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.

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