Walking in Circles

Post-OCD conference, I was doing so much better. I was fighting contamination fears. I wasn’t engaging in mental and physical compulsions as much. But I knew the freshness, the empowerment that came from the conference would wear off. Everything shiny and new loses its luster after a time.

I’ve heard it said it takes three weeks, 21 days, to create a new habit. I lasted about two weeks. I’m still proud of that progress, and it’s giving me hope to move forward. I think that part of what helped me do so well was that for those two weeks, I was essentially on my own. My husband and I weren’t traveling, no one was visiting us, and life was somewhat, well, boring. The routine helped me focus on wellness. All this isn’t to say I’m not happy to travel or have visitors; I love those things, and you couldn’t get me to stop doing them. But I have found that when life resumes being exciting and filled with activity, OCD pops back in. It doesn’t like to be left out of the fun, I guess. Or misery loves company, so it can’t let me be happy. Damn OCD. Without fail, when my life has excitement and happiness, OCD is there to bring me down. When life is routine and ordinary, OCD can be controlled, to a degree. When life gets too boring, OCD runs wild and free again.

So I’m constantly walking in circles. I get better, get worse, get better, get worse, get better. Hand washing sort of ties everything together. I’ve talked at length with my therapist about this. We have come to the conclusion that my hand washing is not just a compulsion for a contamination obsession but a physical manifestation of getting rid of the things that are stressing me, whether those things are good or bad. I wash indefinitely for a release, to avoid going back to the war on my brain. If I think about anything other than stopping washing my hands, I keep going. And going. And going. I feel angry, but I can’t stop. My brain tells me I need it, that it’s all that can make me feel better, that somehow the washing will quiet my brain.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do. I can’t avoid stress. Life happens. Every day, life happens, and I have to be able to deal with it and not succumb to the OCD. I’m too good at hiding my struggle. People I’ve known for years are still learning that I suffer. Part of what makes recovery so difficult is that I know how to hide the compulsions so that it seems I’m still doing better when actually I’m seriously falling victim to OCD again. I even had my therapist fooled at one point. The hardest thing to do is be accountable to myself. At the conference, I could do the crazy things I needed to because other people were watching me. I now get why outpatient therapy is so hard–you really have to want to be better, and not only that, you have to push yourself, every single day of your life, even though it would be so easy to lie and keep hiding. I still haven’t figured out how to keep pushing myself. I try to use motivation techniques I’ve learned, but it seems that after a while, OCD is immune to these.

But I’m still trying. I find that helps. My therapist told me I will always have periods of slight relapse, and that’s okay. Just accept that slip-ups happen and keep going. I’m doing that. Life has calmed down again, so I am back to fighting. When life was crazy over the last two weeks, I started washing my hands several times again, repeating actions, retaking steps, and asking for reassurance. But now, I am pushing myself to wash one time again, to not repeat or retrace, to cut back asking for reassurance. I’m reminding myself of the victories I’ve maintained, like being able to drop my cell phone on the floor and pick it up without sanitizing it, or feeding the cat without going to wash my hands after, or writing an email or sending a resume without checking it twenty times for absolute perfection before hitting the send button and not agonizing over what I definitely should have done better after the fact. When you have OCD, I think you have to constantly remind yourself of the victories you’ve had. One slip-up does not equal square one. I’m still in a better place. I can still fight. And someday my walk will take on a different pattern. It might loop back occasionally, but it won’t always be a circle.

No One Said It Was Gonna Be Easy

I wish getting my life back was simple. But it’s not. I have to fight so hard. Some days, it’s worse than others. Some days, the obsessions take hold, and I give in more because I can’t handle it. Some days are good and I’m fine. But on the bad days, it’s so hard to keep fighting.

I’m writing this on a Sunday. It’s been one week since I left the conference. I haven’t taken my Prozac in a few days because I keep forgetting and because I’m running low and hate to go to the pharmacy for a refill. I’m really not supposed to miss any doses of Prozac because my anxiety starts to soar again and the obsessions become harder to fight. Today is a hard day.

I know today is hard in part because the Prozac isn’t running as strong in my system anymore. It’s hard because I’m not around all the other people with OCD who are fighting alongside me. But it’s also hard because my OCD habits are so ingrained.

I’ve been washing my hands more than once at each wash since I was eighteen. I’m twenty-eight now. Ten years of intense washing. A week will not break that habit completely. I’ve been doing much better. But I’ve also given in a few times. And today, my brain won’t stop trying to convince me I have not washed my hands, even though logic says I did.

It sucks. I sit here and try to focus on relaxing. I play a game, read a book. Flip through a magazine. Look at articles online. Text friends. And all my mind will come back to is, “Did you wash your hands after using the restroom? We know you went back and washed again, but what about that first time? And you’re still touching stuff. It could all be contaminated. You’re disgusting. Can you remember washing?” I try to replay the image of me washing, but the obsession blocks it out. It doesn’t want me to remember. Then it would lose its power.

But damn it, I keep trying to remember. The more I try, the more the obsession takes hold. The angrier I get. The sadder I get. I can’t focus. All I want to do is remember so I can shut the obsession up, even though I know that won’t really work.

I keep telling myself to just sit with it. It’s okay to be anxious. It will go away. But my mind doesn’t want to. It’s like I can feel my brain wriggling in discomfort. It doesn’t like this. My brain just wants to give in. It looks easier.

But I know giving in is not easier. It just causes more pain.

I don’t want to go back to where I was. I want to get better. These hard days make it difficult to keep fighting.

It’s hard to accept that the obsessions will never completely go away. Right now, I can’t even begin to picture what the future would be like. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know how to fight later. I hear others’ stories and know it’s possible, and that gives me hope, but when I’m in the depths of despair (if you catch my reference, you should know I think you’re awesome), it’s hard to hold on to hope. It’s such an intangible thing.

I’m a Christian, so I understand faith. Faith and patience have never been easy for me. Remarkably, I’ve had people tell me I am patient. And perhaps I am better at being patient with others. But I suck at being patient for myself. I always want to know. Dr. Grayson said there is no such thing as certainty. And that’s true. Everything is in God’s hands. I have no control. If God wants something to happen to me, it will happen to me. But right now, I am wrestling with faith, with believing that someday I will know how to fight the obsessions that creep back in.

All I know is that today is hard. Maybe tomorrow will be easier. Maybe tomorrow will still be hard. I’ll keep using exposure therapy. I will not stop. I will push forward. I will not let momentary setbacks derail me. I will embrace my anger at OCD, and I will keep trying.

How do you push through on those hard days? If you’re willing, share your advice!