Coping With Life After OCD

“I have the OCD under control. Now I just need to figure out how to recover. I will.”

by Sarah Myers

One of the first things I remember is trying to get as far away as possible from the two cottonwood trees in the backyard, terrified they would fall over and crush me. My parents were in the backyard and I couldn't leave them, but no matter how many times they reassured me that the trees wouldn't fall, I couldn't stop begging them to come inside, far away from the back door, far away from the trees.

Fears seemed to add up one by one over the years, and although I performed some typical rituals like checking and hoarding, those rituals were easy to hide and went unnoticed. My parents only knew was that I was very "intense", but then, so were they. My mother, grandmother, and great uncle all had many of the same quirks I did. My orthodontist noticed I was grinding my teeth and recommended a psychologist, but my parents and I laughed at that. After all, my mother also ground her teeth.

With school it got worse. I had to do everything perfectly, despite my parents' insistence that it was really ok to get a B. By the time I was in junior high, I would joke with myself about how I thought I'd die in the gutter if I missed a single question in a year. But that was truly how it felt - life or death terror. By the end of high school I couldn't read any of my textbooks - I would read single words over and over, sounding out the syllables with different types of grunts. Still, I managed to pull a 4.0 GPA. My reputation as an excellent student carried me a long way. Teachers let me turn in assignments late or not at all, thinking I was such a "gifted" student I didn't need the practice like an average student. In truth I was becoming too paralyzed by fear to do much of anything, and fortunately I was able "cram" well enough to fake the public school tests. Unfortunately, I wasn't learning the self-discipline I would need later in life. My entire world was driven by fear.

I became depressed in college, unable to escape from what I called my demon, Fear. I started obsessing about what it would be like to be raped and how I would survive it. I would replay scenarios in my head for hours and hours, always upping the ante ("what if they cut my fingers off too"?) to try to reassure myself I could survive trauma.

After college I started spending more hours in these "thinking rituals" (I later found out this is called "Pure Obsessional OCD") and began to fantasize about suicide - not because I wanted to die, but because I wanted to escape The Fear. I grew confused about who I was. I valued being confident, carefree, and logical. But I was so often ruled by illogical fears.

One day, I started reading about anxiety disorders on the Internet. I was sure I didn't have OCD - that was the thing where crazy people washed their hands too much. But I felt compelled to read everything. Eureka!

I did some serious research, got myself diagnosed by describing only my most obvious symptoms like checking, started taking medication, and found a good cognitive-behavioral therapist. And now I find myself at age 31, a former compulsive hoarder married to a neat freak, a former A-student unable to muster enough self-discipline to pay my bills on time or even remember where I put the checkbook. I never had any organizational skills. I just had fear.

I can't stick to a regular sleep schedule, either. I always slept to avoid the fear when it was at its worst, and stayed awake at odd hours when the fear dictated that I perform rituals. I have recurrent, vivid nightmares about finding out I never graduated or about having a final in a class I never attended. I try to laugh at them, but the nightmares won't stop and I wake up terrified.

My husband has gone back to school. Last night I tried to help him with some math homework. Suddenly, the memory of the fear of not getting it perfect overwhelmed me and I lashed out at him as though he were responsible for the years of school-related misery. Then I cried for hours, feeling sorry for the scared little kid I used to be, and bitterly resenting the OCD demon that had haunted her.

I have the OCD under control. Now I just need to figure out how to recover. I will.

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