It started slowly, so subtly that I wasn’t even sure what was going on. All I knew was that for some reason I couldn’t understand, in ninth grade, I felt the sudden, uncontrollable need to make sure my notes and assignments were written “perfectly." When I wrote in pen, I would keep crossing out the letters and rewriting them. In pencil, I would just keep erasing and rewriting until my page contained a smudgy mess.
I didn’t know what was going on or why I felt compelled to do this.
A few years later, I heard Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) being described on the radio, and I knew that this was describing me. .
I’ve heard that many people wait 7-9 years between the time of the first symptoms of OCD showing themselves and seeking help. I was definitely one of those people.
There was so much shame for me around admitting what I felt for a long time was a deep, dark, secret weakness that would likely cause others to think less of me if they ever found out the truth.
I cried many tears, but they were behind closed doors.
I experienced deep frustration at not being able to deal with this on my own, but I hid it behind a smile when I was with people outside of my immediate family.
I beat myself up emotionally, wondering whether people who complimented me would feel the same if they knew the truth.
My mind would often race with anxiety and self-doubt, all while other people would tell me that I seemed so calm and was so calming to be around. It amazed me how I could seemingly have these two sides at once.
If you’re currently stuck in an OCD or anxiety spiral, there is help available, and I’m not just referring to therapy, as helpful as it can often be.
Here are some ideas that might help you or a loved one affected by OCD or an anxiety disorder:
1. Get professional help.
A highly qualified and experienced therapist, whether a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, social worker or other mental health professional, can really help you get to the root of the OCD or anxiety. Your therapist can also provide treatments that reduce the negative impact of OCD or anxiety on your life.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Exposure Therapy (among others) and/or medication can be very helpful. If you are currently in therapy or on a medication, keep at it until you and your therapist believe that you are ready to stop.
2. See all the different parts of who you are.
Often, it's very easy to feel almost consumed by OCD or anxiety and to feel like that is who you are. You are so much more than that. Start really paying attention to your goals and dreams, to your strengths, to the contribution you long to make in the world.
Yes, OCD and anxiety may be getting in the way now. Yes, you may have difficulty even clearly envisioning what these goals are or recognizing your strengths, but start slowly. Overcoming OCD and anxiety can often be very challenging, and you will sometimes need strong motivation to keep going. What will motivate you through those challenging times? If you have difficulty figuring this out on your own, you may want to try working through this with a mentor, coach or close friend.
3. Nourish your mind and soul.
Build yourself as a whole person. Develop your personal character. Read, listen to and watch positive, uplifting and motivational material. This will also help you keep going when you may otherwise be tempted to give up. Some recommendations include Brené Brown’s bookI Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) and Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear ... and Do it Anyway.
4. Allow yourself to learn from your challenges.
Recognize that just as most people probably don’t know the impact OCD and/or anxiety have on your life, other people are likely experiencing challenges of some sort that you cannot see. Focus on seeing others with compassion instead of judgment or blame.
Yes, it can be difficult to trust and forgive someone who has seriously hurt us – and there are times where we shouldn’t trust them if they haven’t earned it or if they’ve violated our trust. The vast majority of the time, though, we all are doing the best we can in circumstances that very few can fully understand. Let your challenges lead you to live a compassionate life.