Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recovery, Anxiety, and Learning to Live a More "Normal" Life

A lot has happened for me this week - a lot of change and growing momentum pushing me forward into recovery.  And of course there is a fair share of anxiety to go along with this process, and that anxiety doesn't arise solely from cutting back on the rituals that brought me comfort, either.  There is also secondary anxiety created by the time that suddenly seems to be laid out in front of me - time that was previously occupied by compulsions is slowly be re-released for other potential uses.  

I am not used to feeling like I have excess time. 

Even without a real job, OCD can be a full-time occupation.  Fighting OCD (or giving in to its demands) has literally been my all-day everyday job for many months now.  Just the necessities of daily life took up my time for almost a year.  If I had free time, there was always something else I could be doing, there was always another load of laundry, trash to take out, general cleaning to do.  Just keeping up with these tasks while dealing with the compulsions they triggered swallowed up most of my time.  And when I had done as much of that as I could for the day, there didn't seem like much else I could do - much of the world and its potential activities were off-limits for one reason or another due to OCD.  There were possibilities but none of them were open to me.  I was trapped.  I didn't feel the need to occupy my time with anything else, because in my mind, there was nothing else that I could realistically pursue!  It was the waiting game, waiting for the day when the boundaries would melt away.  Except, I rarely felt like I was waiting because, like I said, just doing the little things - cleaning and caring for myself - filled my day.  But just this week things seem to have already become a bit more normal.  I seem to have somehow caught up with life for a moment, and that is both interesting and frightening.

The other day a friend of mine came over and asked a question that bewildered me:  "What do you do with all your time?"  While I am sure I had been asked this before, it caught my attention this time.  I had never really thought about "what I did with all my time" because there never seemed to be a lack of things that needed to be done.  OCD thoughts were always there pestering me to do or not do this or that.  OCD accounted for my time by making everything take longer.  It still does to a certain extent, but I feel as though I am starting to see an opening, and I, too, begin to wonder - what do I do with my time?  How did I fill it before - even just a week ago?  I suspect that I was spending much of that time engaged in rituals - figuring out how to do things that needed to be done and mentally retracing things I had completed to make sure I had done them "right."  And a lot of time was also spent in avoidance and procrastination, as well.  A job seemed out of the question.  I could hardly keep up with life as it was.

So what's finally made things begin to change?  I think the gradual improvement I have seen over the last several months got me really close to this point and now recent modifications in my treatment have gently nudged me over the edge, accelerating my progress.

First, there was the realization that no matter how hard I tried, there was always going to be a "missing piece" to the answer, the elusive key to jump-starting my recovery.  No matter how much time I had with my therapist, no matter how many books and websites I read, no matter how much I wrote about my experiences here in an attempt to straighten myself out and push myself forward, I was eventually just going to have to start trusting my therapist and doing what he suggested.  I would have to stop waiting for everything to seem "okay" before doing it.  And I would have do my exposure homework more reliably and without fighting it every step of the way.  I am finally starting to feel like I have a firm grip on the wagon, a grip that will help keep me on board and fall off less frequently.

Second, recognizing that I was probably at a point where additional therapy could be useful, my therapist and I devised a plan to meet more frequently.  Plus, my therapist has begun working additional hours on additional days of the week, which has allowed me to go in at more evenly spaced intervals throughout the week.  I never go more than a few days without therapy.  I finally feel amply supported.  If I feel my determination waning, I know that I will be seeing my therapist again soon.  There is less opportunity for giving up and reverting back to old habits in between sessions.

Finally, in just this past week, I started taking a very low dose of Seroquel, which has very tangibly done at least one thing:  allowed me to better regulate my sleep.  Ever since this bout of severe OCD began I have had a hard time falling asleep, which was a very strange experience for me, indeed, since I have spent most of the last decade of my life being perpetually sleep deprived by the demands of school and work (and, looking back, a lot of OCD, too!).  Not being able to fall asleep was a foreign concept to me since I spent most of my time trying, in vain, to keep myself awake.

I think this new difficulty sleeping has probably been in large part due to the high dose of Zoloft I have been taking.  Since starting to take this medication and consistently increasing the dosage, I have loved the fact that when I wake up in the morning, I actually feel awake, but that has come with the not so great side effect of also making it harder for me to get to sleep in the first place.  But now, within an hour of taking the Seroquel, I feel a sleepiness that I have rarely felt over the last several months.  And I now go to bed because I am actually tired and not because dawn is fast approaching and I feel like I should at least try to sleep.

Sleeping more regularly is helpful because the days and nights don't blur together.  I have more of a regular routine by which to structure my time and care for myself.  And being rested and taking care of myself helps me fight my OCD.

It's remarkable how I am just now relearning something so basic, so simple, as making time to meet my body's needs.  For years my sleep, hygiene, exercise, and nutrition have been the victims of my hectic schedule (and again, now that I know about it, a lot of OCD perfectionism, as well).  The idea of going to bed before absolute exhaustion, making time to eat and relax, and to just in general, have a routine, seems like such a luxury to me.  I am so used to pushing myself to my limits and burning the candle at both ends, that, as I recover and try to establish a more sustainable lifestyle, it is strange to experience things like going to bed at a regular hour and not having day and night blend together.

It is a foreign experience indeed.  But I am hoping that, as I learn to recognize and battle all the OCD habits that made regular life before my relapse a tiring race in and of itself, I can also learn to live a much more "normal" life.  Whatever that means :).

Anyways, I feel like I am embarking on a new phase of improvement, which I find intriguing but also frightening.  Learning how to live again, without the constant demands of OCD, is new and strange territory.  But with it comes the possibility of being freer than I have been in years, and perhaps freer than I have ever been in my life.  The prospects of what I might be able to do with OCD in check are exciting.  These possibilities keep me going when, in the meantime, this in-between place is somewhat strange and confusing.

I am certainly not out of the woods yet, but the way ahead is starting to become a bit clearer.


  1. Glad you're having success! That's always such a great feeling. :) And that's surprising that the Zoloft makes you more alert. It always made me sleepy. Huh.

  2. I am glad you are carving out some time that is your own! It can be disorienting when OCD doesn't take up all your time, and you wonder, "What now?" Remember that the OCD can't guide you on this one, as much as it will volunteer for the job!!! I know this from experience.



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