A Good Week

When things have been going badly for a long time, you hold out hope for a good day, and hopefully a good week. Just one that reminds you that things will get better, that there really is something to believe in. I had one of those weeks this week. Things have just gone strangely well. I’m cautiously optimistic.

It’s funny that I had a good week, because I was actually sick for a good chunk of it. I have some digestive system issues (surgery only corrected some), and they were bad this week. But too many things went right for me to let it get me too down. I introduced a friend to my new favorite TV show, which we got to watch together. I loved watching her reactions to some of my favorite scenes. I also got my friend in another state to watch it, which made me pretty happy. I finally tackled the task of cleaning out my clothes, a task I have been avoiding because I knew it would take a lot of time and energy and I just haven’t had the energy. But this week I felt like I could do it, and so I did. I even cleaned up some other things and got rid of a lot of stuff (I have a slight tendency to hoard clothing because I’m always convinced I will miss it even though I usually don’t). A weight has been lifted. When things are messy like that, I obsess over the mess and the feeling that I am not being perfect because I am not taking care of things. Like literally can’t sleep because I feel the mess around me, and I know I need to do something about it, but I’m avoiding it, so it’s still there, and I know it’s still there, and I should really do something about it because everyone else would, and obviously I shouldn’t allow any clutter or mess because I need to be perfect, and why is being perfect so hard when everyone else makes it look so easy? Imagine trying to sleep with that thought process running through your brain every single night. Mess increases my anxiety. It’s good for me to live with some mess so my anxiety decreases over time, but I try to not live with mess too long to ensure a good balance. I think I also obsess about messiness because on some level I am aware I am using avoidance. So now that I’ve taken care of it, I feel like I can do other things better too, like I can refocus my efforts to not let OCD control me.

I went out for Easter brunch and spent the day out with friends, chatting and laughing. I had a great lunch with a friend. I chatted with my best friend who lives in another state. I have some fun weekend plans. I got good news from someone who was dealing with something that was potentially scary but thankfully turned out not to be. I pushed myself to go to a networking event I had signed up for, even though I wasn’t feeling well and had been nervous about going. I made some good connections. I was contacted for a potential job interview.

To most people, this probably just sounds like an average week. But since my OCD, anxiety, and depression have been so bad the past few months, it’s been incredible to have a week where so many things felt normal and happy. The positive feelings have decreased my anxiety, making it possible for me to start working on my excessive hand washing again. I have been washing my arms and hands, but in the past day I’ve been able to start just washing my hands–not my arms. And I’m not obsessing as much afterward, wondering if my hands are clean. This is a huge improvement for me.

I’m trying to not let myself get too excited. Not that I don’t want to be happy and hopeful. I just know that for me, I have a tendency to put too much on pressure on things to be perfect. I have to remember to take each day and each thing as it comes, and remember to be grateful for the good when faced with the bad. I really needed this week.

When you’re in the middle of everything bad, it’s really hard to believe that something good will ever happen to you again. I was definitely there. But this week has restored my hope and reminded me that good things will come. They rarely seem to come when you want them, but they will eventually come. As hard as it is, you just have to keep going, keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep pushing yourself to live when all you want to do is curl up in your bed and stay there in the dark forever. If you don’t try, you’ll miss that ray of hope. Keep trying.

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The IOCDF Annual Conference–A Changed Life

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Helen Keller

Dr. Grayson used this quote prior to the camping trip. I’ve never heard the full thing, always just the last line. But it’s so appropriate for those of us with OCD.

After the camping trip, I was weirdly excited about the next day’s contamination session. I was feeling more confident than I had felt in years. I had no idea what to expect, except that I knew Dr. Grayson would push my OCD boundaries.

Boy, did he. He gave those of us with contamination OCD a worksheet. This worksheet was called an E&RP (exposure and response prevention) motivator. On this first side, we were supposed to list the things we’d lost out on because of OCD. Rather than having us fill out the worksheet there, he asked us to share specific stories with each other. I didn’t get a chance to share mine, but I had a few.

I missed out on my husband’s surprise 30th birthday party. I was there physically, but my mind was consumed with thoughts of contamination. I don’t know how many times I abandoned the party in favor of the bathroom sink that night. I washed my hands so many times. I missed time with my friends. I missed my husband’s happiness. I barely remember who came. All I remember is the anxiety I felt.

I missed my own birthday less than a month later. My in-laws were kind enough to invite my husband and me and any friends who could make it to their home for the weekend for festivities. Parts of that weekend I remember as being wonderful. My father-in-law made me a special birthday dinner, and we sat by the fire, and we played games and drank good champagne and ate cake. There were some beautiful moments. But sadly, that weekend was full of terrible moments, most of which only my husband has known about. My contamination issues were so bad that I literally couldn’t shower on my own. I stayed in the bedroom most of the time, paralyzed by fear. And then I became so depressed because I felt like such a failure to all the people around me that I contemplated overdosing. My husband stopped me. I don’t think I would have done it. I just needed someone to understand how badly I was hurting. Do you know what it’s like to not even be able to function?

I put on a good show. Most of the time, you wouldn’t know I was struggling. But there is a war in my brain.

I’ve missed much more. Trips with friends. Times with my mom. Activities in New York City. So much of my life, I’ve given to this damn disorder.

On the other side of the worksheet, we were supposed to list how we had hurt others with our OCD. My husband immediately came to mind. I’ve engaged him in so many rituals and used him to avoid so much. I’m really blessed by his love. I know not everyone would stick around for this. I’ve yelled, I’ve screamed, I’ve cried. I’ve been shaky and nervous and unable to live in the moment. As Dr. Grayson talked to one of the others in the group, he brought up the idea that we were putting our OCD first.

I had never thought of my OCD as something outside myself that I could prioritize. I just thought of it as part of me, something everyone would just have to accept. Thinking of it as something outside me totally changed my perception. He was right. I’ve putting my OCD first in everything, including my relationship. I even did that with my ex. OCD has been number one for such a long time. It’s so hard to not give in to the compulsions to ease the anxiety. Anxiety hurts. Like physically hurts. I can feel it tightening my chest and pulling me in and making me sick and  dragging me down until I can’t take it. I miss everything special when I feel this way, which totally goes against my nature. I believe so strongly in living in the moment and treasuring every day. OCD has kept me from that.

I cried. I didn’t share my story there, but I cried, because I knew what I had lost. And I knew it was time to stop.

Those of us with contamination OCD went to the front of the room. We sat on the floor. We rubbed our hands on the floor then licked them. We ate Tic Tacs that had been spilled on the floor. And then, the ultimate: he offered up pieces of ABC (already been chewed) gum.

Yep, sounds gross. But he brought up a good point. He asked who had French kissed someone they barely knew or didn’t know in college. Yeah, that happened to me. He pointed out that chewing a piece of gum isn’t that different. And it’s really not. So I took the gum. And I chewed that gum until I was in my hotel room, when I gave it up only because I hate chewing that long.

Afterward, he answered questions. I heard him tell people to take showers wrong, to do things wrong on purpose. If it feels wrong, you’re doing right. And it all just clicked for me.

The next morning, I got the in the shower without washing my hands. I washed everything once and was done in about 10 minutes. I did not wash my hands before dressing. I did not wash my hands after dressing. I did not wash my hands after doing my hair or putting on jewelry or brushing my teeth. On top of that, each time I have washed my hands, it’s been one time. It’s a freaking struggle. I leave the bathroom, and obsessive thoughts start creeping in, trying to convince me I need to wash more. I haven’t been asking for reassurance from my husband, and goodness gracious, have I wanted to.

But I feel

FREE

STRONG

HAPPY

LIKE I’M THE PRIORITY

WELL

INSPIRED

MOTIVATED

IN CONTROL.

Every day is a struggle. But I am not alone. I heard the fears of others at that conference. I heard my own fears. And I heard hope and recovery and happiness and freedom. And now more than ever, I feel those things are achievable. I didn’t think two days could have that effect on my contamination OCD; my issues run deep. But these workshops taught me so much. We’re all in it together, and we can do it. People care. People want me to get better for me. And I can be free and happy and live life to the fullest.

I feel like everything has changed. I’m not saying this will be easy. It’s going to be freaking hard. Every day I will fight. But I will fight, because I know I can do it. And I know there is something beautiful and wonderful around the corner. And I know I can use this to help others.