Sunday, November 5, 2017

New Variations on an Old Theme

It's been a long while since I have posted here. Years, in fact. This is typically where I turn when I am thinking a lot about my OCD and want an outlet for expressing my thoughts on my experience with the disorder. The current demands on my time make it a bit tricky to find much space for myself, much less to write about OCD, so even when I have found myself yearning to write, like now, I often turn to other tasks that seem more pressing.

However, circumstances have brought OCD back into my life in a very real way, and I thought that posting some of my thoughts and experiences here, when I do make the time, might be helpful. I have a fascination with this disorder, both as someone who has suffered with it since childhood and as someone interested in it from an academic perspective. So, when increased stress and a lot of major life changes brought OCD back into my life in full force, I experienced that process with both horror and fascination. I have been amazed at how OCD can hijack my rational self and goad me into engaging in compulsive behaviors that I know, full well, only bring me deeper into the disorder. Part of me is in it, actively trying to fight my urge to give in and struggling against those urges, and part of me is like an outside observer, amazed at how someone so well versed in OCD and the consequences of ritualizing will, in fact, give in.

One of my biggest battles in the years prior has been with contamination OCD. This is not to say that OCD has not entangled itself in a number of areas in my life, but if we are considering some of the classic broad categories of OCD symptom types, this was one of the most clear cut categories I fell into. Through lots of hard work and continued day to day exposure (and of course, response prevention), I beat back quite a bit of my OCD in that realm. There was certainly still work to do, and areas in my life where I had not quite mastered my contamination OCD, but I was at a point where I felt pretty confident in my ability to carry out exposures for my contamination fears when and where I needed to.

Since then, however, a lot of major life changes have occurred. I moved across the country. I followed my dream of returning to the academic realm to study something I have long been passionate about. These are all good things, but hard things, too. And as we know, stress, regardless of whether its source is positive or negative, can often bring OCD to the forefront. This has been very true for me.

It started little by little. I gave myself permission to do one compulsion I had long since sworn off. And then another. And another. Pretty soon, those compulsions I was going to do just "this one time," became the new rule, the new way I "had" to do things, rather than the exception.

I put the word had in quotes here because OCD often tricks us into thinking we need to do something, either overtly or mentally, to reduce our anxiety/distress/discomfort (however you want to say it), when really, if we were to sit with that distress, it would likely come down on its own (or we would at least have the opportunity see that we could tolerate that distress without having to turn to rituals that only make life more challenging and constricted).

While the contamination rituals have made life quite complicated, perhaps more confusing are my compulsions in the academic realm. When I first realized that I had OCD back in 2009, I was, again, largely focused on my contamination symptoms. However, I very much believe that OCD has also long had a hold on how I approach academic work. Being out of school at the time I was diagnosed, I never really had to face the fact that OCD was very much intertwined with my approach to school work. I wasn't forced fight it in that realm. Now that I am back in the academic world, however, I have become more acutely aware of this as I fall behind on work and struggle to keep up with a demanding program (while also battling a myriad of time-consuming contamination rituals, too).

Still, I have no doubt that I can fight OCD back in this area, as well. For someone with a disorder so well known for enveloping its sufferers in doubt, I am strangely confident that I will overcome the academic manifestation of my symptoms, too. This doesn't necessarily play out day-to-day--some days I feel quite defeated and question my ability to change what I really need to change. But I am passionate in my belief that, with proper psychoeducation, tools, and support, OCD can be overcome and managed long-term.

So, despite OCD's current hold on me, I believe this for myself, too. It takes time, and hard work, but I know it can be done.

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