OCD really is a bitch.
Sufferers often take years to receive the correct diagnosis and even longer to get the appropriate treatment (a combination of medication and a specific type of CBT called ERP – exposure and response prevention), despite OCD being listed as one of the World Health Organisation’s top 20 most debilitating health conditions.
As for me, I’ve always known somewhere in the back of my mind that I have OCD, but I’ve managed to diagnose myself with a fair few other things along the way: depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, psychopathy (?!) and probably others that I’ve forgotten about. I’ve recently discovered, however, that if I treat my anxious and repetitive thoughts using ERP techniques, the rest of my ‘stuff’ kind of falls away and I experience normal emotions within a normal range. So maybe, just maybe, I’m no more screwed up on a deeper level than anyone else.
Enter OCD, stage left. I’ve lost about three years of my career to this disorder and a fair few relationships, mostly romantic but there has been the occasional friendship casualty here and there as well. It has made breakups way harder than they might have been if I didn’t have this disorder. I’ve behaved in desperate and crazy ways in response to rejection (perceived or real) such as repeatedly calling an ex, demanding reassurance over and over again but never being satisfied, and ruminating for weeks and months, dissecting text messages in my mind, angsting over the phrasing of a totally innocuous sentence in an email, searching for the slightest signs of doubt or proof that they never really loved me anyway. I once sent a picture of my tits to an ex in a last ditch attempt to avoid letting go. It’s like normal rejection on steroids.
On the opposite end of the scale, I have completely lost my shit in relationships if I think that I’m not being honest enough, or a good enough girlfriend. I feel a hugely exaggerated sense of responsibility for a partner’s wellbeing and have an underlying fear of being guilty, bad, as though I’m going to end up hurting the person I’m with, and that my inherent inadequacy will come to light.
After turning someone down romantically a while ago, we became friends and my anxiety skyrocketed. I thought that I’d led this person on, that I was a manipulative, selfish, deeply flawed individual, incapable of a relationship, who had been dishonest and was giving mixed signals, thereby screwing with this person’s heart and causing them to suffer. You could say that I somewhat overestimated my influence, but this is what OCD does: it magnifies your sense of responsibility and tells you that IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.
Anyway, I asked repeatedly for reassurance that this was not the case, and although the person in question, no doubt somewhat bemused by my endless and circularly compulsive anxiety, patiently provided the requested reassurance, there was always a shred of doubt which would explode into full-blown fear and self-loathing (albeit in Middlesbrough rather than Las Vegas) whenever a thought about the situation came into my mind, which, given that I have OCD, was frequently. The whole thing stretched out over several exhausting, neurotic weeks.
All these things, on the surface, look and sound like symptoms of a deeply rooted emotional issue, hence my previous self-diagnosis of some ominous-sounding personality disorder. But, I have recently realised that if I treat these anxieties as symptoms of OCD and apply ERP techniques, the worry lessens and my sense of self and well-being return fairly quickly. It’s all ‘just anxiety’, but that adverb is deeply invalidating and ‘anxiety’ somehow doesn’t cut it. Think more a tyrannical counsel of dictators with firearms calling the shots in your head.
So, yeah, thanks for all this, OCD. You really are a vindictive bully. But I’m working hard on ERP and it’s going quite well. I will write in more detail about this in a later post.
Meanwhile, have a lovely day and don’t believe everything your brain tells you.