Last year was what felt like a breaking point in my life. I began to have uncomfortable, harm-themed thoughts. I felt immoral. I felt that I was bad. This sent me into a spiral of panic and feeling out of control. I was confused and unsure about what was going on. I had never experienced anything like this, not this intense.
I wanted to know ‘why’
So many thoughts were swirling around in my brain. I wanted answers, no I needed answers. How could I get rid of these thoughts that were causing me so much pain? As I struggled with these thoughts I did what I thought was necessary, at the time. I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. I thought that I could get the answers here. Initially, I went to the emergency room and told them that I didn’t feel safe going home. I didn’t feel trustworthy. I had been seeing a therapist for general anxiety around that same time but still hadn’t been diagnosed with OCD.
As a married father of three boys, I was no longer feeling safe at home. The idea of being away from my life and ‘safe’ in a facility brought me some comfort at the time. I was anxious about being away from the people that I loved but I just didn’t feel safe. Looking back I can see that I was avoiding them because of the intrusive thoughts and feelings. While in the hospital I was misdiagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). At that time I was not diagnosed with OCD. I hadn’t heard about OCD and didn’t really know what was happening to me.
The hospital experience was pretty awful if I am being honest. It wasn’t what I expected. I ended up being misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much one-on-one time with me to really delve into what I was experiencing. I felt like I was just getting medications and not therapy, and I wasn’t feeling much different.
As I began to look back on my life I started to see patterns where I likely experienced symptoms of OCD much earlier. Throughout my childhood, I could see religious worries and themes. I remember being in high school and trying to make decisions about my future. I was worried about the direction of my life. I didn’t yet know what career I wanted to do and I began ruminating heavily around this time.
I was always thinking about eternity and death. I magnified what I thought were sins and catastrophized everything. This is where it all started. I don’t think it was anywhere near as severe as this recent episode, but there were early warning signs.
Not long after these fears surfaced a new one would take hold. I was always afraid of death and so it makes sense that health-themed OCD would have an impact on me. If I had a stomach ache then I would become convinced that it was cancer. I worried about my heart, I was seeing heart specialists at the age of 18 years old. I was constantly checking to see if something was wrong.
I would seek reassurance from pastors, but there was never a ‘certain’ answer. At least, it was never ‘enough.’ I would feel better for a bit, only to have the anxiety creep back in. I began to notice that these symptoms emerged more under times of change and stress. If my life was in a state of transition I would ruminate and become hyper-focused on certain things. I just didn’t know it had a name or that it was a disorder back then.
Finding out that I had OCD
It wasn’t until a friend reached out to me and mentioned that they had struggled with similar issues and had been diagnosed with OCD. This friend’s words were life-altering for me in a positive way. These words of wisdom and kindness helped guide my OCD journey.
I made the first call to NOCD. That is where my friend received treatment from. I was so scared initially. I had such low self-confidence and didn’t trust myself during this time in my life. Even after receiving the accurate OCD diagnosis, I still was dealing with intense shame, and doubt and was uncomfortable with the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing. But at least now this ‘thing’ had a name. I was 35 years old when I received the diagnosis of OCD.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) was difficult especially in the early days of experiencing this. Slowly but surely I began to see results. As I began to live my life again more fully and to start the recovery process I started to reflect on things. I recalled that around the age of 17, I had indeed experienced something similar to this. The difference was at that time it was short-lived and didn’t stick around long. It would creep in when I was under intense stress or when a life change was about to happen. I think OCD was there back then, it was just easier to move on, to get ‘unstuck’.
Throughout ERP I had to learn that I was engaging in reassurance-seeking and that this was a compulsion. I was seeking it constantly from friends, family, and loved ones. I also was struggling with rumination. This was a difficult thing to break. I felt as if I was in a constant state of rumination. I was feeling so debilitated when I first entered treatment. Those initial stages seemed so hard. At this point, my life had become consumed and every area was being impacted in some way. I was struggling to get out of bed, my work was being negatively impacted. I just wanted to isolate myself and avoid things.
My NOCD therapist, Jamie, worked with me through some very dark times in my life. She was great. I wanted to give up on treatment but she kept supporting and encouraging me. I thought it was too hard and she kept propelling me to push on with it. I am so grateful that I did.
ERP no longer seems as daunting to me. It became easier with time, practice, and commitment. Initially, we worked on imaginal scripts. I will admit that at first, I thought this was a silly exercise. These exercises helped far more than I would have ever expected. When used properly they can break the cycle of OCD. I learned how to talk back to OCD. I stopped avoiding things. I began to be okay with being alone again with my family members.
I had been afraid of even going to work. I thought things like ‘what if everyone at work thinks I am normal when really I am a psycho’ because I had these thoughts. The suicidal thoughts were hard as well. I never wanted to harm myself or die, but the thoughts made me question everything about myself. Through treatment, I learned how to take back my life. I had to take the wheel from OCD and push it in the backseat. I was the driver of my own car.
The more I practiced ERP, the more I was able to resist the urge to engage in obsessions and perform compulsions. I was no longer as distressed when the OCD did pop up. In sessions with my therapist, we would practice starting and stopping ruminating. This really helped me to see that this was something I could learn to stop doing. It was an action. My anxiety would eventually level out and it no longer seemed like a constant uphill climb. It became easier with time and with practice. Before I felt like I could never stop but the little steps began to add up and before I knew it, they had become big accomplishments.
For the longest time, I thought that OCD was this ‘big and bad’ thing that couldn’t be stopped. But now I know how to break the cycles and fight back. I have a lot of support and I am thankful for that. My wife has been my rock, she is incredibly understanding and she refuses to give me reassurance now. She has become an active part of y treatment which has helped me so much. I have God. I have Christian friends who help me along the way. My circle of people has been so understanding and non-judgemental about mental illness and my having been hospitalized. Today I just want to do my best to help others and to provide hope.