Well dear readers one thing I have always tried to be with you is honest. This blog...while being an outlet for sharing information about gay rights and marriage equality, is also about the personal lives of our family and lately you may have noticed that the posts are becoming farther and farther apart. In part, this has been due to the fact that we lead rather busy lives but...I have also been suffering from a prolonged period of writers block. While I have always agonized over my writings, I have never before had such a hard time looking out at the world and finding inspiration to talk about...I just can't feel the fire. This is because there is something in my mind that has literally dominated my thoughts for a couple of months now that pushes everything else out of my mind...and something I have only just begun to deal with....I have OCD. Circumstances have become such that I feel I need to talk about this...as much for myself as for those who may need to hear this.
Bear with me...this going to be a long one..
I have been diagnosed and begun treatment for my OCD though It has been wreaking havoc in my mind..and life...for more than six years. I have been scared to death to write this post for a very long time. I have written, rewritten, and deleted the words many times already. People with any form of mental illness suffer from so much stigmatization and I am just as afraid of writing these words on this page as I was to come out as gay for the very first time. You fear judgement because you already judge yourself and you fear losing the support of those you let in, even though you are doing nothing more than opening a door to let them see you more clearly. My hope in telling my story is to help others who may be suffering in silence as I have done...to educate others by sharing my experience.....and to slay the dragon that has been holding mythoughts and words hostage and robbing the joy from life.
The first thing you should know is that OCD is a brain disorder that can have many different symptoms depending on each individuals psychological makeup. It begins in the part of your brain that controls your fear response. For reasons yet unknown to science, that part of our brains is stuck in the "on" position and our brains are constantly being flooded with fear messages. How those messages manifest depends on the person. Here are just a few of the ways OCD can screw with you:
Checkers:....Some people repetitively check the locks on their doors and windows because they are never sure...100% certain...that they are locked and any doubt means that it may not have been done and someone might get in and kill them and their family. The constant checking is a way of trying to assure protection for them and those they love. It is the same with people who obsessively check their stove knobs to make sure they are off and that they are not going to burn the house down. Still others constantly check to make sure that they have every item that they Will ever need for any contingency that may ever happen in life before they can leave home for the day. Any or all of these rituals can torment the sufferer and keep them caught seeking that feeling of 100% assurance for hours before they can move on. To just walk away is tantamount to the anxiety of feeling as if they really had been responsible for causing those things.
Some of us count....The OCD tells them that their are "bad numbers" and "good numbers" and that the good ones have protective qualities while the bad ones can lead to harm. So the sufferer may count silently in their heads trying to end on a "good number"...either to protect themselves or someone they love. This usually happens in their heads and those around them have no idea what is going on because it is all happening in their head while they are going about their regular day. Some people may count objects in the room...or the pages in the books they read...or anything that life requires they interact with.
There are many other forms, like hoarding... but one thing that needs to be understood is that OCD uses what's most important to you...what you love..and uses it against you. A person can have more than one symptom and furthermore...a symptom that might torture you for ten years can fade away and then morph into a whole different set of symptoms. It really does not fight fair.
My personal symptoms are intrusive thoughts of a religious nature that constantly challenge whether or not I am a good person. I have had Blasphemous thoughts about GOD that I can not control and has left me wishing I could unscrew my brain for a while just to find relief. It is hard for me to give specifics but I will do my best not to shrink from it. I have seen people with a variety of differing kinds of OCD break down and cry when describing the thought process of why they do what they do...it's horribly embarrassing to face it ...to say the words out loud. While you know that what you are feeling isn't real or rational...your brain is constantly sending you the message that if you aren't alarmed. something bad will happen..or that you might BE bad. In my case...and to give an example of something that is happening right in this moment...my hand is resting comfortably on my mouse...yet some part of my brain keeps trying to draw attention to my middle finger and because the back of my hand is pointed "up" the thought tells me that maybe I am flipping GOD off.....something I would never...EVER do. And yes...that is the type of irrational thought that is typical of OCD...now pair that up with a adrenaline hit of fear and a persistent doubt that defies common sense and you may be getting the picture.
At this point it's o.k. to go ahead and laugh. you made it this far, you deserve a break. I sometimes refer to myself as a nutball because I have to laugh or I will break under it. I have been fighting OCD for about six years on my own. I did not tell my husband because I was too ashamed. No one knew because I could keep it all in my head where only I had to be tortured by it. It is only in the last three months that I have opened up..first to my husband..and then to get help. Doing so has helped me see how far back OCD really goes in my life and how I inherited it from my family. I had come to the realisation that I simply could not be alone in my head with it anymor. The most often heard quote I hear is, "why don't you just stop?" If only it were so easy. We have tried and continue to try everyday, but imagine it like this...take something that matters to you almost more than life itself. Now imagine that someone invisible keeps putting a picture of that someone being tortured in an unimaginable fashion and then tells you that this is happening right now...unless you go check the stove knobs, or check the front door lock, or wash you hands, keep every scrap of paper, pray in an exact way, etc. You might feel alarm yes? The mere chance that what you see in that image MIGHT be true is enough to keep you engaged. That's how it is with OCD. It uses our inability to 100% disprove our obsession as a justification for the fear...and thus the ritual that it demands to counteract the fear.
For me, that ritual has been prayer. It began when hearing other people say the very common phrase "Oh my GOD". I had been raised in a home in which that phrase was taught to be wrong with a capitol "W" and saying it would earn a harsh reaction...first from my parents..then the intimation that GOD was angry with me. Today as an adult I can't tolerate that phrase...it comes with a flash of fear. The OCD thought is that if I don't do something to oppose that action...taken by someone else...than I am complicit in it. Now, I hold no judgement for that person...what I am experiencing is OCD telling me I need to feel responsible and do something about it or I will be punished. Irrational...yes...OCD?....totally.
And to those who claim that this is an indictment against religion should stop for a second and ask themselves if checking door knobs is an indictment against doors or if obsessive hand washing is a condemnation of personal hygeine. It's OCD, not religion. OCD grabs us wear it's going to hurt us the most...in those things that mean something to us. Our worth as a human beings...the protection of our families...our safety in the world..these are all things that OCD uses precisely because they mean so much to us. It begins with a part of our brains that wont turn off, that's the biological part...how it touches our lives depends on what motivates us as individuals. Some people obsessively doubt their partners fidelity or whether or not they really love their family. OCD will grab anything and shove it into your brain repeatedly until you can't function anymore.
CBT(Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) in a nutshell, involves facing what we fear with the goal of desensitizing yourself to the fear. Our prayers, lock checking, organizing, and washing are all forms of protecting ourselves from something that frightens us very deeply. They serve as a form of protection and as a result provide a very short term relief from the obsessive fear...that is, until the obsession is triggered again and the cycle starts over ensuring a nonstop torture ride that the sufferer can not get off of without help. The key with CBT is not to run away from our fears, which is what performing the compulsions represent...but to run toward them. For Contamination people that may mean touching a doorknob without washing for a few minutes after ward and gradually working up the scale of stuff that scares the shite out of you until OCD has nothing left to scare you with. For me it means not saying the prayers that may say something blasphemous....or writing out my fears and reading them out loud to myself(this is my current homework). I have been really struggling with doing this because I don't want to do something that actually IS wrong....oh well, no one said recovery would be easy.
My prayers have been a way of trying to tell GOD that I would never do things like I detailed above. Yet, no sooner is one prayer fired off than a new "bad thought" takes it's place and I feel like I have to do it all over again. It's crippling my ability to live my life and the time spent saying silent prayers in my head is time I am not talking to my husband...who does not quite grasp the "have to" feeling that OCD creates in us. There has been much resentment because of how much I am in my head doing this. Time spent in prayer keeps me from being the dad I really want to be. The stress has made my memory absolute crap. Even though I am not locked away in a room, I am locked away in my head. Everyday I feel ashamed of this...I sometimes literally want to remove my head to stop feeling constantly afraid of things I can never prove to be untrue. These obsessions even run counter to what I really believe spiritually...yet it's all my children will see as an example and that is killing me. And even though I have to deal with this, I am profoundly grateful for the life I have been given. I would not give up the love I know because of some stupid thoughts I can not get rid of that tell me every day that I am only worthy of hell. I just have to ride out the bad moments and remember that it's OCD....and to leave the judgements behind...especially if I am not always strong enough to fight it off.
Lately there have been alot of people around me who are asking themselves suicide questions. You know the kind that say "why am I alive?", "Wouldn't it make me feel better to be dead and do the world a great big favor?" In a word...."NO!" Those conversations are why I am writing this. So many people are suffering and looking to that as a way out of pain....I get it. I am lucky to have the advantage of a husband who loves me and kids I adore and want to protect. But there are times in our lives when we all feel as if we are more a drain on the world and those we love than a light within it...nothing could be further from the truth. Some days we may have to fight....and our happily ever afters may not be perfect...but we keep moving on for that day when we can not imagine leaving and missing out on something truly amazing. Those moments do happen. I have been there before, I am there now, and I know that I will be there again...feeling awful is only a short vacation in between.
I hope that this post helps people realise that there are people who may struggle with mental illness all around you. They may be your coworkers, parents...or friends. Knowing that does not make them broken or something to fear. Its just life..and the stuff that happens to us all. I hope it helps those who suspect that they have a problem like OCD to realise they are not alone and it's o.k. to talk about it. I hope it helps people understand that no life is perfect and even imperfect lives can contain a lot of love and reasons to enjoy and be thankful for life. I hope it helps others learn a little more about OCD. I hope it helped me take a step closer to slaying the dragon that has kept me from thinking about anything else but what it demands. I am done fighting him alone....but I am not done fighting.
Until next time dear readers.....