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An OCD Story: It's More Than Just Cleanliness and Counting

During the summer of 2016, something dark and dangerous took my brain hostage. This is my journey. This is what I've learned so far.

It was October 18th, 2016—a Tuesday. I had decided that this would be the day that I was finally going to go and speak with a professional about what had been troubling me since mid-August of that year. I remember being very tired and extremely nauseous. I was most likely tired because I had stayed up the night before riding the never-ending mental carousel as I chased "the thoughts" around my head, and I was most likely nauseous because, at that point in time, I had almost literally become a 5'8", blonde-haired ball of nerves. 

That past weekend, my friend and co-worker, Adriana, had mentioned to me that if I was looking for a place to go for counseling, I should try the organization she had recently interned at as part of her schooling in psychology. I remembered being skeptical, yet hopeful; skeptical because I felt as though nobody could say anything to fix what was going on, plus I had never been to counseling before, and hopeful because something's gotta give, right? 

So fast forward to Tuesday at about noon. Adriana kindly accompanied me to the office. I was exhausted, ready to puke, yet famished and red-eyed from the constant crying that had been taking place over the past month or so. Total misery. I filled out some basic paperwork that asked me about what had brought me in, my level of mood, and how I'd heard about their services. About 20 minutes later, I found myself sitting in a stuffy little beige room with no windows and a dying plant. Shortly thereafter, in walked this very tall, slender, and pretty  woman who introduced herself as "Liz." I liked her right away. She had kind eyes and a sweet smile and I felt comfortable for the first time in a while. 

From what I remember, she addressed the point of the visit pretty quickly by asking something along the lines of, "So Jacqueline, what's brings you in today?" As per usual, I immediately started getting emotional. I am naturally an emotional person and especially so when it comes to expressing matters of the heart. So, unsurprisingly, the tears started rolling out. Liz sat there being totally lovely about it. Now, maybe it's because my patience was wearing mighty thin, but somehow, in the midst of that troublesome moment, I managed to round up a pretty succinct summary of what I had been going through every single day for the past few months. I can't remember it word for word, but it was something like, "I don't really understand what's been going on, but basically I went through my boyfriends Facebook messages to some of his friends back in August and now I can't stop thinking about some things he said. It literally just won't leave me alone. I lay in bed thinking about it all day and night, trying to solve the puzzle and get myself back to feeling normal about him and us." She nodded along with a concerned and supportive look on her face.

Sidenote: For the sake of not making this story about the mystery of what my douchebag boyfriend said in his Facebook chats, I will simply say that my boyfriend is actually amazing and wonderful. What happened was that I was fooling around on his computer while he was taking a shower and decided to see what cute things he had said about me to his friends. And while there were lots of heart melting things he'd said, long story short, I ended up seeing some messages from years ago about him calling some actresses "hot" and talking to his friends about our sex life. Yes—that's literally it. However, it stung me and made me upset, and drove me to the brink of a breakdown, and I can't help that.

Now, coming back to that day in the therapist's office, our visit ended with her sharing a few "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" exercises with me to hopefully help me better cope with the horrible ruminations I was dealing with on a daily basis. Exercises that could eventually stop me from telling myself  things like "he doesn't really love you," "he's a liar," "he wants to bang other girls," and the ever-lovely, "I'm nothing." The hour long visit ended with Liz explaining that I was experiencing what was commonly referred to in the psychology world as an "attachment injury." This is essentially what happens when one person in a relationship (romantic, platonic, or parent-child) feels betrayed and abandoned by the other due to a specific incident, thus losing trust in them and setting this as the new standard for the other's dependability. I thought, Well this is it! This has to be it! There's a name for it and everything! I was so happy and relieved, even though the thoughts were still there. I didn't think I would ever need to go see Liz again. I would cure myself of this horror with the strategies and knowledge she had provided me with and I would be done. I told my boyfriend and he was so happy and proud of me for getting help. Everything was going to be okay.

Fast forward to November. I was back in the tiny room with Liz. The thoughts were still eating me. The 8th of November marked the start of another five months of therapy with her. Now, not only was I even more exhausted than before, but I was extremely annoyed and tormented by the fact that the thoughts weren't going away. I mean, it had been three months! I explained to her that something just wasn't normal. It wasn't a normal fight between a couple because otherwise I would have forgiven him by now and moved on with the relationship. Something was very wrong with my head, but it was beginning to seem normal—it was becoming a part of me. Over the next month, we discussed my thoughts, emotions, and actions at great length, and Liz dug into and questioned every single inch of the situation. We went through my childhood, my teen years, my feelings towards men, my parents, my friends, and myself. Each time I left the office, I felt a glimmer of hope for a little bit, until the rumination train would inevitably come by and pick me up again. 

Somehow, however, I was managing. Managing to hold a hectic part-time job as a server at a sports bar; managing to complete my fifth and final year of university; managing a relationship with my very upset, guilt-ridden and heartbroken other half. The managing was all fine and dandy until about mid-December. I remember one day the thoughts were coming on particularly strong. I had just come in from shoveling the driveway and I had to get ready to go to work. I was standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth, still ruminating, and as I looked at myself in the mirror, I very vividly remember thinking I just don't care anymore. And when I said this to myself, my brain took it with the utmost gravity. In that moment, I lost all emotion. 

Like the flick of a switch, I totally sunk into the depression that had been creeping up on me for months and completely detached from myself. I couldn't feel love or happiness. All gone. I would think of things that had happened to me in the past and wondered if the memories really belonged to me. Time felt warped. I was tired all the time. I was terrified. I broke down to my parents and told them I had been depressed, anxious, and in therapy for months. I also mentioned that I didn't think I could buy Christmas presents for anyone that year because I literally couldn't think of what to get people. Like, imagine every thought and emotion you have hitting a wall before it can be fully processed and realized. My brain was playing dead. 

When I went to see Liz in January of 2017, I explained what had happened over the Christmas break. She was as wonderful as ever and sympathized immediately. Because I was so distressed, she made a point of telling me exactly what she thought was going on. She told me that because I had stressed my brain out so much with the thoughts and trying to get past them, my brain was basically resting in a state of "hypoarousal" and that I had become depressed because of it. And the whole detached feeling? That had a name, too! It was called "depersonalization/derealization"! All these actual terms and disorders! I wasn't nuts or hopeless. I was mentally ill. 

Now, because Liz was still only a student and members of the organization were not technically ever allowed to diagnose any major disorder or mental illness or prescribe medication to a client, I was once again left in a difficult situation. Should I take antidepressants? Should I take a break from the guy I love? Should we consider counseling? She was not allowed to recommend that I did any specific thing, only that I thought things through fully and carefully... which was difficult considering my cognitive processes were on hiatus at that point. 

I started taking anti-depressants on January 10th, 2017 (and am currently weening myself off of them). I didn't know what they would do for me, or if they would do anything at all. Well, they pretty much immediately stopped my crying fits—which was actually really nice. Other than that, I had read somewhere that they took around three months to really start doing their job, so I wasn't going to hold my breath. Besides, I didn't understand how a pill would help in my never-ending search for answers about what my boyfriend had said in his Facebook messages to his friends years prior.

And then, to my amazement, things slowly—very slowly—started coming back together. I could look at my boyfriend and friends and family and feel some emotion. I could actually focus on what my professors were saying in class instead of chasing the thoughts around and having a panic attack. The thoughts were still there and I discussed them with Liz and my boyfriend on a regular basis, but I wasn't taking it as seriously anymore. I was finally calming down. 

Throughout this whole journey, there have been so many specific dates that I can remember as being significant. The day I figured out that I had been suffering with OCD is not one of those dates. I remember it was about the beginning of March and I had gone into Liz's office for another session. We got to talking about the usual stuff and I remember blurting out, "If I didn't know any better I'd think that this was all just OCD." 

Liz smiled and asked, "Well, what makes you think it isn't?" There was silence and slight surprise on my end. I went on to explain that OCD just seemed like people needing to wash their hands a lot and be neat, and it didn't necessarily seem like something very debilitating... not like what I had been through. Wrong. Wrong on many levels.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can manifest itself in both external and internal compulsions. Mine just happened to be completely internal. We all hear about the obsessive hand washing, cleaning, organizing, and touching. We don't, however, hear much about the obsessive mental rituals, the endless thought chasing, and the mental anguish that is intrinsic to the disorder altogether. It is an illness that seeks to bully and torture you, only for you to feel as if you are its creator and hostage at the same time. It is the epitome of a horrible time. It's not quirky or funny. It stole my soul for a little while and I was none the wiser. Here I thought I was just really, really, really mad at my boyfriend! 

Liz knew that it was OCD from that first day I saw her back in October, 2016. Little did I know that every single strategy she taught me from that point forward was to try and help me from acting on my compulsions. She wasn't legally allowed to diagnose me, but she did covertly try to treat the disorder. I am so glad she never told me outright what was going on exactly. I came to the conclusion all by myself and learned more than I could have ever imagined about mental illness and my own power. From that day forward I slowly started getting my groove back.

I am not the same person I was before August 2016. I don't know if I will ever get back to being that person. That's scary. That's exciting. I still struggle every day, to a certain degree. I deal with OCD and I have been since I was about five, as I later realized. It was only triggered when I was 21. My brain is still healing. I've learned a lot in the past two years. I've learned that I'm extremely lucky. I've learned that my family is wonderful. I've learned that this stuff happens to perfectly normal people. I've learned that that's okay. I've learned that therapy is amazing. I've learned that I love Adam with my whole heart. I've learned that he loves me with all of his, too. I've learned that I'm seriously fucking strong. 

What My (and Many Others) OCD Looked Like...

If you notice yourself dealing with this pattern, physically or mentally, on a regular basis and it is distressing to you, you may have OCD. It is okay to speak with someone about this, and it could change your life and help you heal!

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