Showing posts with label OCD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OCD. Show all posts
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

OCD and Me

I have contemplated writing a post about living with OCD for a long time but I have never been able to. Not only it is a very personal issue but one that is extremely complex; I want to educate those who don't have a proper understanding of it and reach out to fellow sufferers. For those of you who aren't familiar with OCD, it is an abbreviated term that stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The most common misconception about OCD is that it is a mental health issue that solely revolves around germs and contamination. However, OCD takes many forms and manifests itself in many ways. For some it is a need to preform rituals a certain amount of times to cancel out intrusive thoughts and for others it is a way of thinking i.e having obsessive and intrusive thoughts. For me, it is both.

My first encounter with OCD was when I was nine, shortly after the death of my baby brother. Kian battled cancer for several months before tragically passing away in December 2001 when he was only 15 months old. Even though I was only a child, I was devastated by his death and couldn't understand why God couldn't just take his cancer away and leave him with us instead. Death is traumatic. It is difficult to cope with at any age and OCD was my coping mechanism; my mind's way of trying to process the grief. I remember feeling so anxious and filled with panic the first time OCD told me touch my desk ten times or "something bad would happen to my family." This was a common theme throughout my childhood and I was so terrified of losing my mum, dad or brother that I carried out these actions/compulsions to make they would be safe and everything would be OK. And it was, which meant I was convinced that listening to OCD and obeying it's commands would keep everyone safe and I wouldn't have to deal with grief again. I was caught in a vicious cycle of being overcome with extreme anxiety which was only relieved when I carried out the actions/compulsions it told me to.

People who suffer from OCD treat it like an unwelcome guest. There is no way of ignoring it's existence or it just becomes more vocal and aggressive. OCD compulsions and intrusive thoughts become a normal part of everyday life and you learn to live with it and try to hide it from others so they don't think you're a "freak". This was certainly the case for me until the end of my second year of University when life became a bit tumultuous and I struggled to cope. Stress was definitely a trigger. There was always an assignment due or a class test; I struggled to juggle dancing classes with University deadlines; I had a lot of financial pressure and things became tense with my house mates. I was struggling to keep afloat and yet the only help I thought to ask for was an extension for my coursework deadlines and not treatment for OCD.

During my final year of Uni, OCD manifested itself into something much more sinister that I could no longer control. I felt stressed, I couldn't sleep properly which meant that I was in a constant state of exhaustion and I masked it all up and pretended I was coping. I couldn't keep on top of my Uni work and deadlines and the result was more stress. I was having thoughts that made me feel physically sick, scared, upset, wrought with guilt. I honestly thought I was insane and was too afraid to tell anyone in case they locked me up in a straight jacket. When things became too unbearable to cope with I went in search of answers and came across something called Harm OCD. The only way I can explain it is to imagine that you are in a horror film but instead of being the victim, you are the killer. You can picture yourself causing harm to the people you care about on a loop in your mind and it tortures you. No matter how often you try to convince yourself that you would never do such horrific acts because you're a good person, the fear of losing control and carrying out these actions is terrifying. You obsess over these thoughts, try and make sense out of them, fight with them and that's what OCD wants. In addition, you become consumed by your illness. You feel the need to constantly read psychology based articles for reassurance and validation and to make sure you're not really a psychopath. You get caught in a vicious cycle; you have intrusive thoughts, try and rationalize them and do some more research just to be sure you're not insane. 

I had never heard of Harm OCD before and it didn't occur to me that OCD could manifest itself in such catastrophic ways; if I did then I have would sought out help sooner. I was probably at rock bottom around the time of my 21st birthday but if you looked at photos of me from that night I look "normal" and happy. That's the driving force behind this post; I want to share my personal experience with others and help them understand. It's possible to look OK on the outside and be fighting what feels like a losing battle on the inside. The aim of this blog post is to try and help just one person struggling with OCD get the help they need to move forward. You're not alone, you don't need to be embarrassed, you're not insane and you don't have to suffer in silence any longer. The first person I told was my Boyfriend who was a huge support and didn't once judge me. I was so anxious about telling him that I even printed out a multitude of documents explaining Harm OCD so he would't think I was crazy. However, he was only interested in helping me get better so I could regain my sense of "normality". I eventually got the courage to email the Counsellor at my University and explained how I felt and we arranged an appointment. I was extremely nervous about meeting with a stranger to talk about my personal issues but instantly felt unburdened. She helped me try and make sense of what was going on in my mind and we talked about the possibility of seeing a doctor and taking medication.

If I told you it was all plain sailing from here on in I would be lying. People are very ignorant when it comes to mental illness, even doctors. However, in a warped and weird way I'm glad that some people don't understand OCD and mental illness because it means they haven't had to endure it; I would't wish this struggle on anyone. The doctor I first went to see asked me if I had diagnosed myself and had no clue what I was talking about. Luckily he did some research before our next appointment and had acquired some basic knowledge on the condition. He wrote me a prescription for Fluoxetine or Prozac as it's more widely known. It's usually given to those who suffer from depression and when you have an anxiety disorder like OCD, the two often go hand in hand.
Medication is only half a solution though; it can help lessen the extreme anxiety and depression that often results from OCD but it doesn't get to the root of the cause. You also have to take into account the long list of side effects and the adjustment period that come with taking the medication. I chose to take the medication to help lesson the depression and continued to talk with Sarah to try and keep my anxiety at bay and regain my sense of self. Many things contributed to my recovery and I am so grateful for the help I received. However, I realized one vital thing during this time: I was the only one who could rebuild myself. I read a book called Breaking Free from OCD and it really helped me understand the thought process in our minds. It explained how people who don't suffer from OCD just let strange thoughts come and go whereas we who suffer from OCD obsess over these same thoughts and allow them to torture us over and over again.

I briefly mentioned above how I was prescribed Fluoxetine for Depression and feel as though I should explain this a bit further. When my OCD was at it's most destructive during my final year of Uni I became depressed. It came to the point where I felt as if OCD was in control of my life and I was a slave to it. During my recovery I spent many days in bed and I lost interest in doing things that I enjoyed. I stopped attending lectures and classes and I honestly didn't even care if I finished my degree or not.* There were times when I was hypersensitive to everything and couldn't stop crying and other times I felt devoid of any kind of emotion. I didn't feel suicidal but I felt that if someone had have told me it was my last day on Earth I wouldn't have cared, in fact it would have been a relief. Depression was just as hard to cope with as OCD. Depression likes to cast a dark cloud over everything and make you feel suffocated. I felt like I was fighting a losing battle on the inside and I was scared I would eventually give up. Thankfully, I was able to overcome Depression as a result of my OCD treatment.
*(A few months later I was allowed to submit coursework, my dissertation and sit my final exams. I now have a Degree in English and French).

The purpose of sharing my experience is not for attention, it is to give an honest account of OCD. I want to help remove the sigma attached to OCD and mental health, to educate those who are ignorant and possibly help others who are suffering. Naturally I still have "down days" and I feel scared that I might relapse and some days I obsess over an intrusive thought however, those days are few and far between. You just have to keep pushing forward and try not to dwell on the negatives. There will also be those who will say "I'm stressed too", "others have it worse than you"or "you just have to get on with it" and the only thing to do is let their ignorance and insensitivity go over your head. When I was at my lowest I craved reassurance from someone who had been in a similar position. If you are reading this and feel overwhelmed and defeated as a result of mental illness I can honestly tell you that EVERTHING WILL BE OK.  I bet you thought that I seemed "normal"? Well, just remember this: normality lives in the same mythical land as "perfectionism"; neither exist.