Saturday, June 26, 2010

Doubt and more doubt: Is this anxiety? Do I really have OCD?


There are often those moments where I have a choice - to do what's comfortable and reassuring or to do what I know needs to be done to get better. I feel dirty, but then, that's emotional reasoning. I know better than to obey based on that feeling alone.

Nevertheless, I can feel myself being drawn towards the wrong decision, the decision to give in and do the thing that will make me feel safe, comfortable, and refreshingly clean. I also feel bad for being so easily lured into the OCD trap, especially when it seems like I don't experience that much anxiety and because I have the ability to sit here and calmly analyze my options. If I am this calm and rational, why am I still leaning towards making the non-therapeutic decision?

In fact, this is something I have had difficulty with since my relapse close to a year ago now. I have had different "types" of OCD throughout out my life and a myriad of different compulsions designed to alleviate the discomfort of each version that has popped up. This time it was contamination, and the OCD swept in swiftly and stealthily. It seemed almost overnight that the world suddenly became a place coated in chemicals (and later germs) fraught with danger and a responsibility to contain and minimize the risk. I couldn't function.

Looking back to when I was at my worst, I can now see that the anxiety was pretty severe, but at the time I had a hard time rating my anxiety level or determining whether I even felt anxious at all in the moment. Often I knew what I should probably do, but for some reason I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The only concept of anxiety I had (and often still have) was a feeling of reluctance or a need to do something to resolve the situation. I still dislike being asked to "rate my anxiety level" during an exposure, because it just leads me down a path of confusion, searching for an emotion that I would like to identify but can't. Clear signs of anxiety would almost be a relief. I would feel justified in my failures and in seeking help if I could just point to tangible physical symptoms of fear. Instead, I look for that feeling, fail to find it, and begin to wonder what's wrong with me. Why I can't get myself to do this? Do I really deserve help if I'm not shaking with fear or sobbing? Other people seem to suffer so much both outwardly and internally yet, even then, they make the decision to do those things they know will be best for them in the long run.

This supposed "inability to feel anxiety" makes me feel like a terrible fraud sometimes. I feel like I am choosing to have OCD, that for some very unknown reason, I am making up my symptoms. I mean, I have lost quite a bit to the disorder this past year in many different areas of my life. It is beyond me why I would ever want to lose these things by faking a disorder. In fact, it is very against my nature to let things get this bad. In the past, when undergoing intermittent bouts of OCD flare ups, I somehow managed to hold it together enough so that when I did recover, I could continue on with my life as if nothing had happened. This is the first time that I really let things just fall apart and come crashing down around me. I just felt like I could no longer maintain the facade that everything was alright. I just couldn't keep up. But even then, as soon as I tried to determine how anxious I was, it became impossible to know. It's as if I wanted so badly to feel anxiety, to have a solid excuse for falling apart, that OCD wouldn't let me have that either. I couldn't recognize my own anxiety when I was experiencing it. I was hunting desperately for the forest without realizing I was already deep in the midst of it.

I think I am just now learning to recognize when I am anxious, and then acknowledge and accept it. So much of the time I am just so caught up in thought. If I am reluctant to do something, I try to understand why I am reluctant and when the the logical me can't find a good reason, when I feel like I should be able to do this or that non-compulsively, I start to berate myself for not being able to stop. It almost seems automatic. I begin to feel like I am just being intentionally stubborn and difficult, and that if someone would just yell at me enough and in the right way, I would realize that I am making it all up. I would drop the act, and shape up. I guess it comes down to my struggle with seeing this all as a character flaw that needs to be beaten out of me, rather than a mental disorder for which I need and deserve treatment.

What has recently been very helpful for me is slowing down, recognizing that, as illogical as it may seem, even to myself, I am actually reluctant to do various exposures. Acknowledging and accepting this, I think, is helpful for me because it frees me up to encourage myself to keep going anyway, instead of beating myself up. Even if for some unknown, unfathomable reason, I am making it all up and doing exposures reveals that I'm actually a fake, I have to do my exposures anyway and take that chance of finding that out if I really want to get better. It's really no different than when people who have harm obsessions take the risk of finding out that they are murderers by putting themselves in situations that make them feel like they could cause others harm. By doing the exposures designed to combat my contamination issues, I am also putting myself in the position to doubt whether or not I really have OCD if I can successfully do my exposure homework. I just have to remind myself that whether it makes any logical sense or not, or whether it proves that I am a fraud or not, I need to do the work now and figure out what's what later. If I am really a lazy, defective, dirty person, so be it. If I am a fraud, so be it. I can deal with that when and if it turns out to be true. But right now I am wasting my life away continually trying to prove to myself that I am neither!

5 comments:

  1. Hi, I found your blog via The OCD Chronicles.

    I am currently in the middle of a debate with myself about whether I have OCD or not. I do have several symptoms, but I don't have the terrible anxieties that "real" sufferers have. I am on the verge of calling the doctor, but because of the lack of anxiety, amongst other things, I feel like a fraud, like you do. I feel I'd be wasting the doctor's time, like someone else with a real illness should have my appointment slot. I think that the lack of anxiety, plus the other things, would stop the doctor from believing me.

    It's as if I want to have OCD. That probably sounds terrible to a real sufferer - why would anyone want to have it? But it's because it would explain an awful lot, and I'd be able to get help to become more normal. And if it isn't OCD, then what is it? Am I just weird?

    I'm in a vicious circle: the more I think I have it, the more I think I don't. I'm obsessing over it, and it's ticking me off.

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  2. pandammonium - Did you read my mind?! I know I wrote about the feelings you express here in my blog entry, but reading what you wrote captures many of the fears that I have expressed to my therapist (an OCD specialist)almost better than I can capture them for myself!

    Even if you didn't any other symptoms, the doubt you express here and the fear that you don't have OCD is probably a symptom of the disorder in and of itself. I, too, felt and sometimes still feel, that I'd be wasting a therapist's time to seek treatment.

    I'm certainly not an expert (I just have a lot of experience with these kinds of thoughts), but I I were you, I think I would give myself the benefit of the doubt and go ahead and speak to your doctor about your OCD symptoms, in addition to your fear that you don't have OCD in the first place!

    However, if you do seek help, I would suggest contacting a therapist or psychiatrist who has definite experience in treating OCD, because there are a lot of doctors and therapists out there who are probably less familiar with the signs and symptoms of OCD than you are and who don't necessarily know how to treat it. If you are already doubting your own condition, and you do have OCD, the doubt of a professional inexperienced in working with OCD might not help the problem and maybe even exacerbate it. But this is only my opinion which is influenced by my own poor experiences with mental health professionals who knew little about OCD or how to recognize the symptoms.

    Also, don't feel bad about this idea that maybe you even "want to have OCD." This is a thought that I have often had to contend with, and as a sufferer, if I can even say that I really am one ;), I do not think that it's terrible at all. Rather, I am relieved to hear that others have such thoughts! Like you say, for me, believing that I have OCD is almost desirable because being able to identify the cause of so many things in my life, to be able to explain them through the diagnosis of OCD, would be a relief. It would mean that there is a way I can work on certain problems I have and solve them.

    Let me put in this way as my therapist has put it to me: even if you don't have OCD, don't you think someone who thinks they have OCD or wants to believe they have OCD probably needs and deserves help just as much as someone who does have the disorder?

    What's the worst that can happen? You probably have OCD. If not, well, then you can find ways to deal with the problems that are bothering you, whether or not they are "really OCD," through the help of a doctor or therapist, as well. Either way, if something in your life doesn't seem to be working, even if you don't "think" that it causes you anxiety, you probably owe it to yourself to get it checked out!

    But I'm willing to bet that you do have OCD :). You sound too much like me not to...

    You might also find this article interesting:

    http://www.ocdla.com/blog/ocd-stockholm-syndrome-784

    Feel free to email me, if you ever want to talk about this more - ocdreflections@gmail.com. The doubt about whether you even have OCD is a really hard one to deal with, and I am always relieved (as unfortunate as it is) to hear that others carry the same doubt with them.

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  3. Hi Fellow OCD Sufferer,

    Your reply was very helpful, as was the link you provided. I have wondered who I'd be if I didn't have all these "foibles".

    I did go to the doctor in August and finally saw a therapist for assessment yesterday (the NHS is great, but it's slow). You win your bet! She said I do have OCD, and now I'm waiting to see a therapist for CBT. It should start in January.

    It's good to know someone who knows about OCD thinks I have it. But you know what? There's still a niggling doubt in the back of my mind!

    Thanks for your email address. I might just use it! I have started a new blog at caityworld.com, if you're interested, where I'm (belatedly) telling my story.

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  4. The funny thing about OCD is that this thoughts are actually part of it. Wanting to make sure you have an illness IS actually this illness. What you should realize is that it doesn't really matter whether you have OCD or not. You should only realise that you are struggling and you want it to change. Next step: how? Meditation, regular excersise, social contacts. The last one being the most important one of them all. Social contacts will make everything brighter and better. Doesn't matter what you are talking about. As long as you try to keep your attention at the conversation and the people around you.

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  5. Hey I can relate to this. But don't worry, you'll feel the anxiety eventually lol and then you'll wish you could go back as quickly as possible to just the urge.

    When I am doing good, i indulge in compulsions because they are a habit. It's like riding a bike or driving a car, you don't have to think to do it you just do it. Suddenly trying to stop yourself from a habit, it doesn't bring anxiety but it will bring this sense of tension and you want to break the tension.

    Then I finally have anxiety again and then i go bkc to saying "please God i will never take being ok for granted again, i won't do compulsions if i can feel normal."

    That was last year. What I have done, which is strange but works for me, is when I expose myself to a fear or deny myself a compulsion, I do so with love. I make room for the anxiety, i make room for the urge and i love it. It's there to protect me but it's out of whack. Without anxiety we would step into oncoming trafficand not fear death. Anxiety is helpful but when we have a disorder like this it gets overblown.

    Guilt for not having anxiety is funny from the outside looking in but i can relate. I am thankful for my OCD though because it has made me understand the very universe itself. Sounds crazy but i found spirituality and Buddhism because of my OCD, and i can transfer anxiety into excitement, denial into triumph, and hard times into life lessons.

    I can think deeply about things and I would never want that gone. I just have to be wise about what I think deeply about. I went from self centered to outside centered, realizing it was my mission in life to help others and use deep seated ability for empathy and care and concern for good.

    It's strange. It's hard to put into words but the more fear I am capable of feeling the more love I am capable of feeling. The more pain I';m capable of feeling the more relief I'm capable of feeling. At first, my OCD was like an addiction. I'd feel anxious and then the anxiety would go away and I'd become addicted ot the feeling of "beating it." My biggest highs would come after my lowest lows. Now I don't chase those highs or lows but if lows happen I know highs will come soon. Though being comfortable is just fine too.

    I don't want to say i'm in remission because my theraplist said that's like false hope, but I welcome OCD in my life and listen to my body and made peace with it. IF people can live happy with handicaps I can live happy wiht the occasional weird thought.

    Try to channel that obsessive personality into the happy chemicals. Seretonin, we get a serotin kick when are good at something, when we are respected, when we have enough food to eat and a roof over our head and are greatfull. Endorphins. We get endorphin kicks when we challenge ourselves and push past pain into euphoria. Such as in excercise or a tough challenge that we know deep down we can accomplish. Dopamine, the checmical we get when we create goals (even small ones) stick to them, and make achievements. And most importantly. Oxytocin, the feeling we get from bonding, being with freinds, family, lovers, when we have orgasms (you don't need others to have those lol) These checmicals are like guides telling us what it means to be human. Telling us what we need to achieve in life. Our fears worries and troubles tell us what we are doing wrong, that we are on the wrong path, that we are hurting ourselves so STOP!

    I hope I'm making some sort of sense to you. Keep at it. Research your happy chemicals and then do what needs to be done to get those rewards, they will push you outside yourself, outside your body, outside your head and into the realms of flow and love and contentment.

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