Saturday, July 24, 2010

My New Source of Inspiration

I was hoping to gain insight, information, and inspiration from the International OCD Foundation's annual conference, and I think I certainly did just that.  However, the most inspiration probably came from a source that was altogether unexpected:  a newly found friend, an ally, a companion in the fight against OCD.

I will leave her unnamed for the sake of her anonymity as well as my own, but let's just say she seems like my OCD soulmate.  What a terrible and at the same time wonderful thing to share!  Terrible in that we both have suffered at the hands of this disorder, but wonderful in that we have each found someone who seems to intuitively understand the daily struggles of our common fears.  Never before have I felt that I could relate so completely to someone else with OCD.  I am sure that I would also have a strong connection with many of you whose blogs I read here, but this was the first time I had spoken, in person, with someone whose contamination fears seemed to manifest themselves in a way that was so similar to my own.  That bond, that chance to finally share freely, in immediate conversation, much that has happened in my life over the last year, was amazing.  So often I feel that with my "normal" friends I have to hide and ignore what has happened in my life over the last year.  It is hard for me to really be myself around them sometimes when I feel that I must constantly pretend that nothing has happened, that everything has been fine other than the normal struggles of daily life.  How am I supposed to pretend that nothing devastating has happened, that I am the exact same person I was before all this happened?  People want the "normal" me back, but the "normal" me now includes this story, this additional chapter that I can't just ignore. 

A lot has happened over the last year.  I got really bad, really fast, but with time and work I have improved to the point where I can often hide my symptoms even if they are still ever-present and on my mind.  I can pretend that nothing unusual happened.  That I didn't essentially lose my job.  That I didn't go on disability.  That I didn't go days on end without showering because I was so fearful of getting stuck.  That I didn't sometimes wash my hands for over an hour at a time.  That I didn't lose 15 pounds because it was so hard to feel clean enough to eat.  That, in general, my life didn't become this world where almost anything could become off-limits

That's a lot to hide.  It's a lot to ignore.  And sometimes it's hard to hang out with "normal" people who know nothing of this.  And of those who do know, I'd really rather not talk about all this because their reactions are those of individuals who care but who don't really understand the disorder and how it feels.  They are the ones who still look at me disapprovingly when I give in and wash when I am around them.  They are the ones who try to be understanding and supportive, but whose "tough love" and strange looks only serve to increase my anxiety.  They mean well, but what I really need is unconditional support.  Positive encouragement to fight back rather than stern comments and bothered looks when I do give in. 

Granted, I may not have given them a fair chance.  I haven't fully opened up to them to tell them more about my experience and the way their reactions serve to sometimes lessen, but more often heighten, my anxiety.  But it is difficult to share this experience when it seems like a certain level of judgment, either real or perhaps just perceived, comes with any explanation of the bizarre and admittedly outlandish trains of thought that lead to my compulsive behavior.

That's what is so nice having the chance to talk at length with someone whose experience has been very similar to my own - instead of a roll of the eyes or a look that says, "Really?  Are you really thinking about that right now?  Are you really bothered by this?" I get a nod of understanding, a "Yes, I know exactly what that's like, and it's terrible!  But you are brave, and you can fight back!"   It's a chance for me to finally tell my story.  It's a chance for me to share what has happened in my life.  And it's a chance for me to hear how someone else has been through and continues to struggle with similar things.  It's a sort of bond that I feel can only really be shared with another sufferer.  Someone who knows what it's like to recognize that their fears are irrational and yet, at the same time, still be terrified.  Someone who knows that awful feeling that can crash over you in an instant wave of dread as you realize something has happened and the only way to fix it seems to be hours of complicated rituals.  Someone who has been through just that and gets it.

I have found all that and more in this person I met at the conference, and I am so grateful for our chance meeting!  I hope that others with OCD have found similar confidantes, someone to support them unconditionally in their battle, whether that person be another sufferer, a support group, a friend, a family member, or someone out here in the world of online communication.  I am indeed very grateful for the all support I have also received here from readers and other bloggers and am always glad to provide support and encouragement to them, as well, when and if I can!  Having the opportunity to share parts of my story both with this person I met at the conference and here online has been a very therapeutic experience, and learning about others' struggles and victories is an inspiring motivator.  Thank you to my newfound confidante and thank you to all those who share your own stories and support here online!  You help me stay positive and move forward in the fight against OCD!

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