Shame (OCD Part 1)

The women’s shelter:

There is something so beautiful about a house full of lost souls, finding community with each other. And finding answers within themselves to become found again.

When I was at the coffee shop after college I spent each day speaking with my customers and learning about myself and the world. “The people are helping me,” I would write.

So am I going to do with this new job.

But it’s hard. Especially on a Sunday night- it’s hard to think about heading back for a Monday morning.

I’ve had a little bit of a rough weekend, in regards to anxiety.

It was a high intensity week at work, and ended with a podcast party, an apartment full of people, beer, wine and chocolate cake.

I felt like shit the next day, and I’m still feeling like shit today.

Last night I was being super OCD, and nothing was right. I ended up spending all night making soup, and then throwing it all out in frustration and fear. And then spending the next morning judging myself for throwing the food out.

I’ve got some goals for myself, so there is progress being made. I have made great strides in my public self this year- volunteering and working. I am feeling really confident that I can do whatever I want, and speak to whoever I want now. But I am feeling less confident about myself and how I stack up in the world of balanced and mentally stable people.

But I am going to keep hitting the pavement with this new job. It is validating me in everything I love about living in the world: creating community with the lonely, and empowering the individual to live their authentic life.

And the kicker- I get free OCD exposure therapy! I almost checked myself into one of those OCD clinics this summer– where you pay hundreds of dollars to have someone make you clean a toilet.

Why not get paid to do that instead?

 No longer can I hide in my clean apartment and my strict rules of hygiene I attempt to impose on everyone around me.

You can’t really tell someone who’s been living on the street, or is fleeing domestic violence to please wash their hands more often. You can’t tell little kids not to get sick.

Because it’s not that big of a deal to the majority of the world.

And I’m trying to make that a reality for myself as well.

I’ve had OCD since I can remember. Once something specific gets in my mind- it’s hard to get it out. It’s added to a few of my eccentric quirks, and it’s helped to make me the disciplined idealist I am today.

But it’s also held me up a lot, and wasted a lot of my time panicking over how to wash my hands, how to avoid someone who is sick, how to avoid all chemicals, how to avoid planes. 

It’s caused me a lot of stress, and a lot of embarrassment for my sometimes odd behaviors, which I rarely let people know the context for.

But that’s what it is. It’s OCD. Classic OCD. It comes mostly in the form of contamination OCD (taking turns with a focus on natural germs, and then a focus on man made chemicals), but it ebbs and flows from that and into other forms, such as strong superstitions (or karma like beliefs that I adhere to), and then on a smaller scale, the classic checking and rechecking of the locked doors, and other repetitive behaviors. On top of that I have general anxiety, so I panic about a lot of other things (but the medicine has helped to slow a lot of that down).  

Mostly though, the part that haunts me is the contamination OCD. And right now, my contamination focus is on germs.

I’ve very rarely known a life when I didn’t have some central thing that I was scared to death of. And I think most people are scared to death of something, but people without OCD are usually not facing their deepest fears on a regular basis throughout the day, daily.

This summer, I decided to go on regular anti-anxiety/OCD meds. And it’s made a substantial difference in my life. But it hasn’t made the problem go away completely- because no medicine ever will. OCD is a part of me, and I am a part of it. I have to learn to somehow love that part of myself, while also not playing into the fears that seem to direct my life sometimes.

I’m turning 26 in a few weeks. I haven’t been on meds for years- in college I took some type of depression med from the age of 19-22. But the medication was for depression, because that’s what my doctors had diagnosed me with. That’s what I thought I had. And to be fair, anxiety and depression are closely related- both due to a lack of serotonin which seems to run on both sides of my parent’s family. But it wasn’t until after I graduated college, when I was 23 and hopeless, that I went to a psychiatrist for the first time, who actually diagnosed me correctly, and changed my world. He told me that I had general anxiety, as well as OCD (which is a form of anxiety). And this could cause depression, but the primary root of it all was anxiety and OCD.

I started trying different drugs for a period of a few months that he prescribed me. Nothing really seemed to work, but I also wasn’t really giving it the time to start working. I went to OCD counseling as well. At that time, my OCD/anxiety focal point was on flying. I had just graduated college with a  degree in International Relations, and I believed my OCD was destroying my career and ability to take international jobs. 

I went off the meds, and quit the counseling. My psychiatrist had told me that if I exercised every day, it would be equivalent, or even better than taking medications. So I dedicated myself to running daily, and I put my focus on something higher than my daily panic. I set goals, and a year later I was on a plane to California for AmeriCorps NCCC (a radical life experience that I never could have done had I not found a way to find peace within myself). I kept running all year in California, but when I moved to Kansas City, I stopped running.

I had a stressful year my first year in KC, with a high maintenance job that I loved. Halfway through the year, I broke. I had been running so hard, and it was like all my weaknesses came shining through. All the things that I was able to keep under wraps for so long, were coming undone. I had to put focus back onto myself, do self care and reflection, but I felt like I was too busy for that. My job was too important for me to slow down and take a look at myself.

Well, here we are now. Another year in Kansas City. A new job can also be stressful, but takes up a lot less of my time. And that also has a dual function as exposure therapy for my fears.

I’ve decided to start writing about my OCD, because honestly I don’t really know where to turn. And I know this is personal information I am sharing, but it helps me to share it. It makes it more real, it makes it more of a priority for me. And also, it makes me take ownership for my anxiety and OCD. This is me, and I am not ashamed.

I was ashamed most of today- but that’s why I love writing. I lets you reclaim. It lets you change reality. It lets you become.

I am not ashamed. I am a person with OCD and anxiety who lives in the world, and who wants to love and learn with the world.

My first experience with OCD that I can remember was sitting in the backseat of our family car at night. We were driving on a roadtrip somewhere. And I was looking out at the stars, and I was making rules and deals with the universe. I was probably seven. I would think of something taking place in the future, and depending on how many stars I saw in a cluster when I looked out the window, that would determine if this prediction was true or false. I still remember the verdicts of those star predictions. And to prove the power that OCD has over me- I still don’t want to speak out loud today the deals that I made with those stars. Because I believe that by saying it out loud I might either make it true, or I might make it void. I know now that this is known as “harm OCD.” Harm OCD implies bad things happening if one does not do the right thing, thus the individual needs to compulsively correct their behavior. In most people, this is just seen as superstition. But when it rises to the level of disrupting your life, it is OCD. For me, this OCD superstition has developed into my own kind of karma belief. I don’t actually believe in karma, but I feel compelled to do the right thing in particular instances.  

When I am not able to act on my compulsion (washing my hands, saying the right thing) it disrupts the world as I know it now, and causes that bad anxiety feeling to take over me, until I am able to complete my ritual or compulsion. If you’ve ever had anxiety- you know exactly what I am talking about. The world pauses for a second, and time seems to go in slow, slow motion. Nothing matters anymore except the thing causing you anxiety. And the anxiety is worse than the action that caused the anxiety, most times. 

I avoid this feeling everyday if I can. Because it is the worst. But I can’t always avoid it.

OCD is ego-dystonic, meaning “ thoughts, impulses, and behaviors that are felt to be repugnant, distressing, unacceptable or inconsistent with one’s self-concept.”

One’s self concept. I am face to face daily with things that disturb my self concept, and what I am comfortable with in the world. And I am a runner. So I am either running in fear, or I am running toward the fear. And I’m tired of hiding from the fear.

I want to start running toward life again.



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