It’s impossible to remember a time before I had obsessions coupled with compulsions to negate those same obsessions. For me, there really isn’t a life before that. It’s always existed.
But if you were to ask me “What is the earliest memory of them?”, I would say that I recall a day in Indiana, when I was around 9 years old, and the clouds were slowly rolling in during my dad’s 40th birthday party. We were all outside celebrating, having a blast when I saw the storm forming and I panicked, uncontrollably. Ideas about the worst things that would happen during this impending thunderstorm floated through my head. My mother didn’t know what to do as I sobbed, so she hurried me downstairs to the basement, where I waited it out. During the waiting, I devised a tapping structure that would prevent the “worst” from happening. Tap three times to stop this. Tap seven times to advert that. When I went back upstairs I was ashamed and embarrassed but at least the storm was over and everything was okay.
As time went on my obsessions changed. The central theme, at least until my mid-20s, revolved around the safety of my loved ones and the fear of being alone. Intrusive thoughts ravaged my mind. What if my mom dies on her way to work? What if something happened to my parents while they were at dinner? What if my friend gets sick? I was responsible for their safety, and I would accomplish that responsibility through compulsions. This invisible weight that only I felt was ever-present. The natural uncertainty that we all live with, I just couldn’t bare. And so it was consistent compulsions. Over and over. Throughout the day these became endless, to mitigate whatever current fear I was having.
When I was in my 20s, and at that point in my life, I should’ve been in pure bliss. A wonderful partner, a loving dog, and a great job in NYC. Nonetheless, I was in severe pain daily. Obsessive thoughts of harming my partner, fear that I will snap and go crazy (whatever that means), and deep anxiety about the safety of my loved ones. Along with those fears, my mind had gone haywire with anxiety to the point that I was never present. Everything I thought about was centered around my fears. There was only temporary relief from compulsions. At its worst, OCD would rob me of the reality of life itself. I had started to have fear around existence. Whether I was real, whether my partner was real. Imagine standing there at your wedding, looking right at your partner, plagued by the fear that it was all a dream. All fake. All a joke on you.
Over time the theme of my OCD and its spikes changed, from relationship to existential OCD but they’ve all had one major feature, uncertainty. Not knowing the outcome of some event, whether I am with the right person, or whether I’m even okay. That’s what gets me the most. Like can I be okay? Can things be okay? This big OCD bully has truly been a killer in my life. Killer of time. Killer of relationships. Killer of my self-worth. It almost killed me. I almost killed me. A few years later, after a month-long spike, and dealing with intense mental anguish, I attempted suicide in my apartment. Belt, pipe, and chair. Luckily I failed. That’s how far OCD took me. To the brink. It’s so brutal. It’s so lonely.
Today the hardest part is looking in the mirror and seeing someone that tried to kill you. It’s hard to say now. It’s hard to grasp. I think it can be difficult for an outsider to truly understand the sense of panic that comes with this disorder.
When I finally sought help from a professional, and thank god I did, I met an amazing OCD specialist here in NYC. He helped me label what I already knew was not the norm. He made me feel understood, not weird, and truly seen. There was ERP, the gold standard for OCD, SSRIs, and tons of difficult homework. It was wildly hard to do that homework, and honestly, it’s taken me years to get into a better place.
You need to learn not to care about the odds and accept that you have no control. That was two therapists ago, and all of them have been monumental in getting me to where I am today; which is good, not perfect. Never will be. Don’t want to be.
And look, I still have setbacks. There are new fears and obsessions that pop up all the time. There is the constant practice of dealing with and accepting uncertainty. I work on it daily and I struggle. But it’s way better. It’s night and day compared to where I used to be.
The acceptance of uncertainty in all things. I love basketball, so I like to think of it as a basketball game. At the beginning of the game, you don’t know the outcome. You hope your team wins, and you’re rooting for them, but ultimately you don’t know. If you did know the final score and who won, you probably wouldn’t even watch. It would be so boring. Pointless even. Life is like that. That uncertainty of life is what makes it so exciting and essentially worth living.
They say it’s best to end with a quote when writing. This piece wouldn’t be mine if I didn’t introduce some sort of heady, philosophical element–so try this one on for size–Kierkegaard once said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” And so I’ve given up trying to solve all the problems OCD throws at me, and I’m learning to surrender to the reality that is life.