Some of my earliest memories are of obsessions and compulsions. They started out fairly benign – anxious feelings which I soothed by rearranging my teddy bears in order of height. In kindergarten, I started picking at the skin around my cuticles, and would pick the skin on my knuckles, leaving bloody patches. In elementary school, I would have to have all of my possessions lined up in a particular way. Even if they were already straight, I would touch them to straighten them again to ease the anxiety which plagued me. If anyone touched my things, it felt like a weight was hitting me in the middle of my chest. Around this time, I heard that when you are stressed out, taking a moment to count to ten would ease your anxiety. Little did I know that this helpful hint would become such a dark and controlling element in my life. I began to count whenever I had “bad thoughts” about harm coming to myself or my family.
By my third year of university, my obsessions and compulsions were consuming more and more of my time. Every note that I took would have to be perfect. If the title wasn’t perfectly centered, I would throw out the page and start again. I would write and re-write titles over and over again for hours at a time, wasting valuable study time (not to mention precious trees). I couldn’t not do it, or my anxiety would grow. My grades were suffering, which was increasing my anxiety and therefore my OCD symptoms. I had to drop most of my courses and do another year of university. By reducing my course load and taking a summer off, my symptoms began to ebb, remaining at a manageable level.
I graduated from university, got my first professional job, and after a few years I moved on to another job. This second job turned out to be a nightmare. My boss was highly critical of everyone’s work and expected us to do unpaid overtime. My stress levels shot through the roof, and my OCD symptoms came crashing back in. I became so afraid that I was going to hurt someone and would waste time triple checking my work. This shifted to a fear that I was going to intentionally hurt someone by stabbing them. As a peaceful, yoga loving, vegan hippy, I found these thoughts terrifying. I would count to ten to make them go away, only to have them return moments later. The thoughts got darker and darker, and I began to have visual intrusions. I would visualise myself stabbing my husband in gruesome detail. I became suicidal, afraid that I would hurt the people whom I love the most. It was then that I finally reached out for help, and I am so glad that I did. After suffering for over 20 years, I was diagnosed with OCD and it changed my life.
I started CBT and ERP, I got on medication, and I started going to OCD Canada’s support group. I finally understood what was going on with me, and I knew that help was out there. Unfortunately, one month after reaching out for help, I was laid off from my job. All of the obsessions and compulsions had effected my work, and they let me go. I was afraid that I would become a shut in, as I was finding it very difficult to leave my house (I was afraid of leaving my stove on and burning down the building, and I was afraid of driving in case I hit a pedestrian). Luckily I had met other people who had had severe OCD at the support group, and they gave me hope. I pushed forward.
Fast forward six months, and I have lots of new coping skills, new friends whom I lean on for support at our group, and a new job. I’m functioning, which is better than I can say for six months ago. I hope that I will continue to improve. I’ve signed up to go to school to become a part time yoga teacher. I want to help others who suffer from anxiety through yoga classes.
I will leave you with a list of things which have helped me, in case you are suffering and don’t know where to start:
Tier 1 – CBT and ERP, medication, OCD Canada’s support group, my friend from the support group
Tier 2 – yoga, healthy eating, running, meditation, Mark Freeman’s YouTube videos, relaxation music, Brain Lock by Jeffrey M. Schwartz