“What if it could turn out better than you ever imagined?” This one piece of advice has been pivotal in my life and is one of the strongest, but truest statements you will ever hear. If you live with OCD, like me, then the term “What if” is common in your life.
“What if my partner doesn’t love me?”
“What if I want to harm myself?”
“What if I am gay?”
“What if this isn’t OCD?”
The list goes on and on. I was once tormented by OCDs “What ifs” and left in a state of panic, despair, and ruin, wondering if I would ever get my life back again. While I am not here to say that your life will always be sunshine and rainbows, I will tell you that with hard work and perseverance, you can live a completely healthy, and normal life.
I lived most of my life in a state of great happiness. While I wasn’t an angel, I spent almost all of my time with my friends traveling and laughing, as most teens do. While this continued into my later college years, my life was soon changed one day when the intrusive thought, “What if I am gay?” came into my head. While most people would dismiss this as an intrusive thought, I, being a straight man who was, at that time, oblivious to any mental health issues, took this as an attack against my character and values. I had never experienced such a feeling that this intrusive thought gave me. I was in a state of panic, constantly ruminating and searching online for answers to my problems. I would find answers, but only be let down by them not being good enough for me. I was completely lost, and my mind was terribly confused. By some luck, these intrusive thoughts passed. I practiced sitting with them and over time they went away, who knew ERP was so easy? I thought I was cured of these negative thoughts, still oblivious to the real culprit.
By the time I thought I was cured, the damage of weeks of rumination and confusion led me to a long state of anxiety and depression. To cope I began drinking heavily, I was still in college so I blended in for the most part but deep down the people nearest to me knew that I was hurting, and the drinking really began to take a toll. With my life falling apart due to drinking and anxiety, my inner world reached its breaking point.
One blissful summer day at the beach my life as I knew it would change forever. “What if I have to go the bathroom?” This simple thought would be the single most destructive intrusive thought I would have ever had in my entire life. It felt as if Pandora’s box was opened and out of it came every bad thing I had ever done. For weeks I spent my life in terror, unable to leave my house, drive in a car, eat at a restaurant, or even sometimes sit in an online meeting. The fear that I would lose control of my bowels in public became the fixation in my life. Constantly checking for a bathroom, going to the bathroom, and trying to think myself out of my head led me into a dark hole.
The saddest thing about OCD is that the sufferer is almost always hit blindsided and left questioning what is wrong with them. It seems that every thought is the worst thing in the entire world and if the thoughts were to be exposed it would surely mean death! While I never died, I did begin to see the real damages OCD was taking on my life and finally decided to get help.
I reached out to NOCD in complete embarrassment at my condition. I was scared that I was different, that this was real (and not OCD)l and that my life was never going to get better. When I was matched with a therapist it was a major relief. Not because the thoughts may go away but for the first time in my life I felt as if someone understood what I was going through.
My journey in therapy was hard. I was so embarrassed by my intrusive thoughts that I couldn’t bear to sit with the idea that someone else would hear the horrors in my head. However, like most fears in life, the reality of the situation was very different.
My therapist told me to look up at the ceiling and say “The roof is going to fall in on me!” and then wait. So I did, and we waited and waited, and waited. By the end of the exercise, he looked at me and said “You see, thoughts are just thoughts! Who knows if the roof was really going to fall in, but are you just going to spend the rest of your life scared that it might?” An exercise so simple couldn’t be more meaningful.
I took what I learned and used it in practice until I no longer felt terrified and I could actually start doing things on my own again. What started out as me not being able to drive in my own car turned into me going on hikes, swimming in the ocean, and even traveling by plane!
My advice to individuals with OCD
While it wasn’t easy, I figured that I could use my story as a guide for others to show you that there is hope for OCD. Below are the things I learned most about OCD, and ultimately about life, and how you too can create a better life for yourself and the ones you love.
Advice #1: Get help early. While I know that you may not be convinced you can’t do it by yourself, you most likely can’t.
OCD is tricky and you never know the tricks it can throw at you. Getting a therapist was the best thing I have ever done, not only for my OCD but for my life. Living with a mental health condition allows you to work on things that most other people never think to do, and the earlier you start the better.
Advice #2: Begin a healthy lifestyle.
I know. Everyone tells you to exercise, meditate and eat healthily, and while those things are good, they aren’t the only things you can do for your mental health. Read a new book, start a cleaning routine, research different self-care routines, and begin really taking care of your mind just as much as your body. Living a life with meaning is the best way for you to kickstart yourself back into action.
Advice #3: Love often.
Being so scared for so long made me lose track of the things and people that I love in my life. Spread love to everyone that you know. Text an old friend, call your parents, or even watch a movie to make yourself happy. Love is something that every human has inside of them, and if it wasn’t for my OCD journey I would have never met my beautiful girlfriend and been able to give love back to the world.
Advice #4: Expect pain.
A journey through a transformation in OCD is extremely painful. In the beginning, you will be confused, scared, and utterly terrified, but what is important to remember is that this is completely new to you. These feelings that you have are to be expected and while you may not be able to see them, they will pass soon, and you will begin to feel better. By embracing the suck you can get rid of expectations and start contributing to changing your life around.
Advice #5: Be grateful.
While this may seem like the darkest days of your life, the sun will soon shine again. You may not be able to recognize it but OCD gives you the opportunity to live a unique life full of promise and possibility. The feeling of living a healthy life in recovery is something unmatched and is a feeling I will cherish forever. Practice gratitude for everyone and everything in your life because one day it will all be gone. You have no clue about the miracles that await you.
Advice #6: Never settle.
This might perhaps be the most important piece of advice I can give you. The steps above are not just a one-and-done list of things that you should do to get yourself back to health, instead, they are a lifestyle and a way to treat yourself to a better life. OCD is a very tricky disorder but is very manageable. My last piece of advice is to never settle into comfort in your recovery, always seek to be a better person, friend, lover, and human. Take care of the ones you love, but ultimately take care of yourself as well.
My life today
I often call it a miracle when I tell people where I am today. I went from being depressed, substance fueled, anxious, afraid, and lonely to living a completely “normal” life. I have a wonderful girlfriend, an amazing job, and unlimited time to work on myself. While I can’t say that I live all of my days in complete happiness (who can?!); what I can say is that every day I get to make the choice to make my life better.
I practice self-care often, meditate, exercise, and am constantly filling my head with knowledge. When I fall off the wagon I simply have to remind myself of the advice I gave above and get back to creating the life I want to live. The days of constant OCD panic are over for me, but I am continually reminded of my journey and how hard I worked to get here.
For those newly in recovery, I am sorry that this was brought into your life, but you now have the choice to let OCD control you, or to fight back. Many say that OCD has no cure, but I believe that with practice, gratitude, and patience, you don’t need a cure. You will get something way more, a gifted and full life. These days I like to view OCD like a rain cloud. The rain is not good or bad, it is just rain. It is our reaction to the rain that dictates our day, not the rain itself.
I hope whoever reads this finds peace in their life like I have, while I may have my ups and downs, I am so grateful for the life that has been given to me. Keep at it, and the next time you feel down remind yourself: “What if it could turn out better than you ever imagined?”