I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Contamination OCD.
It has taken me many years to write those words without feeling crippling shame or performing a humorous apology. I have embraced the fear and vulnerability and I have found strength and power.
Today I feel healthy: managing my thoughts and doing the work to succeed in recovery.
Trauma and grief, I believe, are the cause of this dance with OCD. I have not had any more or any less of these two emotions or experiences than the next person. I have experienced things in my life however that caused me pain and I did not know where to put the hurt. OCD became my friend and my enemy. My protector and my abuser.
My OCD was born with the sudden death of my beloved mother.
It was fed and nurtured by a stint in a U.S jail and a horrific deportation experience, reckless drunken behaviour, leading to regret, guilt, doubt, shame and the need for there to be consequences. My OCD, in part, caused the shocking breakdown of my marriage and took nourishment from it.
Throughout the succession of these traumas, I crafted a series of obsessive compulsions to protect myself. The trouble is they are not protecting me.
When locked in the jaws of my OCD it feels as if there is a monster living in my mind. I can fall into periods where I am overwhelmed and stuck.
Stress and change can trigger my OCD. I can find myself experiencing days where I spend hours either running things through in my mind to ensure I was and am safe. If I am not embroiled in this remuneration of recounting a past thought or moment, I am watching out for new ones or creating them in my mind. Stuck in the past and the future, desperately striving to stay for just a little while in the present.
When in the grip of my OCD some of the things which frighten me are: homeless people, drunks, drug addicts, blood, bodily fluids, excrement, doubt, men, my thoughts, guilt, pavements, park benches, grass, taxi drivers, strangers, uncertainty, irresponsible behaviour, alcohol, the dark, guilt, toilets, transport, needles, being alone, the night, myself…
I fear these people, things and feelings, as my OCD has taught me that these are avenues which can lead to the possibility of coming into contact with contamination. I find the prejudice and judgement of my OCD confronting and shameful and the most troubling element to make peace with. I trust you receive this honesty as not a reflection of my core values or truths but as a choice to tell the brutal reality of OCD.
I have found healing and know how freeing recovery can feel.
Even when in the depths of the clutches of OCD, I conduct a ‘normal’ and brave life. I am strong and resilient.
But I do know how to present myself to the world and I know how to keep the gravity of my struggle deeply hidden. Hidden from even those who are very close to me.
This is something I am gently trying to change.
Mental illness is relentless and we get to create and cultivate our very own personal manifestation. It gets its claws in your brain patterns and grows and expands and suffocates. The mind is so clever that it leans on these learnt patterns and somehow they become intrinsic to your behaviours.
I am now in the process of doing all I can to unlearn these behaviours and heal. I have deeply explored cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure response prevention, as treatments, and continue to do so.
I refuse to feel the shame so tightly any more.
I refuse to perpetuate the stigma of mental health.
I refuse to feel less of a woman.
I refuse to see my OCD as a weakness.
And in part – I surrender and I say ‘thank you’. OCD has enabled me to know myself, to do the work, to see the world with more empathy and humanity. It has encouraged me to look deep inside and to see the ugly truth.
The beautiful thing is, that the darkness only makes the light brighter.
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Last updated: 20 April 2017