Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Post"-OCD Life

The title of this post, I am well aware, is very much a misnomer.  OCD is still a living, breathing part of my daily existence, and always will be, to a certain degree.  However, I'm starting to feel as though I've entered a new stage in my recovery, one where I have to figure out that troubling and very confusing question:  what now?

For a solid three years my goal was to tackle my OCD.  Year one started with my life falling apart shortly after I graduated from college.  School had always been my life and provided a certain amount of structure and sense of purpose.  As I started my first year of work post-college the following fall, everything seemed to fall apart as one compulsion lead to another until I was having a hard time making it through just a single day at work.  This was followed by the search for help.  I was lucky in that I relatively quickly stumbled upon the name for my disorder and found an excellent treatment provider, one who was ready to help me fight back with cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention.

At first things continued to get worse before they got better - my OCD spiral had already gained considerable momentum before I got the right help, and it took time to get my treatment up to speed.  I had to become educated about my disorder and to understand the treatment process and how to fully apply it to my symptoms.  At a certain point, I was actively fighting my disorder, but was still in over my head when it came to work, especially since my job was the source of many of my triggers.  Eventually I went on disability in order to continue treatment without giving up on my job entirely.  In the few months that followed, I made a lot of progress, but ultimately resigned at the end of that disability period as I was not ready to be fully functional in my position and was unsure if I even wanted to follow that career path.

The next two years were a period of transition.  Things were still very tough, but my world was starting to gradually open up again.  OCD was on my mind constantly, but there was so much hope - hope that I could not only overcome that latest spate of severe symptoms that had prompted my need for treatment, but also hope that I could address some of the other compulsions that had lurked in the background for years.   Tackling my OCD was my new purpose.  My goal was not to resume the quality of life I had before OCD completely took over, but to attain an even greater degree of functionality and happiness.  I dreamed of being my old self minus all those pesky habits I could now see for what they were - unnecessary rituals designed to reduce discomfort.  Discomfort that would go away on its own if I just let it.

During the 2nd year I blogged a lot as my life was devoted to recovery and treatment.  I also started a mini-intensive treatment program designed by my therapist to help accelerate my progress, which at times seemed to falter between office visits.  For a couple months, I met with therapists daily, either in the office or in my home, to push past my progress plateau.  During that period, I also began working again.  At first only a couple times a week for an hour a two, and then gradually more and more.  Even though I was working, my life still centered around OCD.  It was what was always on my mind, and the prospect of becoming a happier more functional person through treatment buoyed me up and made me excited for my future.

Now enter year 3.  Looking back, the start of that year ultimately led to a lot of important changes that I didn't see coming.   It was at the beginning of year 3 that I finally moved away from the college neighborhood I'd inhabited for a good 6 years.  I also started  new, more demanding job while I continued some of my part time work.  That new job was more structured and forced me sit with the discomfort of triggers I had long avoided.  I also had co-workers again and had to learn to navigate the unfamiliar waters of thinking and talking about something other than my OCD.  I felt like I lived in two worlds, one where OCD and OCD treatment were the priority, and one where I did my best to leave the OCD world behind, one where I pretended to be a (gasp) "normal" person.

In some ways, not much is different from the start of year 3.  I live in the same apartment and work at the same place.  But somehow in the 2 years that have passed since, everything seems to have changed.  At some point being "normal" became less and less of an act, and more and more of a reality.  And rather than being thrilled to be relatively "normal" again, I'm left confused and slightly distraught.  How did I wind up staying in this job that was supposed to be a temporary stepping stone in recovery?  How did I become more functional but lose sight of all that hope? What happened to all that passion about OCD and all my aspirations and goals related to it?

The hint of depression started to surface this spring, half way into year 4.  It had been 3 and a half years since my world fell apart and I first sought treatment for OCD.  8 months earlier I had been promoted to a new and highly demanding position at my job, and OCD treatment officially became my second focus as work took over my life.  This spring a transitioned to a less demanding position, and since then, with the extra time, those questions I mentioned above have begun to trouble me more and more.  In a way, I have much of what I was working toward in treatment - a more balanced life that include work, socializing, working out, even dating.  I am "functional."  And yet, I'm dissatisfied.

I know that to a certain degree, my one-dimensional focus on OCD and its treatment was not a healthy and sustainable way of being, but I hoped to transfer that single-minded fervor to a job that valued it.  Perhaps as a counselor at a treatment center or as an assistant where research related to OCD and anxiety disorders was being performed.  Then, with more experience and more knowledge about possible career paths, I could go back to school and pursue a degree that would allow me treat OCD or perform research to further our understanding of this disorder.  I could continue to learn more about and grow from and apply my fascination with OCD.

But as work has become the focus of my life with OCD treatment relegated to the background, I find myself less and less sure about where my life is headed.  I am almost back to "normal," but still put up with compulsions that I had hoped to eventually obliterate.  What happened to all those grand aspirations for living a life that was better than before?  One without the compulsions that always existed even before my OCD got out of control?  What happened to that sense of purpose and drive that being in more intensive treatment instilled?  Is this just a new plateau in my progress? Or is it a stage in recovery where the grandiose ideas about how wonderful "normal" life will be have to be put into perspective?

It sounds absurd, but sometimes I think I was happier when I was in that in-between phase of years 2 and 3.  That phase where I had the luxury of focusing on just OCD, while readily feeling and seeing my improvement.  Back in the beginning of treatment, I had my therapist tell me that I would eventually have to grieve the time lost to OCD. He also told me that I would have to learn to readjust as compulsions were no longer the sole focus of my life.  Now, I feel as though I am finally experiencing both of these things.

First, grief and frustration for the time lost.  It seems like I went through so much and yet have landed back where I started.  Almost four years later there's the same level of baseline compulsivity, the same confusion of what to do next with my life now that school is over.  While my peers worked through the post-college ambiguity by trying out different jobs or going back to school, I wrapped myself in an OCD bubble for 4 years, a bubble that, while unpleasant for obvious reasons, also protected me from dealing with the bigger question of "what next?" I feel behind and unsure about to do now.  OCD was my struggle, but also my purpose and hope for the future.  And as work has taken over my life, and OCD has been placed more and more on the back burner, I wonder:  is OCD still my future?  Is it still my passion?  The thought of living a life continually devoted to OCD and its treatment once brought me so much hope and excitement.  Can it still?

I'm confused as ever in a new and different way.  What defined who I was for a solid 3 years, seems to have slipped away during the 4th.  What now?  Who am I? What do I want beyond escaping the confines of OCD?  How and to what degree should OCD and its treatment take part in this next chapter?

This all part of what I'm trying to figure out.


  1. I'm glad to hear from you again!

    I might not be in exactly the same stage as you, but I do wonder what "healthy" is. What is "normal" life that I just have to put up with, versus depressed life that is an illness that I don't have to put up with. I'm still calling the part I can't handle depression or anxiety, because I can't stand the thought of it being my forever lot in life.

    I just switched back to full time work, which was scarey. But it is a job that I am very passionate about, so that helps. It is a job that gave me fulfillment before I entered my stage of focusing primarily on regaining health.

    Good luck in your new quest. Do you still see a therapist at all? Have you asked about how to tell depression from normal life questions?

  2. Hi There!
    I've been a bit AWOL for the last several months too, and decided to touch base again. I can relate to some of this...those of us with OCD love certainty. We love to know where we're going...have a focus. At one point in your life treating your OCD was your focus. Now, if you're not loving what you're doing, perhaps you're feeling a lack of focus? Anyway, I'm in the midst of many changes as well (hell, my life has been change after change for the last two years!), and it always ramps up my OCD. I'm on a great path, my next year looks fantastic, and I'm frustrated that here we go again with OCD. Anyway, if you want to email me to chat - feel free! Take Good Care.

  3. Hi, I really don't know if you're going to read this, but I have a few things to say and maybe I'll check by in a few weeks for a reply, but I understand if you don't get a chance to see this. First of all, I'm so very happy to hear that you've survived through it all. I can't relate as much as I am nowhhere near recovery. I feel like you have a LOT of experience with OCD (unlike most people I stumble upon), so I really need to ask for advice right now.... Even if you don't read this, at least I will have some sort of hope for a reply. Firstly I'll tell you a bit about myself. I'm turning 15 in about a month, and I've suffered from severe OCD since I was in the 4th or 5th grade. A while ago, I learned to just accept it and face the fact that I have OCD, but it's just gotten worse in the past few months. I can't take it anymore. I stand in the shower cleaning myself to the point where I feel like I'm going to faint (I almost did twice). Worst part is that I have to shower like 6 times a week because school disgusts me. I'm in my second week of school and I just can't handle the stress anymore.... I've asked for help, nobody's bothered. I hesitated about bringing up the topic of getting therapy with my mother for years but I finally did it last week and I immediately felt two things: 1) Relief that I might finally get some help for this thing, and 2) Shame. I felt ashamed for giving in. Asking for therapy really was a slap to the face. Anyway, it's been several days and I don't think my mother has looked into it. All she's done since was use it to start an argument, like "If you worry about being clean so much, why don't you go and clean the bathroom? Having OCD doesn't mean you can't help around the house." Yes mum, it does. Of course I regret bringing it up now. I'm just so lost and I don't know what to do.... I'm worried about therapy, I don't know why.... It aggravates me that my parents don't really care. I see comments and forums of parents asking for help for their children and I get annoyed because I see parents extremely worried about their children and my parents are just start fights and arguments because of it. In the 5 years that I've had OCD, never have they bothered to sit down and talk to me about it. My siblings have but it's no use, because that also ends up an argument. I was really embarrassed to ask for therapy and now I'm even more embarrassed. I really don't know what to do.... In a way I feel attatched to it; like it's a part of me. I just want it out of my life, but it scares me for some reason, kind of what you have talked about in this post. What will happen after I recover? It's strange that I will be living a life WITHOUT it, but it also gives me hope for my future. I don't want to live like this anymore, I really don't. I'll be glad if I get a reply from you. I could have sent this privately but I don't have an account here and I really don't mind if the public read this, maybe they could give me some advice too. I hope all goes well with you, you've given me hope to battle this thing. Thank you. :) -Dee

  4. Dee, thank you so much for sharing, and I'm sorry it's taken so long to reply to you! Just as you hoped that I would read this, I hope that you stumble upon my response and read it as well. Your shower compulsions remind me so much of my own, and I want you to know that with proper treatment you CAN overcome them and that, despite my uncertainty in this post, life is much better without such compulsions!!

    First of all, I really appreciate all that you've written here and feel like I can relate in so many ways. I think it's wonderful that you asked for therapy - that is no easy step and one that I didn't figure out how to take until I was several years older than you.

    If you haven't already found treatment, or if you have and your therapist doesn't specialize in or have experience in treating OCD, I would very highly recommended checking out the International OCD Foundation website ( where they actually have a whole tab devoted to "Find Help." There are so many wonderful therapists out there who know how to help you tackle OCD, but I can't emphasize enough the importance of finding someone who uses exposure and response prevention as a part of cognitive-behavior therapy (and I apologize if this is redundant information - it sounds like you have done your fair share of internet research yourself).

    Dee, I wish you all the best. Please feel free to reach out to me more direclty by email: I would love to hear how things are going one way or another I can relate very much to what you are going through and would be more than happy to provide support!

  5. Hi there, I was reading up on your journey just now and had a quick question. I was hoping that you could email me back when you have a moment. I really appreciate it, thanks!

    - Cameron

  6. Hi, Nice site I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing. Would it be possible if I contact you through your email? Please email me back. Thanks!

    Aaron Grey
    aarongrey112 at



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