Here I am. Standing in front of the sink of dishes. I’m at home. There are only maybe 15 dishes to clean. Not much maybe 10 minutes to wash them.
But it takes me 2 hours to wash those dishes. What!? Yes, 2 hours.
I didn’t run into plumbing issues. No accidental cuts on my hands. No earthquakes or godzillas attacking the house.
I don’t know it but I have clinical obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD for short.
Why does it take me 2 hours?
Because I’ve had some obsessive thought that scares the crap out of me. I’m thinking and feeling like it is the end of the world.
The chemicals in my brain have gone into overdrive. Imagine a time you’ve had something life threatening almost happen. Think of watching a car racing towards you with impending death and pain. Or hearing someone you’ve been around has covid and now you have some symptom. Get the idea how that feels? That worry, fear? The chemicals in your body reacting and churning? That. That is how those obsessive thoughts feel.
Imagine ignoring the car coming at you. Imagine ignoring your covid like symptoms. That is how hard it was for me to ignore those obsessive thoughts.
So I stand there, still and barely moving, going through the thoughts in my head like a vortex for 2 long hours. I think that if I just say the right words in the right order in my head then nothing bad will happen because of the thoughts I had. I think that these internal rituals will undo the bad thoughts and protect me from supposed negative consequences.
Eventually I say things just right and feel just right when I say them to be able to move on but even then the anxiety still persists like having a murderer creep around behind you wherever you go.
So this is a glimpse for what life was like for me with my OCD everyday.
“God isn’t your friend,” the southern baptist church pastor told us group of kids.
I don’t even remember if we were goofing around or he just felt the need to share that unprompted but this mentality was the theme of my up bringing. It was the theme shared by those around me, the private christian school, and the church groups I was forced to go to my entire childhood till I went to college.
It was a harsh religious upbringing. “If you don’t sit the right way or think or feel or act the right way then God will come at you with vengeance, anger, hate, and severity to punish you.” I remember even being taught God rejoices in punishing us. Pretty f’ed up right?
These doctrines sunk in to my childhood psyche. If I don’t do everything perfectly then God hates me, will reject me, and will hurt me.
This was reinforced by those close to me. If I didn’t act, feel, or behave the way they wanted then they would withhold love. There was no realness to their love. It was toxic, manipulative and performance based.
From this, I started to obsess over my thoughts, worrying and fearing that if I even had “bad” thoughts that something horrifying would happen. My way to manage these thoughts was to spend hours praying and going through rituals in my head to “undo” bad thoughts. Classic OCD.
Like the story above illustrates, it began to really screw up my life.
What’s the worst is when I first started to get help I had a therapist tell me my rituals were good and to keep doing them. Like, what the heck man!?
At this point, I was very isolated from real connections with people.
Things got worse and worse. The office I worked in was actually in a closet away from the the rest of the team. This was great for someone with OCD! I basically spent half the workday locked in a OCD vortex.
I eventually had to resign. That’s pretty much when things blew up and fell apart for me.
Goodbye nice income, security, and respect.
Hello loss of respect. Loss of “friends”. Disdain and ridicule from others.
Nice to meet you depression and shame.
I ended up working at a fast food restaurant. From engineer to cooking fries.
My brain just couldn’t handle the isolation that comes with sitting at a computer by yourself…doing what engineers do all day…thinking.
I had a wife and baby to take care of too so we ended up needing food stamps to get food for the baby. I just couldn’t get enough hours back then to cover the costs.
On the Path to Recovery
The extreme pace of food service was actually really good for my OCD. It kept me from being able to dwell and go into the vortex. It gave my brain a place to chemically start to heal.
I began to try to get help again. This time I was desperate to get healthy. I started going to support groups for recovery and stumbled upon a psychologist who actually understood how to treat OCD.
I also began a 12 step group to help me heal. I was going to 2-3 recovery meetings a week.
It was not easy.
But having a support system around me made it easier. Whenever I felt triggered I had someone I could text or call.
I began to learn God doesn’t care about actions or behaviors, just relationship. All he cares about is love.
My psychologist helped me to start to notice patterns with my OCD. I began to learn tools to identify and manage my OCD and overtime heal from it.
I’ve learned you always, always need real people in your life you can reach out to when feeling triggered.
And even though many only see it as a cliché, the most powerful learning for me was that it is a journey. It’s ok to mess up. Just keep learning. Learning is not running in a circle. It may feel that way though! It is actually conical (like an upside down ice cream cone). It may feel like running in circles but you’re actually gaining altitude each time and your learning cycles get smaller and smaller.
When I mess up I just remind myself that learning is conical, view it as an opportunity to grow and move on.
I’ve been in recovery for over 12 years and I love my life. My relationships are much healthier and I am on the path of success. I am so thankful for it.
I am definitely still on a journey. I still have friends I reach out to when I am being triggered. I still attend meetings. I still fail. It is ok to fail. I just do my best to get back up if I get down the wrong path or fall down.
Along this journey I’ve found with life being busy it is hard to always reach out to friends without worrying about bugging them or find a meeting when you need it. So I created this app, Together, to make it easy to share with each other all day, anytime about what you’re going through in your recovery journey.
These days, I even manage to wash a few dishes every now and then. 😉
Walk with others on their journey and get involved.
Suicide numbers are up. The number of folks reporting depression and anxiety is on the rise. We all need each other on this journey. You can help.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. Anyone can do something, even something as “small” as joining a meeting.
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