Ever since I was young I’ve felt the effects of OCD. It caused both small inconveniences and enormous obstacles throughout my life. Only after therapy, medication, and a long but enlightening road to recovery was I able to step back and truly recognize what was happening to me. My life has vastly improved and I believe that sharing what I learned could help others in need. So let’s start with a bit about OCD:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder afflicts over two million Americans. It causes obsessive thoughts (uncontrollable and reoccurring, usually about unpleasant or traumatic things) and it causes compulsive actions (behaviors like repetitive hand washing, excessive double-checking, etc.) Half of adult sufferers are considered seriously impaired, meaning countless people have had hours, days, years taken from them by OCD. I’m one of those people.
Ever since I was young I’ve had OCD. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms usually present by age 19. I was on the younger end of the spectrum – for some it can begin at 35.
I remember being in my early teens and not wanting to count uneven numbers or step on cracks. Soon started the mysophobia (fear of dirt and contamination) and unwanted thoughts. What if a loved one got hurt because of an arbitrary decision I made over breakfast? What if I put my drink down in the wrong place, it spilled, and the slippery floor made me fall and break my hand? I’m a guitarist for heaven’s sake, that would be catastrophic!
As with many instances of OCD, the fears and behaviors were irrational. I was young but luckily aware enough to realize there was no logic involved in my obsessions and compulsions. It wasn’t until far later that I fully recognized just how irrational the disorder can render me. Luckily again, someone else saw the symptoms and stepped in.
By 16 years of age my parents sensed I needed help. The idea of having a mental illness shocked me but after a period of denial I agreed to see a psychiatrist.
For half a year I went to therapy sessions with a recommended psychologist (psychologists are unable to prescribe medications) and took an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). In depression and anxiety – both of which I suffered from at this point – not enough serotonin is able to work in the brain. SSRI’s help to regulate serotonin levels.
My symptoms lessened but like the brash young man I was, I allowed myself to stop with the medication and therapy. As soon as I felt better I figured I was cured. I had a places to go, things to do, appointments to cancel and a daily medication I wanted to stop worrying about. Against doctor’s orders, I stopped suddenly and on my own. My psychiatrist and psychologist were not consulted much if at all. With OCD this can trigger a sudden relapse but mine reappeared gradually. I was in my early twenties when it hit me harder than ever before.
I was trying to concentrate on college and playing in a local band when it got bad again. By now the act of flushing a toilet and not washing my hands afterwards would ruin my night. Standing in line behind someone with a cold sent my mind into a frenzy until the afternoon had been wasted. I had to take a shower and throw my clothes in the hamper, or wash my hands twice (the first time may not have been good enough). Then if I thought about any unpleasantness I would have to play elaborate solo head games just to stay focused.
The obsessions I had now were a bit more scary to me as well. It wasn’t only germs or calamitous missteps that plagued me. It was almost inarticulable. Things like fear of death or an impending sense of doom crowded my brain whenever I had downtime to think. If my mind wandered it wandered right to these dark places.
Finally the inconveniences and intrusive thoughts became too much to bear and I sought help again. I was determined to see it through and not make the same mistakes. This time I went to therapy twice a week and was prescribed a different SSRI. I decided to do what I was told. For four months I spoke to a therapist, and continued the medication for a year. When I felt I could ease up on the meds my doctor discussed it with me and eventually eliminated my SSRI regimen by using a tapering schedule. We met and spoke several times through the process and by the end I was far more confident than the first time in treatment.
To be honest my battle with OCD is far from over. As with many disorders, the tempest within rears its ugly head once and again. Even when the coast seems clear there’s always that door handle, that coughing friend, or simply a troubling thought threatening chaos within my mind. However with the completion of therapy and a good medication regimen, I was able to navigate through the thick fog that once consumed me. In hindsight I wish I’d done it sooner. It is an illness, a disorder, and as with physical ailments, things tend to improve after seeing a doctor and doing what they suggest. I’ve been equipped with the mental and emotional tools needed to realize what is happening, step back to gain perspective, and use healthy and timely coping methods.
Getting help through psychiatry changed my life, and those who seek it are in for a great sense of freedom and accomplishment. Not to mention plenty of time and energy for things that make us happy.
If you need help dealing with O.C.D., contact BregmanMD at 305-740-3340 or schedule an appointment here.