germ thing, it’s a dirt thing. It was something that I hid very well that other never noticed. One other compulsion I had: When I would go away for a weekend or a vacation, every electrical device had to be unplugged. Which, posed a problem when there was something on TV I wanted to record.
So, here I sit. It has been eight months since my diagnosis and six months since starting a new medication regamine. My life has improved drastically. Not just from the medications but from other things as well. My life is better. I am back in school working on my Master’s Degree in Communication. I am moving on from an extremely dysfunctional relationship. I have amazing friends, a fantastic family and I know that I am loved and blessed. Unfortunately, the dark monster always seems to be peering out of the door at me. This past week he has dealt me a few blows which I was not expecting. It is hard enough to deal with an attack by yourself, but when you have an anxiety attack and it is focused on someone new in your life it is even more embarrassing. The hardest part is trying to explain to someone how your brain works and hope and pray that he or she will understand. It is so hard to describe to someone how one’s mind works. Everybody has different experiences in his or her lives which cause their brains to function differently than the person next to them. It can be completely overwhelming, which turns into a vicious cycle: I know there is nothing to worry about, but I am worried and what is he going to think of me seeing me like this? Will he understand and stand by me and help me during an attack or will he run when he hears what comes out of my mouth? How do I conquer these attacks so I can go on to have a normal, healthy relationship with someone?
These are questions which I am dealing with right now, along with others: Will my house sell quickly? Will my ex pay next month’s part of the mortgage? How can I make my bills when I do not make enough money to pay for basic necessities at times? What do I do if my car breaks down? How much money is in my bank account and is it enough to get me through the week? These thoughts keep running through my head and these are thoughts that at times keep me from being able to move ahead or bring me back to step one. Yet I know that I am in a better place than I was a year ago. I know my life is looking better and better and I am as focused as I have ever been on a goal. The one thing I tell myself, which I try to listen to is that nothing will happen over night and the only thing I can do is take it day by day and sometimes hour by hour.
If you feel you may need help with anxiety disorders or other types of mental illness, there are places you can go and great references: International OCD Foundation, The National Institutes for Mental Health or your State or local health departments. I hope that this has helped and informed some people today. Remember, mental illness is still an illness and should be treated as such.