Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Fear of Overcoming My OCD

I have a fear of overcoming my OCD.

Like a shadow, OCD will probably always be following me,
changing in shape and size over time.  I can choose to
fight it, to attempt to chase away the discomfort it causes,
but it's not going anywhere.  There will probably always
be different OCD fears that come and go throughout my life,
and the less I fight those fears, those obsessions, the less
likely they are to bother me, including my "fear of
overcoming my OCD."  The less time I spend trying to make my
shadow go away, the less I will notice its presence.  Or,
conversely, the less time I spend making sure it is still
there, the less I will fear losing it.

Wait what?  No, that's right.  I'm actually afraid of losing my OCD sometimes.  And I feel bad about this because so many people would probably love to be rid of their OCD and would be quite content never to see it again.  What kind of person "chooses" to keep a mental disorder?  "Choosing" implies that I am voluntarily keeping OCD when I could easily be rid of it if I wanted to, which makes me feel, shall we say, ungrateful?  Guilty? Unappreciative of the un-encumbered mental state I could supposedly have if I just "decided" to stop keeping my OCD already? A mental state that most would probably love to have and that is within my reach and yet remains ignored?

The problem is, the fear of overcoming my OCD is slowly becoming the very focus of my disorder.  Exposure to this fear is simple - I just have to do my homework designed to address my other OCD issues and there you go - two birds with one stone.  I do my contamination exposures and voila! - I feel dirty and frighteningly non-OCD at the same time! 

OCD is like the abusive significant other.  I acknowledge that he is no good, that I really, really need to stop hanging out with him.  I am aware that he is making my life miserable and is in general, unhealthy for me, and yet, I'm afraid to leave him because he is what I know.  I've been with him almost my whole life, and this past year, he was my life.  OCD took precedence over all else.  So although I hate him, there is comfort in his presence.  I fear what I will become without him, yet I need to find out.  I will never know unless I take the necessary leap of faith to leave him behind.  If I find out that life without him isn't so great, well then I can come back to my crippling, but familiar friend.  But staying with him out of fear of finding out that there is nothing better, that there is no better way to live, is to give up without even trying.

But it's precisely that fear - the fear that life without OCD may be no better - that makes challenging my OCD difficult.  The knowledge that I don't want to live this way forever is both what motivates me and what holds me back.  On the one hand, there are many things that I would like to able to do that OCD currently won't allow.  I would like to be able to enjoy those things, to live my life freely without unnecessary restraints, and yet I am afraid of discovering that the OCD-free life I seek is no better than the one I am currently living.  And that, in and of itself, is frightening.  As unlikely as it seems that life without OCD could be worse, I am afraid that I will never really adjust, that I will be free but no happier.  I am afraid to discover that, to be what I want to be, this is the way I have to live - that I need my OCD.  And sure, right now, I sometimes think, "Why bother fighting?  This life isn't that bad.  Sure there are things I am missing out on, but I will be able to do them someday.  I'm just not ready to let go of my OCD quite yet."  So if I am happy like this, why would I be afraid of finding out that life without OCD is no better than the "happy" life I supposedly have now?

I think I am "happy" now, even with the restrictions OCD mandates, not because living this way is so great, but because there is hope of change, that I won't have to live this way forever,  that life can be better.  If I try life with minimal OCD and find out that it isn't better, or if, after freeing myself, I discover that life with OCD was the best I could do, then that hope that has kept me going despite the OCD is dashed.  I'm back to living life with OCD without the hope of something better to keep me going.

But using this logic is also kind of like repeatedly slamming my head into a brick wall, not liking it but continuing anyway, because I am afraid that, if I stop, I will find out that slamming my head into said brick wall is the best that life has to offer.  As much as I hate doing it, if I don't stop, then I won't have to risk losing the hope that life doesn't have to be that way.  But perhaps taking that risk is worth finding out if the the pain I am causing myself is unnecessary.  And if I take into account the fact that most other people don't do what I'm doing, that most people are saying, "Stop!  Hitting your head repeatedly against a wall (so to speak) isn't necessary!  It's doing damage to you and your life," chances are, the odds are in my favor.  If I also take into account the fact that my behavior is considered "disordered" and that people devote their lives to studying and helping others free themselves from their "disordered" ways, the odds are even better.  It's not without risk. There is the slight, but highly unlikely possibility that I will discover that this life, as painful as it is, is less painful than life without hitting my head against a wall.  But the the likelihood of gain seems to far outweigh the unlikely, but possible, risk of finding out there is nothing better.

Past history only further favors taking that chance.   My own experience has been that, as I overcome various OCD fears and eliminate the associated compulsions, I am happier.  I look back now at the many different permutations OCD has taken throughout my life, many of which no longer haunt me, and am SO GLAD that I somehow got past them, that I somehow pulled through to the other side despite the fact that it sometime seemed like that other side couldn't possibly hold anything good.  It takes a leap of faith to get there.

Even now, despite my lingering OCD problems, I would say that I am probably happier than I have been in a long time - in part because, since finding out that I have OCD and that I don't have to perform a lot of the other rituals that were scattered throughout my life, I feel freed of an unnecessary burden that I hardly knew I was carrying, a burden that I couldn't recognize though it frustrated me and weighed me down.  Again, this is only more support for taking the risk of getting better, to continue onward in overcoming my OCD, so I can shed even more of the unnecessary rituals and hopefully continue to feel better as I lighten my load.

On that note, I am so much better than I was this time a year ago (it's hard to believe that it has almost been an entire year since I started treatment!), and the form of my OCD has changed a lot since then.  What I thought was just a fear of chemicals, I soon realized was part of a bigger pattern in my life, a pattern of fears changing over time, waxing and waning in severity.  Even over the past year, my fears morphed and glided from one to the next.  What was originally a fear of chemicals then became a much broader fear of contamination, the fear of being a fraud and pretending to have OCD, the fear of feeling dirty, the fear of realizing that all the OCD things in my current life and in my past were not OCD at all, the fear of realizing I was an innately dirty and lazy human being, and the fear of losing my OCD itself, just to name a few.  As I have gradually gotten better, OCD has agilely jumped from one thing to the next to justify its existence.  And now it clings to itself, claiming that life is better with it around.

But this last fear is just one more added to a long list, a list that extends back more than a decade and that will probably continue on into the future in ways I cannot yet foresee.  As much as OCD would like to say as usual, "No, this time is different!" it's not really.  It's just the next part of a continuum that will probably head on into the future.  And perhaps I can find some sort of twisted comfort in this - that even if I can overcome this last fear, it is not necessarily the "end" of the battle.  The enemy I am so fond of will likely be back - like the flu or a cold, it is constantly mutating so that even if I overcome one form, there will always be more to "catch."  But with each fear I leave behind, I have one more example of how life without that particular version of OCD is better.  And now that I am in treatment, every fear I overcome strengthens my ability to overcome the next.

Fighting my OCD is something that will probably never completely "end."  If it weren't "the fear of overcoming my OCD," it would probably be some other fear, some other reason not to get better.  The possibilities are infinite.  But past experience suggests that life gets better with less OCD, so I suppose I should try to go forward despite this latest incarnation of my disorder.  If I find out that life without OCD isn't as good as I was hoping, well I can address that then.  But as long as cling to my disorder, I won't have a chance to find out.


  1. Interesting post. I just wanted to comment and tell you that you are not alone in this fear. I think a great many people who have mental illnesses are afraid to lose the illness. It's how we cope with the world and we aren't sure we can cope if we don't have it. And anyhow, like you said, it's your latest obsession! :)

  2. Oh, the sneaky ways of OCD! It helps me to remember that I can't know in advance how my life will be without being constantly in the OCD--I don't need to know the answers to these OCD questions. You can trust your own experience that you are happier when you fight the OCD--this is one of the hardest things for me, to trust my own judgement, because it's not as loud as the OCD, not as insistent and guilt-inducing--but it is powerful to say "It's my best guess that I will be happier if I do my exposures than if I keep compulsing."

  3. All I can say is that my life is better and qualitatively different. The noise and preoccupation of OCD isn't completely gone, but it is so so much less that there is more space to actually live. I understand this fear, though. For me it is a fear of annihilation. It was constant fear throughout my life. It is also a fear of people with addictions - "who will I be if i don't have my substance?" Or who will I be if I let go of my "character defects?" I believe YOU are in there and you will be more of yourself, not less. Hang in there. Don't give up. But, do, give yourself a break. Sometimes, exposures are too stressful and it backfires. Know when to rest. Don't judge yourself. OCD sucks. It is a hard one. Sometimes it is like this for me too. I just have to give in. But then, when I have some more resolve, I just start in with the ERP again. And the work I did before is not gone. Each victory feeds the next. It is cumulative, even if interrupted - at least that's my experience. Thanks for your honesty. It helps me.

  4. Thank you. Thank you so much for this. I just stumbled upon your blog and this post really resonates with me. I've had OCD pretty much my whole life. I'm in the process right now of trying to choose a therapist to help me fight it. But sometimes I feel like you described - wanting to get rid of it and yet not sure I really want to try the scary reality of living without it. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. I was just wondering how your progress has been with this particular hurdle. My son has had ocd for 10 yrs. We have finally been making some headway and now this has also become his fear. Has anything worked to help you deal with the fear of losing your ocd?



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