Saturday, August 7, 2010

OCD, Shame, and Guilt

There are times I occasionally realize that I have been carrying around a lot of shame and/or guilt about my OCD, but I often come to this realization not when I am actually feeling these feelings, but when I discover they are no longer there in a particular setting or situation.

Twice today I had that surprising experience.  The first was at the pharmacy.  I was there getting a new prescription filled (that is another long OCD-filled story) and I was advised to do a "consult" with one of the pharmacists on staff because I haven't taken this particular medication before.  During these kind of consults they usually just give me a quick run down on whatever my new drug is - potential side effects, what to do, what not to do, etc.  Well, today I actually had questions about my new addition, and it was as I was asking these questions that I realized I felt far more at peace than I usually do just being in the pharmacy and in particular when talking to the pharmacist.  The lack of concern I had for how others there might perceive me suddenly made me realize all the shame and guilt I had been carrying around each and every time I went in to get a prescription filled.

It was a strange and revealing moment - noticing my comfort in this situation made the contrast between my usual feelings and how I felt in that moment all the more obvious.  Normally, I realized, I felt like a fraud each time I walked into the pharmacy.  I thought, well, they must see my prescription and think, "What's wrong with her?  She looks normal enough.  Why is she taking such a high dosage of anti-depressants?  She doesn't look depressed at all..."  I felt like I didn't deserve to be taking medication, like no one would believe I really needed it because, inside, I didn't even really feel as if I really deserved it.  All this time, I realized that, even though I agreed to take these meds and even though I am now somewhat attached to them and fear what might happen if I stopped,  I still didn't feel like I really was supposed to have them.

My hands are no longer obviously red and raw.  I don't think I look tormented or act strange when I am in the pharmacy.  In general, unless I am really right in the middle of an OCD crisis, I am quite genial with the outside world.  And this makes me feel like no one must believe there is really anything wrong with me, that I am just another member of an over-medicated, over-diagnosed generation.  And in fact, I still have a hard time believing that there is anything wrong with me, at least not wrong enough to warrant medication, my frequency of therapy, and not working.  I often feel like I don't deserve any of these things, and that is what my relative peace while in the pharmacy today made me realize.  I am still often convinced that no one really believes I have a problem or need the treatment I am getting.  But today made clear that this is not really a reflection of others' actions and attitudes, but rather my own.  The more worried I am about what others might be thinking, the more likely I am to believe that their thoughts must be negative.

So for once today, as I stood there in line at the pharmacy, I didn't feel like I had to prove myself.  I didn't feel like they were looking at me doubtfully as they retrieved my drugs.  It was a strange moment, and I don't know why it happened, but it did.  And it made me aware of these feelings of shame and fraudulence that I hadn't previously realized were triggered in this setting.

My second moment of insight came later in the day when I was out with a friend for dinner.  I have known this friend for quite some time.  He knows about my OCD and saw me at my worst and hated it.  It broke his heart to see me like I was.  I am doing much better now, but still, whenever I hang out with him, I am often hesitant to talk about things related to OCD because I always feel like he tenses up, whether he brought up the subject or not.  I feel like I can see the disapproval in his posture, hear it in the way he talks, and sense it in the tone of his voice.  I am convinced he wants it gone from me.  Banished.  I feel like any small compulsive thing I do draws his negative attention and saddens him.  He doesn't want IT to be there anymore.

Tonight however, I was talking about the OCD conference with him and the various things I saw and did while in DC.  As I was telling him these stories, I noticed how comfortable I was.  Normally, OCD is my secret.  I keep it as hidden as possible and say as little as possible about it when he asks.  But tonight I was gregarious and open about my experience.  I told him how I had met another sufferer whose story was much like my own.   I told him how nice it was to finally talk to someone freely and openly about all that had happened, someone who understood from personal experience and could relate, someone who wasn't upset by my sometimes strange actions and way of doing things.  I told him about all sorts of things that I normally keep to myself.  Things that I hide and almost cherish as a secret part of myself because I don't want to be misunderstood.  Because I don't want everyone to know about my oddities anymore than they already do.  I am usually so afraid they will judge, that they will give me stern or disapproving looks, or that they will shake their heads in disappointment with me.  But tonight I shared freely, and in return, he was not any of those things I thought he would be.

And that's when I realized:  as much as he has displayed many of the reactions and emotions I have described above at various times in the past, he is not always so disconcerted by my thoughts and feelings about OCD.  Part of what has often made him seem so impatient, so not understanding of the disorder, is the fact that I, myself, was ashamed of it.  I assumed he would react in negative ways to what I thought or said in part because I felt he should:  I was ashamed of my behavior.  I was embarrassed by my condition.  And I felt guilty for not being better or for not being further along.  Or, if I did manage to go out and enjoy myself, I felt guilty for even being able to do that despite the fact that I was still supposedly suffering from pretty bad OCD.  My desire to keep it all hidden away and locked up, my shame, my guilt, made me think, once again,that others believed my OCD should be kept hidden, that my story was shameful, and that I was guilty for not doing better.  But something happened tonight which made me realize that this is not necessarily true.

Today it suddenly made sense that, though sometimes such negative emotions are portrayed by others, often it is not so much what they are actually doing or saying as it is what I think they are doing or saying.  It is more often what I think that ends up making me feel like I have something to hide, like I should feel shameful and guilty.

Maybe the pharmacists do think my case is strange.  Maybe my friend still hates hearing about my OCD and secretly believes that, if I just tried, I would be doing better. But today, I got a glimpse of another point of view - a point of view where not everyone is suspicious and condemning of my behavior.  A perspective from which not all is seen as a failure.  And you know what?  It was nice.  I was able to talk confidently with the pharmacist without feeling like she was secretly scrutinizing me, and I was able to openly tell my friend stories from the conference, stories he seemed to actually want to hear.  For once I felt like I deserved to walk into that pharmacy just as much as anyone else, and for once I wasn't afraid to share my thoughts about OCD with a close friend.

And, well, like I said - it was nice.

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