Life before OCD was, I guess what one would call “normal.” I had a great family, I honestly am not sure what happened or how I developed OCD. Through therapy, I learned that I had probably had OCD for even longer than I thought. Looking back, as a child, I was always checking things. When I was a child, about 11 years old, I remember that my parents gave me a key to the house. They told me that it was very important that I don’t lose the key. It was a responsibility that I had been given. I recall constantly checking to make sure I still had that key. I also developed a habit of needing things to be done in even numbers. If I shut the door I would feel the need to tap on it 4 times. I didn’t understand it but I just followed along. I would turn the light switches on and off again until it felt okay.
A couple of years ago I slowly began doing more and more checking. I found myself checking the gas on the stove excessively, and checking doors to ensure they were locked, I felt out of control. I started to research online what was wrong with me. This is when I came across the term OCD. Initially, I didn’t really do anything with this information. I tried to hide it from my wife. I think I just felt like I could manage it at that time.
But then about 18 months ago, something changed. My symptoms became so much worse. Still, I kept it to myself. Again I couldn’t seem to stop checking things, were the windows locked? Was there a gas leak? I was constantly worrying about the safety of my family. I was consumed with fears that someone would break into my home and harm my family. I worried they could die. When I worked nights and so I was constantly afraid of something bad happening while I was away at work.
I would end up going in and out of my house several times to ensure this. If I tried to leave the house on an odd number something in my own head told me that something bad would happen to those that I loved. This carried over into my car rides in the form of the radio station. The station had to be on even numbers, and the volume too. It seemed that anything that entailed numbers could be a target for this fear.
I worried about the gate at work. After my shift, I was supposed to lock it. I would leave work each night wondering whether I had actually locked it. I was scared that something bad could happen and that it would be my fault. Often times the doubt was so strong that I had to drive all the way back just to check it. It was about a 10-15 minute drive each way. This could be so time-consuming. I was exhausted. It was so tiring, I dreaded each day because I knew that I would feel I had to do a bunch of senseless actions. Later I found out that these were compulsions.
I became so afraid of receiving bad news. I started to leave my phone at home, on purpose. In my mind, this would ensure I didn’t receive any bad news. The problem was that this brought on all new worries as well. What if something bad really did happen and I didn’t have access to my phone? It was as if one fear would lay dormant only for another one to sweep in.
If I saw a car crash on my way to work, I instantly thought that I must have caused it. I felt such an internalized guilt, that I was bad or had done something bad, a sense of being responsible for bad things. I could be almost certain that I was at home at the time of something bad happening and yet that small minuscule chance that I wasn’t would cause extreme distress. How could I be sure I wasn’t at fault?
I had enough
Finally, in February of this year, I broke down. I confided in my wife. I was full of shame. My wife was incredibly supportive. She ensured that I entered therapy. I was scared to take that leap, I didn’t know what treatment would entail. I was also determined to get better.
I started ERP. Somedays it can be so difficult. I remember that in treatment I was asked to sit with discomfort, to allow feelings of anxiety and distress, and let them pass on their own. I stood outside of my front door and didn’t lock it. Initially, I stood there for just two minutes. The anxiety was so intense though. What this taught me though was that the feelings did go down, I didn’t engage in compulsions and the anxiety lowered on its own.
Even after the first session of ERP, I was able to see small improvements. Gradually I worked alongside the therapist and we faced my fears together. I remember in some of my early sessions doing things that would purposefully make me uncomfortable. I liked things to be tidy. One of the exposures I did was to go into my silverware drawer and mess it all up on purpose. It felt awful. I wanted so badly to “fix” it. But I knew it was important that I learn that even if I don’t like a feeling, that doesn’t mean that I can’t tolerate it. I sat with it for 5 minutes that first time. The anxiety eventually passed on its own.
One time I knocked all of my neatly aligned shoes to the floor as an exposure. I sat with the feelings of discomfort that this brought, and after a while, I realized that it really doesn’t matter where the shoes are or how I felt at that moment.
Life, today is so much better than it was when I was suffering so much from OCD. I still have OCD, and I still check some things, but I know it will be fine. I know that I can tolerate hard feelings. I know that the discomfort eventually passes on its own. I meditate a lot. I do breathing exercises. I do grounding exercises. I am no longer hiding what I experience from my wife.
I used to wear sunglasses, I thought that if people looked at me, at my eyes, they may see that I had OCD. I worried they would think I was crazy. They might see the shame and guilt that I carried with me. I no longer need to do this, I no longer need to avoid looking people in the eyes.
Advice to others
Try and understand, and educate yourself about what OCD is all about and what it isn’t about. Too many people have the wrong idea about this very debilitating illness. If you are struggling, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Reach out to those around you. Talk to people, and get the help that you need. You don’t need to suffer alone. I did that for too long. There is hope. I feel so happy now, even after having some bad days still. I know that the word “therapy” may sound scary to many people, it is trying to trust the unknown. It is unpredictable. It is uncertain- everything OCD hates. For me, routines were the “known” but they were draining me, they were debilitating. Finally, after allowing myself to enter treatment, I knew I was going to be okay. You can be okay too. Take the first steps towards treatment. You are not alone.