Sunday, April 24, 2011

Trying to Change

I'm not even sure what to say.  Other than the fact that I'm definitely in new territory.  I'm finally committing to a more extreme method to ERP (at least what seems extreme to me), and I'm not sure what to do or how to feel about it.  Let's just say it's not as bad as keeping myself out of contact with water for days on end, but it feels that way to me.  I still get to shower and wash my hands, but not in a way that really provides any sense of cleanliness.  It seems all wrong, and it's only been a few hours since I started this new regimen.

How did this all get started?  Well, after I ended my outpatient intensive treatment program back toward the end of February, I went back to the standard once a week therapy regimen.  I improved a lot during the few months that I did the intensive treatment, but little by little, things have begun to slip again  over the last month and a half.  So yesterday I scheduled a last minute session with my therapist for this afternoon.  My compulsions were just becoming overwhelming again, and as much as my OCD kept chanting, "Come on.  Just push through.  Just put up with the compulsions for now.  Stay strong and don't call your therapist.  You can get through the compulsions if you just do them already and do them right,"  I went ahead and made the extra appointment.

One thing my therapist and I have recently discussed a bit more seriously is the severity of my OCD.  It's hard for me to see the severity, because, well, compared to how I used to be, I am far more functional and adaptable.  Even so, my symptoms apparently still fall in the range of quite severe.  And I actually find this INCREDIBLY comforting.  It's like someone is telling me that life doesn't have to be this way.  That life isn't actually this hard, and that I'm not just bad at keeping up with the rigors of daily life.  I find comfort in the fact that so many of the things I do are not actual life requirements but those of OCD.  And I find comfort in the fact that so many of the things I do are compulsions, and thus, not necessary to put up with.

I think one reason I often find it so hard to see where I'm at in terms of severity is that I have pretty much ALWAYS had OCD.  It hasn't always manifested itself in this particular way, and thus, I can imagine a life without all my contamination compulsions, but it is deeply rooted in many other areas in my life.  Contamination is just the latest iteration, the latest vehicle through which my OCD has chosen to express itself.  So, while I can imagine not washing my hands all the time or taking super long showers, it's hard for me to fathom living life with relatively minimal OCD, because, well, I'm not sure I ever really have.  And that's a terrifying thought, in addition to being an extremely hopeful one.

Anyways, it's hard to imagine another way of living.  A way in which the OCD part of my brain doesn't commandeer choices and actions so thoroughly.  I have discovered, through the process of treatment, that so many of the strange things I did as a child and later on into adulthood, things that I thought were just "the way I had to do things," were actually deeply rooted in the world of OCD.  I have read chapters from OCD books, blogs, articles, etc. and found perfect descriptions of my own behaviors, behaviors I always knew were strange but just never really thought much about.  I just thought I had to put up with them, or that I "wanted" to do them and could force myself to stop if I really wanted to.  It was jarring, especially when I first began reading and learning about OCD, how well the descriptions fit my behaviors.  Moving from chapter to chapter, I could recognize myself in so many of the pages, in so many of the different types and ways OCD could manifest itself.  Some were compulsions I still engaged in while others were compulsions I had performed in the past and had since faded.  But even so, reading about those compulsions still conjured up a powerful sense of empathy and understanding.  I feel like I KNOW the pain of so many types of compulsions, of how it feels to find yourself doing these strange, nonsensical things without really knowing why or why you just can't seem to stop. 

I KNOW that feeling.  What I'm not sure I understand is what it's like to live without constantly tweaking, navigating, strategizing to appease OCD.  Because the more I learn about OCD, the more convinced I am that I have always had it and have, more often than not, been driven by an attempt to pander to it in so many different ways.

So what does life look like without OCD?  Or even with just well-managed OCD?  I'm starting to feel like I really don't know much about that kind of life at all.

My point in bringing all this up is that my last-minute appointment with my therapist focused a lot on helping me to conceptualize the severity of my OCD, even after all the improvements I have made.  And though this may sound daunting or frightening, it actually seems incredibly helpful and hopeful to me.  It serves as an impetus for change.  I needed that reality check.  I really did.  Because in just trying to get by from day to day, I forget that I am still living a heavily OCD-centered life.

One thing that really caught my attention was when my therapist said, "this is the kind of stuff that gets people into intensive residential treatment programs."  Part of me yearns so much to have just such an opportunity.  The idea of dropping everything, living somewhere else, and focusing solely on fighting OCD seems like a dream.  To have that kind of support.  To have that sort of jarring change in life structure to propel you onward in your fight.  It sounds so nice.   Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it is extremely hard and a lot of work, but all the same, I envy those who can afford to enroll in such programs and devote their time so fully to getting their lives back.  Being able to participate in a residential program seems like it would be such a relief.  I could stop trying to limp by living this double life of working and fighting and hiding my OCD.  I could stop telling myself that my OCD is nothing and that I should just push through the compulsions or not do them.  I could put those burdens down for a moment and admit to myself just how much I need help.  I could turn myself over to process of getting better.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that's really an option for me.  I keep trying to get by on my own and through what my local treatment center can offer me.  And if I put in the work and actually do what my therapist wants me to do, I know I would get better.  It's just, well, hard.

Anyways, I'm trying a new approach, one that my therapist has long wished he could get me to try but not something I have ever bought into.  It is more extreme.  It turns my showers into 5 minute opportunities to just shampoo my hair.  It means that I don't get to wash my hands with soap, only cold water.  And it's completely turning my world on its head.

But then, if want to recreate for myself what it might be like in a residential treatment facility, I suspect this might be how things would go.  So I wish I could afford and fit that sort of treatment into my life?  Well, then I might as well do on my own what they would ask me to do in that sort of environment.

So I'm doing what my therapist has asked me to do.  It may be extreme, but honestly, trying to whittle away at my OCD bit by bit has been a slow process.  I'm trying to take the severity of my OCD more seriously and meet it with more serious treatment strategies.  I'm not sure how I feel about all this extreme-ness at the moment, but all I am asking myself to do is to commit to these exposures for the next few days until my next appointment.  I'm tired of backing down and giving in.  I'm tired of letting my OCD find ways to work around my exposures and minimize their effectiveness.  I'm trying to create a break with my OCD and a sense of change.  And I suppose this is a great way to do just that.  I wanted an impetus for change; well, here's my chance.


  1. Wow. Good for you!! You can do it! I am impressed. I really understand what you mean about OCD permeating so many areas in your life. I think the further I get into treatment - the more I realize this. Understandable - I think - because - like you - I've had OCD pretty much my entire life. Learned behaviours aren't easy to change with a snap of a finger. Good luck! I'm rooting for you!!!

  2. I've wanted to go to a treatment facility, to be able to just deal with ocd and stop working and my normal life stresses. But of course, the idea scared me a lot, too. How would I respond if I felt forced to deal with the ocd? But I don't think my OCD counts as severe. It still annoys me.

    I hope your exposures go well. I went half a day not washing my hands at home, and then I was really glad to just be able to wash them again! Good luck!



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