It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority of us know what it feels like to be in a rut. The repetition of our daily routine or the lack thereof can at times make us feel stir crazy. The stir craziness can be a need to do something different and outside of our definition of “normal.” Or maybe, the stir craziness can be a need to just do something at all.
There may be a feeling of unease, frustration. In these moments, we may switch up our routine. We may take a detour along our normal commute. We may find a different route or location to go for a jog. We may pack a different lunch, read a different genre of book, or listen to a different playlist while we clean the house.
Sometimes, change can be good, and these minor changes can bring the comfort we desire when feeling such unease.
Then there are times when our unease becomes stronger, a feeling of restlessness, resentment. In these moments, the change we look for may be less subtle than hitting “shuffle” on the playlist. We may rearrange the furniture. We may change our hairstyle and wardrobe. We may start searching for a new job, consider moving to a new apartment, or buying a new car.
Still, change can be good, and these more stark changes can bring the comfort we desire when feeling restless or resentful.
And then there are times when restlessness and resentment become utter desperation, and in these moments we feel stuck, trapped. We may want to quit our jobs, move off the grid or out of the country, and wipe the slate clean. Again, change can be good, and even the most drastic changes can bring the comfort we desire when feeling stuck.
But what happens when the things that are causing the unease, restlessness, or desperation, the feelings of frustration, resentment, or being trapped are not things that you can resolve with tangible changes to your hair, clothes, music, books, car, apartment, job, surroundings or location? When you could change all of those things and know that you’ll still feel stuck?
If you feel anxious right now, you’re not alone. As I write these words and try to express these feelings, I myself am tense, anxious, and on edge. This is not a complaint, but merely an observation, a perspective, and truthful admission of an all too familiar experience.
OCD is a chronic anxiety disorder characterized by consistent and at times uncontrollable thoughts of fear that trigger repetitive behaviors. There is often little rationality behind these thoughts, nor the behaviors an OCD patient will exhibit to alleviate their anxiety.
In my first story “Just Right” I illustrated an analogy about building a house made of blocks, only to be told, “that’s not right, fix it” over and over again, without rhyme or reason. For me, and many others, this is the type of relationship we have with our OCD. To describe OCD in such a way reminds me of the “Dark Passenger” in Dexter, a personification of sorts that is its own separate entity, an internal presence that defies logical thought and reason.
I must admit that for years, I genuinely felt that my OCD was a separate being. To me, my OCD was a disembodied voice that I desperately wanted to run away from so that I wouldn’t be subject to its constant irrational demands.
Repeat that sentence again until it sounds “just right.” Flip that light switch again until it turns off “just right.” Tap your toes against the legs of the chair again until they feel “just right.”
At the beginning of this story, I tapped into anxiety to illustrate the sensation of feeling stuck. Although that description was more abstract, I want to share another more literal story about this feeling, one in which my OCD literally rendered me stuck.
One afternoon, within the first week of my experience with OCD, I wanted to watch TV. At my parents’ house, the den with the television in it was next to the dining room, located in the back of the house. On the floor in the doorway between the dining room and the den was a threshold. All I had to do was walk through the door, across the room and over to the couch.
I couldn’t do it. Every time I would step across into the den, it didn’t feel “right”, so I would go back into the dining room and try again. Step across, then back, across then back.
I did this for three and a half hours.
From 3 in the afternoon until my family was about to eat dinner at 6:30 in the evening, I simply could not walk from the dining room into the den because my OCD would not allow it. By this time my legs were trembling from exhaustion. Not knowing what else to do, my mom picked me up and carried me into the den, placing me on the couch. She couldn’t bear to watch me continue pacing back and forth between the rooms. She thought she was helping me. Instead, this had the opposite effect. Rather than relief, my anxiety skyrocketed further.
Because by ending up on the couch without having walked through the room, I couldn’t leave the couch by walking back through the room. My OCD, in all of its irrational glory, told me that I had to exit the room the same way I entered. I had to be carried out, the same way I had been carried in.
Physically, it would have been very easy for me to change my placement on the couch, simply by getting up and walking out of the room. Mentally, however, I could not bring myself to do this. I was stuck with my astronomical anxiety, trapped on the couch until my mom finally agreed to carry me back across the den and into the dining room where I had stood for over three and a half hours. She didn’t understand, and to be honest, neither did I. To this day it doesn’t make any logical sense to me.
The truth is that there are many times when I still feel as stuck in my own head as I did on the couch in the den of my parents’ house when I was 8 years old. Although I may be “stuck” with OCD in the sense that I will always have it, I’ve come a long, long way since the couch incident. I learned ways to cope with my OCD and anxiety. I learned to hide my quirky behaviors like tapping, repeating sentences and retracing steps so that no one would notice. And eventually, I learned to embrace my OCD as not a disembodied voice but a part of who I am and how I am. I'm now learning how to share this story, and will continue to learn to share my journey with OCD every time I write. I share these stories as a way to communicate with those who know little or nothing about OCD, and hope to give purpose to my struggles by helping others understand.
If you know somebody who has OCD but has yet to find their own way of expressing it, I hope that my story will shed some light on what it can be like to live with this disorder. If you're watching a loved one struggle, I hope to help enlighten you so that they may begin to understand how powerful OCD can be. More importantly, I hope that if you yourself have OCD and are looking for something or someone to relate to, you can find that here. Most of all, I believe that if you do have OCD it’s important to hear the same thing I was told by the second of three doctors I visited on the day I was diagnosed: “You are not crazy, and you’re going to be OK” (I’ll share more about that story later).
You’re not crazy, although there may be many times that you feel like it. I can’t emphasize this enough. With the right support, it is possible to connect and feel that you’re not fighting this alone, that you can be understood, and that you can learn ways to navigate through this. And while I can’t say for sure, I do sincerely hope that you’re going to be OK. I can tell you almost certainly that it won’t be easy, but it is possible. I hope that my story will be a help to you in some way, whatever that may be.
© Copyright Whatismyhealth, December 25th, 2016