Growing up I was always an anxious kid. I can remember my mom telling me that I was a ruminator, and I was so confused. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I would stay up late at night, unable to fall asleep. My mind was being bombarded with what-ifs.
These thoughts honed in on my loved ones, what if they were hurt? What if they were killed? What if they developed illnesses or diseases? I would have violent images and thoughts pop into my mind. What if my mom and sister get hit by a car? I hated these thoughts. I didn’t know why they were there in the first place. Making it more confusing was that I considered myself to have had a great childhood. My life was what most would want, so why did I always worry about the bad stuff?
It wasn’t until my 20’s that I really started to have more and more debilitating obsessive thoughts. I will never forget it, at 24 years old I had my first of what would be many, panic attacks. It hit so hard, and seemingly out of nowhere. I was at work and we went out for lunch. I had been under significant stress at the time. I didn’t particularly like my job. I remember having drank a huge coffee earlier that morning. All of a sudden I started having trouble breathing, I began to focus on this and how my heart was beating faster and faster. Was I about to have a heart attack? I refused to enter the restaurant. I immediately started trying to locate the nearest urgent care. I felt faint and that’s when an ambulance came to transport me to the local hospital. When I went in, they ran a lot of tests and determined that what I was experiencing was not physical in nature. They ultimately said it was a panic attack and I was prescribed Ativan.
From that point on I began to carry Ativan with me wherever I went. It became a safety net. I didn’t want to take it. I actually didn’t take it most of the time, but knowing it was there was enough to help me. My fears latched onto the idea that I could become dependent on this and I didn’t want that. When I could have used the medication I would fight myself not to take it because of this fear. I became scared to death of having another attack.
I stopped going on long trips with friends, driving over long bridges, or anywhere I felt vulnerable. I avoided going out to lunch, I began drinking before social events to ease my mind a little bit. The drinking led to reinforcing the idea that I needed to do something to not feel anxious. It became a coping mechanism, I never developed a problem with it, but again it reinforced the idea that I couldn’t face my uncomfortable emotions head-on. I just wanted to suppress the intrusive thoughts.
Around this time, I decided to go to see a therapist. It was a local therapist that treated anxiety or a “talk” therapist. I went for about 1 year. I was familiar with therapy and went through various times in my life. It was great in many ways. I learned coping strategies and reasons why I didn’t need to fear the emotion of anxiety. I was living my life as an adult, but not living my life to my fullest.
Diagnosed with OCD
It seemed like suicide was a big topic in the news. I became hyper-focused on this. I started to develop suicidal-themed OCD. I started not wanting to do things on my own. The thoughts became so dark, so fast. I wondered what if my anxiety caused me to snap and act on impulse. What if I killed myself? I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want to hurt myself, but yet the thoughts persisted. I recall thinking, why this theme, I could deal with any other theme so much better. For me, this theme was the absolute worst. I think that is why OCD ran wild with it in my life. But I still had a shield up, I was doing some of the work but not all of it. I would do this but not that. There were still things I was holding back on, still things I would refuse to face.
One day I broke down and called my mom. I was crying. I would never want to think these things, I love life. I am so grateful for life. There was so much I wanted to accomplish. Thank God she didn’t overreact. My Mother was helpful in so many ways, not only in supporting me through my mental health struggles but for researching help on my behalf. She searched online and stumbled upon an article from a clinical psychologist in New York and it referenced OCD. She sent me the article and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as if this person understood me, my experience.
I went to another therapist and was diagnosed with OCD officially. I started ACT and CBT and this helped me. I started becoming more comfortable with the thoughts. Around this time we were in the Covid-19 pandemic, so I began researching teletherapy for OCD and found NOCD. One of the things that struck me the most was the way my NOCD therapist seemed very unfazed by my thoughts and led without judgment. I could finally open up about the taboo thoughts and they weren’t shocked. They had heard it all before. My previous therapist was awesome and helped me with so many things, but they didn’t specialize in ERP.
No more hiding
I had always tried to hide my symptoms from my friends, I guess I felt ashamed. Now all of my close friends are aware of the anxiety and OCD diagnosis. Going through this whole process, and experiencing what I have experienced has led to me being much more open. The whole world seems more open now. I can travel where I want and fly way more often, this is huge because I wasn’t able to for so long because of my OCD. I am no longer prescribed Ativan, I welcome panic and anxiety now. I know I can tolerate the feelings, even when they are hard.
What I would say to anyone who is struggling with OCD, you are not alone. Every person has some form of issue, some battle that they face. You may feel like you are the only person who experiences what you are experiencing. You may feel your feelings or thoughts are unique or somehow worse than anyone else. Please know that this is what OCD wants you to think. Even if you worry about things others may not, you’re no different. There is no shame in reaching out for help.
It feels so much better to get this stuff off your chest and not stay in silence. You can learn to lean into uncertainty and discomfort. There is a certain relief in recognizing what you are capable of facing and overcoming. My mom used to say “what’s the value of money if you’re not going to spend it to live life to the fullest?” This sticks with me, it is so true, especially as a metaphor for living with OCD. Living life to the fullest is about not letting OCD control what I do. It’s about me being in the driver’s seat and taking back the control that OCD tries to take. I have decided to live my life to the fullest and move toward my values, not my fears.
To hear about more of my journey check out the link to Mindgaze podcast: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0mNzoYaw2SMuvWOL03oZ9z?si=f719700de49a4fbe