“The tyrant in your head will second-guess you no matter what you do. That voice of dread is terrified, terrifying, loud, and repetitively destructive. Demote it by making it your pesky backseat driver. You can steer without it.”
Episodic OCD burdened me for over a decade, from my college years until 2006. Self-punishment made matters worse, as it does for everyone. I compulsively checked the coffee maker to see if it was off, and overchecked my written work. I feared I had inadvertently written embarrassing or unkind Freudian slips.
Every few years for weeks at a time, my anxiety spiked into terror. I just barely hid it in public. In the fall of 2005, a bad reaction to some medication triggered my worst episode ever, about food contamination. I’d previously loved to cook, and told myself that by “worrying about nothing,” I’d robbed myself of that joy.
Doctors and therapists had helped in the past, but the unbearable episode in 2005 galvanized me. I finally attributed my torment to OCD, instead of verbally abusing myself. By February 2006, a low dose of fluvoxamine maleate worked miracles. Medication isn’t for everyone, but it saved me quickly because professionals and loved ones had helped me lay the groundwork for years.
Behavioral therapy and reading helped, especially Brain Lock (by Jeffrey M. Schwartz) and Stop Obsessing! (by Edna Foa and Reid Wilson). I keep my peace now by studying Judaism (my religion), Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and I practice yoga. Wisdom traditions benefit me when I remember to turn to them. I try to eat well about 80 percent of the time, with splurges. I’m not rigid about healthy habits because perfectionism hampers growth and can be unkind. I admire the Buddhist antidotes: compassion, moderation, and mindfulness. Mindfulness leads to peace because it’s present-centered. Chronically anxious people overwhelm themselves by obsessing about the past, and how it might lead to future shame.
In 2006, as my recovery took hold, I began to harness anxiety and recovery as creative fuel. In 2010, I published a novel about OCD called Food and Worry.  The publication date was almost exactly five years after my worst OCD episode. I’m curious to learn about other people’s “recovery anniversaries.”
My Experience, My Advice
If you are suffering, here’s my unsolicited advice: Try to treat yourself gently, especially when you think you did A Bad Thing by giving in to compulsions. Lapses are part of recovery, not the loss of it. The tyrant in your head will second-guess you no matter what you do. That voice of dread is terrified, terrifying, loud, and repetitively destructive. Demote it by making it your pesky backseat driver. You can steer without it.
If you feel like you keep falling, just keep getting up. Anxiety will always accompany us, but it doesn’t have to be excessive. You’ll learn to distrust the scolding voice in your head, instead of doubting yourself.
Becky Wolsk writes and quilts through her cottage industry of Text Isle Patchwork . She’s written two novels and will publish The Text Isle Patchwork Cookbook in November 2011. She blogs and she’s @GoalsGamified on Twitter.