Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recovery Pains

Earlier this week I tried to write a few posts but never ended up finishing them.  I'm not sure if I was just feeling daunted by a growing need to feel "right" in order to write, or if I have just been busier lately and have had less time to think too much (which translates into less time to write too much).

But things are beginning to seem different these days, so I thought I'd reflect on that a bit here.  I feel like as I gradually come out of the OCD haze that I've been living in for a year and attempt to re-enter the "real" world, there is a certain amount of pain that comes with it.  There's the pain of trying to figure it all out again.  There's the pain of real life concerns rediscovered, pains that have laid dormant for quite some time as the angry wrath of OCD made caring about such things impossible.  I was too spent on just getting by, on just navigating the requirements of everyday life.  Just managing to shower, eat, and take care of the things that HAD to be taken care of was hard enough. I didn't have the emotional energy to worry about anything else other than just keeping  myself going as I tried to find a way out.

There is also pain that comes as I once again regain my ability to appreciate some of the things that I've missed out on.  I didn't have the chance to really enjoy some of the opportunities someone my age and in my place in life might normally enjoy.  I would occasionally go out.  I would occasionally hang out with friends.  But a large part of me wasn't there.  I wasn't enjoying these things, and I didn't care.  I was too busy thinking about what I had touched when and figuring out how I was going to make it through my day.  I didn't care that I was missing out, because I didn't really want to be there.  Doing those things often seemed more like an exposure than something to enjoy.  It was just added stress to my day when I could be at home safely guarding myself from contamination.  I wasn't sad about it then, but as I regain an appreciation for those things now, it does come with a sense of sadness and loss, a sort of "recovery pain."

Sometimes engaging in more "normal" activities and starting to get back into a more "normal" routine also seems to reveal that there is still a ways to go.  I suspect that there will be a certain amount of readjustment required to get used to living a "normal" life again.  I'm certainly not there yet, but as I begin to give less time to OCD and more time to other things (like applying to and interviewing for jobs), it seems like a little bit more of a reality that I will make it out of this.  I always expected to get over this episode of OCD in my life, but it always seemed so far away, so distant, so unreachable.  It was always - "I will get better, but not yet.  I'm not ready to take on additional responsibilities.  I want to break free, but I can't do what it takes.  Not now. Not yet."  But these days "normal" life is getting closer, and as it nears, I suddenly start to realize how wrapped up in my own little world I have been over the last year.

It sort of reminds me of the pain that comes with working out after a long period of going without.  What was once natural and easy is no longer so.  Muscles left unused strain as you push forward and then tire easily.  And the next day, the work you did the day before leaves you aching.  What would probably be a very easy and light schedule for your average person is somewhat stressful for me.  How will I still get everything done?  How will I still manage to quell my OCD urges and do the things that I actually need to do?  How will I manage to keep it together with less time for rituals?

It is also strange because the world I am re-entering is not the same one I left a year ago.  At that point I was fresh out of school - the first time in 17 years I wasn't going to have class, and homework, and exams.  It was an odd and difficult transition even without the OCD meltdown, and I suppose it didn't help that I still worked at and lived near the same campus where I attended college.  I was still surrounded by it, which I thought would make it all easier, but it was a constant reminder of something I was no longer a part of - something that I had formerly devoted all my time to, in part because I love school and in part because my study habits were riddled with OCD through and through, which meant I was never done, never caught up, never "finished" with anything until I absolutely had to be, and sometimes not even then.  I spent so much time burying myself in school work that I didn't know any other way to define myself.  Without grades and homework and exams and essays to act as proxy for my sense of self (and to absorb my OCD tendencies), it's not surprising, looking back, that full-blown OCD found a welcome home amidst my stress and newfound free time.

But now just a year later, school seems a lot more distant.  I don't miss it the way I used to.  I am no longer working where I was before (a casualty of my OCD and resulting inability to perform my job), either.  I am forging a new (and healthier) path, looking for jobs that suit my interests but that I didn't have the self-confidence to pursue before.  I am trying my best to go for the things I want, even if I fear that I am not good enough in one way or another to do these things, even if I'm not without a doubt certain that I will succeed.

Settling for the "safe" option without even testing out other possibilities left me feeling trapped and stifled.  So with my "old" life, in many different ways, no longer available as an option, I move ahead, hoping to be healthier and happier on the other side of all this.  I've carried around a warped way of responding to problems in the form of OCD for many, many years, so in a way, learning to live without so many compulsions is also a new experience for me.  I am excited to have so much to look forward to, but it makes returning to the "real world," after being immersed in OCD-land for a good year, an even more complex transition.  I feel like I am learning to live a new and different life in so many different ways.  It's exciting, but there is so much to learn.

So as I gradually emerge from my long hiatus to re-integrate myself in the "normal" world, there is sadness that comes once the daily tyranny of obsessions and compulsions is no longer there to make all else seem unimportant.  Awakening from the long hard winter, my rekindled interests, interests in things other than the focus of my OCD, tentatively sprout through the frost, brought to light after a long season of darkness.   Fragile yet inquisitive, they spring up from the desolation and fight to survive in an environment that is not yet ideal for them.  But it's getting there.  All the time the world seems to be becoming a less threatening and more habitable place.


  1. I resonate with your image of the sprout springing up through the frost. I too have had a deep sadness about all the missing years. My OCD was all too willing to say, "If you leave me, then you will have to feel the sadness and you can't survive" but I am surviving and it sounds like you are too.

  2. I am indeed! I know that overcoming OCD can only make my life better, but as I see and enjoy my improvement, there are still those nagging questions - "Who will you be without OCD? How will you see the world if not through an OCD lens? How will have a sense of self without the compulsions to distinguish yourself?" I guess these are just more uncertainties that have to be faced!



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