Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of OCD.
At the age of 32, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I was completely unaware of the impact OCD had on my life for so many years, after some psychoeducation from my therapist and independent research, a lot of things started to make sense. Receiving the diagnosis brought my attention to the fact that anyone at any age can be diagnosed with a mental illness, whether they’ve been unknowingly suffering for years or experienced a sudden onset.
Here’s a small snapshot of what OCD put me through at its very worst: I couldn’t eat or drink by myself and, at one point, I went without food for almost three days. The rest of the time I would just nibble on a slice of toast that was made for me. I couldn’t dress myself; my husband would come home from work and find me half-dressed huddled & sobbing in a corner of our bedroom because I’d been stuck in a compulsive cycle all day. Our two cats had to live with family for 18 months while I concentrated on getting better, I couldn’t take care of myself let alone take care of two creatures who are wholly dependent on me and that wasn’t fair to them.
Eventually, intense therapy (five times a week) was needed because that continuous guidance through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy was more maintainable than having to learn how to live all over again on my own, including all aspects of daily basics, from eating to showering to socialising and everything in between. It felt like I was a toddler learning to do things for myself for the first time. My OCD definitely didn’t go down without a fight and most days felt like I was K.O’d in a boxing ring.
I wouldn’t have the strength I do today without a wonderful support system at home who refused to go anywhere, no matter how much I tried to push them away. I was paired with the most amazing therapist I could have asked for (who I was beyond terrified of speaking to for the first time), they never gave up no matter how tricky or stubborn my OCD became, and they never once made me feel like I was untreatable. Medication was essential for me being able to have the space in my brain to cope with the anxieties of ERP treatment and it took the sharp edges off the intense intrusive thoughts but in no way did medication do the work for me! My own willingness was really important to kick OCD’s butt to regain my life because no one could do the work for me.
For most who have OCD, reaching out for help is by far the scariest thing to do due to the nature of taboo intrusive thoughts. I even typed out an email to send to my therapist the day before my very first session to say I couldn’t go through with the treatment and that I was sorry for wasting their time. Every single day I am so thankful I didn’t send it. I think I’d hit a point between no longer caring what happened to me because OCD had already destroyed my life, and the desperation for help to get better.
Since becoming well enough, I have created my own OCD advocate account on Instagram @FlippedLid_OCD where I educate and spread awareness of the true realities of OCD (you might also find a cheeky meme or two in there as well). In addition to this, I have built my own website filled with resources to direct those dealing with OCD to find the correct help that they need. There is also a section for loved ones of those who have OCD because they are equally as important, and OCD is rough on them, too.
To those who might be suffering alone, know that treatment is there and no matter what OCD says about opening up to a professional, I guarantee an OCD specialist would have heard it a thousand times over. OCD has a way of convincing us that we are the only ones who have these thoughts and that we must keep quiet or be reprimanded, but the truth is, our OCD is not special, and I think that is an important key to hold onto in the face of being open about one’s specific dealings with OCD. They absolutely can push through OCD’s gates and do this one thing for themselves, that they deserve treatment.
-Amy H, Flipped Lid
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