Where I’ve Been: Putting a Face on OCD and Anxiety Disorders

It’s been a while.

Even last month, when I did write, I wasn’t really here, was I? I didn’t feel here. In fact, for the past few months, I haven’t really felt like doing much of anything, including blogging. For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about this very post and trying to phrase it in just the right way for everyone out there, but I can’t quite seem to get the words out perfectly, so I figured sitting down and just writing was the best answer.

For nearly all of my life, I’ve struggled with a secret problem that most people -outside of only my closest family- are unaware of. I honestly can’t remember a time in even my earliest childhood when I wasn’t plagued by this problem in one way or another. Many times I thought I was going crazy, many times I may have actually acted crazy. But still, I kept my secret.

Sometimes I have things under control, but there have been specific times in my life when this thing has me under control. I have always fought it off, but never really won the battle. Recently, however, I realized that I was absolutely sick of living this way. I decided to seek out help. On Halloween night, we ended up over at our pastor’s house, and I had a deep heart-to-heart with his wife, telling her the struggles I’ve carried with me for years and years. Most recently because Travis’s schedule has been horrible and he hasn’t been home much, and my own night class schedule has left me burnt out and overwhelmed, my struggles have returned perhaps worse than ever before.

I think I finally caved this time because I realize just how much these issues are keeping me from living my life. As I sat in our friends’ living room talking, I realized that my problems are not only keeping me a slave in my own life, but they’re coming between me and God. Something has to change.

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For most of my life, I had no idea that this was the name of my problem. I’ve had the common intrusive thoughts that bounce around in my mind and take over my train of thinking without warning. I’ve had the repetitive rituals and mind-numbing mantras for as long as I can remember, but I never recognized myself in those who struggled with OCD. In deciding to seek help, I’ve started seeing a psychologist, who specializes in OCD and anxiety disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is what he has diagnosed me as having.

So there you have it. I feel so relieved to know. Of course when he started describing the feelings I might have experienced over the years, I sat there and nodded. In fact, tears came to my eyes more than once because I felt as though this man understands me. Not only that, he is not even slightly surprised by the things I’ve told him. My worst fears were that he would say I was suffering from something that is rare and difficult to treat with general counseling. However, he seems very excited to take on my case. He said I’m an excellent candidate for full recovery, so I’m now starting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Since being “diagnosed”, I feel like dancing. Honestly, I feel so liberated to have a name to put to the craziness that’s been going on in my head for most of my life. I couldn’t wait to call Travis as soon as our first session was over to let him know what the doctor had to say. When you’ve struggled with something in silence and shame for as long as I have, there’s a fear that no one will ever understand you, and nothing can ever save you from the prison you’re trapped in. I’ve felt that way more than once.

My feelings, thoughts, and fears are now validated.When something is named it can then be treated {very similar to my own journey with HG.} I didn’t hide my anxiety from those closest to me. I can’t tell you how many times my mom or my husband told me over and over again, “You’ve got to do something about your anxiety,” but I didn’t have the courage to. Part of me wasn’t quite ready to address the deeper issues there, but another part of me was so used to living this way that the thought of dealing with them was almost frightening. I think I also wanted to believe that I could take care of things myself.

There have definitely been moments in my life where I felt “normal” and did not rely on my rituals or mantras to keep me calm and controlled. However, as I said before, my struggles with GAD and OCD have always been right at my heels, waiting to pounce on me when I least expect them. Part of me thinks this most recent flair up isn’t completely due to Travis’s schedule or my classes, but also to the adoption process itself. OCD is all about feeling out of control on the inside, so you do your rituals or repeat your mantras to try and regain that control. The adoption process is absolutely a sit-back-and-wait kind of thing. I have no control over anything that’s happening right now, and most of the time, I have no facts or hints about what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s a scary experience.

Regardless of the “why’s” of it all at this point in my life, the deeper issue remains that this is not a new problem. I’ve had this problem for so long that when I confessed to my mom my earliest obsessive-compulsive ritual in my memory, she was shocked to hear that I was only seven. There have been many others throughout my life that no one knew about.

For those who have seen the MTV show “True Life: I Have OCD,” rest assured that I’m not even remotely comparable to the people portrayed in this episode. I have never been trapped in my home by my own fears, or limited in my social interactions, or unable to function on a daily basis. I’m going to guess that many friends reading this now are going to be quite surprised to hear that I’ve had this problem for most of my life. But that’s why I wanted to tell you.

I said from the beginning of this blog that I would be totally honest with you all, and for the past three months, I’ve been in a personal hell. I’ve been in a prison trapped by my own anxieties related to just about anything you can imagine {all “what if” scenarios created in the darkest recesses of my own mind}, and as time has gone on, I’ve withdrawn from my own blog to the point of barely appearing on here. Why work to create a public forum such as this one if I can’t be honest with myself about myself? What’s the point in hoping that I might reach others if I only check in to share with you the happiest moments of my day and not the darkest moments in my own life?

Right now I’m in one of those dark moments. But I’m finally getting help. It’s so liberating to seek help and have someone on the other side of this chasm who understands what I’m going through. Nothing I said shocked him. Nothing I said caught him off guard. He’s excited to help me and claims to have helped others with much deeper obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

I’ll gladly take on the titles of Obsessive-Compulsive and Generalized Anxiety-Disorder if it helps someone else who has been struggling with something similar. I’m nothing like those with OCD who are portrayed on television shows and the media. And OCD is not something silly to laugh off regarding someone’s proclivity for neatness and order. It’s a prison in your own mind.

When I hear someone say, “My roommate is so OCD about the files on his computer,” it frustrates me because unless his roommate truly believes something tragically horrible will happen to him or a loved one if his files are not in order, then he does not suffer from OCD. Sounds nuts, I know, but that’s how it works. We do the rituals because we believe it’s giving us control of something we otherwise would have no control over. If we do a ritual incorrectly, or not enough times, or the ritual becomes interrupted, we panic.

Which leads me to my next topic. I’m sure you’re wanting the juicy stuff. “I heard Howie Mandel can’t shake hands with people because he has OCD…” His struggles are different from mine. And sometimes people with OCD have different rituals at different times in their life, depending on what their big fears are at the time. Perhaps his is death or disease, so he avoids human contact. I’ve never struggled with such anxieties. Instead, just as some examples, over the years my rituals have manifested themselves in many different ways. In college, I obsessively checked the fire alarm in my room at night. It was right over my bed, so I’d scoot to the edge of the bed, stand up, press the fire alarm button to hear it beep twice, then I could sleep. If I forgot, I had vivid and horrific nightmares about fires in my dorm and my alarm not working. It was a deep fear of mine, and I believed by ensuring my alarm worked every single night, I was saving myself from death.

In another fire-related ritual, when I was 8 my class took a field trip to a firehouse where they allowed us inside of their “fire trailer.” It was basically a small trailer converted to look like a living room in a home. They filled it with a smoke-like substance and taught us how to crawl out of the building on our bellies to practice what to do in the event of a real fire in our homes. For months after, I would pack a small bag of the items I considered most precious to me, and placed them by my door every night, where they would be easy to grab in the event of a fire. I couldn’t go to sleep without my ritual. I’d often walk the house planning my escape route, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night to ensure I could lead my family to safety with my plan.

Currently, I struggle with obsessive mantras. I say repeated prayers in my mind if I think something is wrong with me or a loved one {particularly Little} so that God will spare us whatever tragedy I fear at the time. If I don’t say it enough times, or with enough focus or emphasis, I have to start over. Learning of a new disease on the internet or TV can be a huge stumbling block for me, because I’ll immediately worry that Little might have the disease or get the disease, so I begin my mantras as a preventive measure to ward off the coming storm.

I don’t lock our doors a thousand times, or buy hand sanitizer in bulk. Instead of driving those around me crazy with my rituals, the only one who suffers from or notices the things I do is me. But the weight of it all, and the sneaky worry in my head that tells me I’m crazy finally got to be too much, and I’m getting help to get better. Maybe your secret struggle isn’t anxiety or OCD. Maybe yours is depression, self-doubt, or anger. I would really love to encourage anyone reading this who carries a lonely burden to seek help. Seek the Lord first, and seek professional help if you can’t handle it on your own.

The only thing I’m ashamed of in all of this journey is the fact that my fears and anxiety reflect such a strong sense of doubt in my faith in the Lord and his ability to protect and provide for me and my family. I wish I had blind faith like a child, but I don’t right now. I pray after all of my therapy is over, and I’m feeling like a normal personal again, and I’ve conquered my demons, that I would have that faith again. I don’t want to view God as a bully or an entity to be feared. I don’t want to constantly worry about when the next shoe is gonna drop. My struggles in the last few months have pulled me away from church, and that hurts my heart deeply. I feel ashamed about shying away from church, because that’s exactly where I need to be most. This disorder has controlled me for too long, and I’m sick of it. I truly believe I’m at the perfect place in my life to get better and get past this. I’m not defined by this, but it sure feels good to know what it is. And it feels even better to come forward with it and let all of you know the truth.

Thank you for sticking in there with me. I’m back, and I’m tired of hiding.

Kat

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4 Comments

Filed under Personal Posts

4 responses to “Where I’ve Been: Putting a Face on OCD and Anxiety Disorders

  1. Kerri

    I am so excited for you Kat. I am a true believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s based on the simple idea (which I had to learn at an early age) of seriously examining your own thoughts which influence your mood and your actions BUT just realizing the power our thoughts have over our lives is not so simple. So you’ve already gotten past the hardest part…the rest just requires effort (my non-professional opinion). 😉 ((hug)) P.S. I agree that Type A personalities do not equal OCD.

    • Kerri, thanks so much for your words of encouragement and support! It means so much to me. I’m incredibly excited. He seemed excited too. He clearly loves what he does for a living, and said at the end of our session that not only was I an excellent candidate for a full recovery, but that he was also really excited to start working with me. I left with so much hope, it was like I was on cloud nine. I only wish I’d sought out help sooner. But honestly, I think I wasn’t ready before now. Oh well, I’m on the road to repair, and I know that suffering with anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed of. I just need to fix it. Thanks again, your comment made my night 🙂

  2. Sarah C

    Love you lots Kat. You are brave and I am proud of you.

  3. Pingback: Back From a Blogging Break | Love Makes A Family

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