I wish it had come with a warning. I like to think that would have made it simpler. A warning would read: The first week of April, you’ll have one thought that will turn your life upside-down, and you’ll doubt everything.
I like to say that OCD is the thing that fell out of the sky and shattered me. As if someone had taken my life and lit it suddenly on fire. We weren’t ready.
My journals detail my descent while having no idea what was happening.
April 7: “I keep waking up on the same day.”
April 27: “I need my mind to be clean.”
April 30: “My mind is being attacked.”
May 04: “I am drowning.”
Pages and pages full of confusion and chaos. Stuffed with letters I wrote to my husband trying to get him to understand. Notes from him crammed inside trying to encourage me, to get through to me- to the real me, that somehow still existed underneath all the burning. The weeks following were filled with hours of pain and tears as I obsessed over trying to disprove my thoughts. They only screamed louder and louder.
At this time, I had a chatty toddler and as he went on and on at the kitchen island, I had the realization that I couldn’t even hear him because my thoughts were screaming so loud. Having a basic conversation was exhausting. Ordinary daily functioning drained my energy because I could not focus on anything. I had disappeared underneath a paralyzing fear that did not match reality.
My husband would return from work and ask what I had done that day. “I cried,” I said. And it was true. I had cried the entire day. I would show up to tend to our children’s most basic human needs then I would return to bed to cry.
I would stare at photos on the wall feeling so angry, and not understanding how I was ever happy before. OCD ruined so many things for me. Some photos remain hard for me to look at, like these here, because I still remember what was going on below the surface- the crying on the floor shortly before that moment in time. It sucked the peacefulness out of my happy home and left a ghost of me. My life was owned and operated by my replacement- and she was doing a bad job.
The panic attacks increased- never before knowing how painful they actually could be. He would hold me through the shaking and the screaming. At night I would repeat phrases of safety to fall asleep- while the painful movies played in my head.
My compulsions consisted mainly of rumination and reassurance seeking- the invisible ones, that took hours and hours of my day and I didn’t even know why I was doing them. I would run through a series of questions with my husband before he left for work. The same questions I asked him an hour ago, and the day before, and the day before that. And I would try so hard to focus on his answers and make them stick and they just wouldn’t.
After the series had been part of our every day for so long- I shortened it to, “All the things?” I would ask. “All the things.” He would reply. What we didn’t know at the time, was that this ritual that felt like it was the only thing keeping me standing- was actually making me worse each day.
There is what is called “insight” with OCD. Where you know these thoughts can’t be true. However, when OCD is so determined to find the answer, any answer, sometimes we start to lose that insight and begin to believe our OCD. This is where I was the moment I decided to go to therapy.
I sat on my husband’s lap and went through our series of questions, except I added another. I still remember the look on his face of absurdity. He went on to explain why my question didn’t make sense- and all I could hear was, “He isn’t saying NO!”
“Why aren’t you answering me!?” I was so angry.
This broke him. This moment was when I realized I was gone, and I knew he was feeling the same way. But that’s not why I decided to go to therapy. I decided to go to therapy because, while he had realized the depth of my confusion, I could only focus on- why he wouldn’t just tell me the truth already. We were on the same page, or in the same room, I was on a completely different planet by this point.
Having a therapy session scheduled was hope. Hope for someone to tell me what was wrong. To put my thoughts up in a box on a shelf, so I could see that they weren’t really a part of me. My therapist didn’t show up. She forgot about my appointment. My husband gave me glass bottles to throw at the basement wall. I was burning with frustration and anger, I was being terrorized by my own brain, searching for help and I was forgotten.
This therapist is only known as my first therapist. She tipped her head in confusion as I poured my heart to her just begging her to understand week after week. Doctors continued to dismiss me. They ran tests for my “personality change” but when nothing came back concrete- I was told to “take a deep breath”.
As I googled my symptoms for the 100th time that month, I decided I must have Schizoaffective disorder. I sent a page to my husband for him to agree. He didn’t agree.
Later, he came back with an article from Michael Greenburg on rumination. And casually said, “I don’t know Babe, I think it’s some OCD thing.”
I had seen OCD showing up each time I had googled my thoughts. But I had never clicked on it. I knew I wasn’t tidy and organized. I didn’t count things or wash my hands repeatedly.
But as I read through nearly everything Michael Greenburg had written and anything else I could find, the one thing that really helped solidify it in my brain was -Trichotillomania.
I had started pulling my hair obsessively at the same time that the thoughts had started. I would tell myself I could only pull out 12 a day. For some reason that made sense. I would pull on or out my hair for hours and hours until my head hurt and my hands hurt- then I would just keep going. While this is something I still struggle with- looking back, I’m thankful for this symptom because it was a clear sign to me that we were headed in the right direction with our OCD self-diagnosis.
A second therapist came and went with an OCD specialist title that wasn’t accurate. At this time, I had started listening to the OCD Stories podcast and started realizing she wasn’t helping me and was only diving into my obsessions with me each week for months.
My OCD really wanted to stay around. It flipped around to finicky topics and decision-making and shifted just enough to have me staring at it again. However, after a few rounds of intensive treatments- I made it to the other side.
I also focused on repairing my physical health which helped me to manage my OCD and depression better and I slowly started healing. Working on my health through proper nutrition and intentional habits gave me something to control at a time when I felt like my own body had turned against me. It wasn’t just one thing. It was so many seemingly insignificant actions that led to great results. Currently, I use my days and passion to teach others these methods I learned along the way.
When I see these journals crammed in my dresser- it feels like a life that belonged to someone else. Yet, my body still changes when I open them because I still remember what it was like to be her- and she was so sad. I had never before experienced such a deep depression. It stole me. I knew who I was, what I would say, how I would act. But there wasn’t anything in me. I was an actor in a movie. I knew my role- but I had no connection to the other characters. I knew my home, my clothes, my routine- but I couldn’t get me back. My children didn’t feel like mine. I knew the memories- but they felt like stories I had heard- not experiences I lived.
For the first year, I could count on my hand the times when the fog lifted and I could see outside of my obsessions. Split seconds of clarity that I clung to for my life- my husband smiling on our wedding video, catching fireflies with my kids, moments of my real life. Later I would learn that derealization is the brain’s way of coping with the trauma.
I would tell my husband, “I feel scared all the time.” And he told me my eyes didn’t look right- and I knew what he meant because I wasn’t there.
The authentic experience is something I think those without OCD struggle to understand.
Your core fear in graphic gory detail. The fear, the pain, the loss, the guilt, all of it, and it consumes you. While you react in futile attempts to ease your suffering- and then it happens again.
When I was at my worst, I read stories like this of others that made it to the other side and it was a lifeline I needed. Hope. As you read this, that’s what I want to share. Hope from the other side. It gets better. Life is still good on the other side. Healing isn’t linear, but you can’t quit on your worst day- I had so many. I can’t wait for you to see life over here in recovery. It really is so beautiful.