My name is Russ. I’m in my thirties, and I am a semi-normal guy that enjoys the simple things in life. I created this blog to share my geeky interests with fellow techies, but to also discuss my experiences with my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I hope to deliver my story as a sign of hope to anyone else out there struggling with their OCD journey and any tips about OCD that may help my fellow sufferers of this disorder.
About a year ago, I started my journey with anxiety and OCD. I started a new job with a good pay raise, but a ton more responsibility. I did OK for the first week, but then I started getting this feeling of dread that I could not shake. I felt like I made a terrible decision. My pride would not let me go crawling back to my old position, even though I did not burn the bridge when I left, so I tried to work through it. One day, during my second week at the new job, my department had to attend a meeting with the big shot of the organization. I do not know why, but I started to panic, like I did something wrong. I was wondering to myself, what could I have done to warrant my department getting called into a meeting like this? I overheard some co-workers talking to each other about it, saying that this only happens when something serious is going on.
I knew about this meeting in advance, so I had all day to hype myself up. I walked with my co-workers to the meeting room and sat down. Once seated, my adrenaline spiked, my heart was racing, I was sweating, and no matter what I did, I could not calm myself down. Once the meeting was over, we had another department conference to explain what had just happened. It was nothing serious at all. It was a meeting to let us know that a new director was hired, and they wanted to introduce themselves. At our department meeting, I still was in panic mode. I asked to be excused, and my manager asked if I was OK. I flat out said no and rushed out of there. Long story short, I went to the hospital in my second week at my new job.
After all was said and done, I had gone to the hospital about three times in two weeks because of my panic attacks. I got put on Zoloft 50MG and was struggling hard. This was just the beginning of my journey because I hadn’t yet realized or had any OCD related intrusive thoughts. It was a complete focus on anxiety; the panic feeling that would lead to feeling like I was going to have a heart attack.
About three weeks later, my daughter, my wife, and I went on a hike to clear my anxiety out a bit. (We do like to hike, so I may talk about that, too!) On our walk, we talked about many things, and one of those topics was if my daughter was a trigger to my anxiety. This was the question that spun me into a major OCD hole.
I twisted that question into whether I could ever hurt my daughter, whether I love her if I have these thoughts. I questioned everything that I held dear. I even questioned my sexuality and even if I was attracted to children. I felt like a monster. I felt like I could not trust myself, and that I was a danger to everyone around me. I did not want to be around kids or even my child. Every time I watched TV and an attractive male came on, I spun up and questioned if I was attracted to that person.
These thoughts scared me so much that I admitted myself to a behavioral health hospital a week later. I wanted help, and I wanted it as fast as possible. I ended up staying in the psychiatric unit at my local hospital for five days. Those days were extremely rough. I was afraid I was losing my mind. The thought of being like this for the rest of my life scared me. I knew in my head that I was going to have to live like this forever.
After leaving the hospital, my anxiety persisted, and my intrusive thoughts were no better than when I went in there. I was told I needed therapy, so I went to a therapist that same week. I was desperate for relief, and my first therapist asked me if I was schizophrenic! I did not know what to do. Was I schizophrenic? Was I a danger to myself and others? This spun me up again because I still did not know I had OCD. I thought, like everyone else, that OCD was something that was physical and just something that neat freaks had. I knew I had anxiety, but I did not know what the thoughts were!
After that visit, I wanted a second opinion. I went to 2 additional therapists, and none of them said I had OCD. They just summed it up to being anxiety. I felt like I would be like this for the rest of my life because no one could help me. Finally, a month after leaving the behavioral health facility, I saw my new psychiatrist. He helped me with the anxiety portion by prescribing a benzo. These made me tired and lethargic, but I would live with it as long as my anxiety was gone.
But I wanted more. I wanted to live like I had before. I finally started doing research on my own. I started Googling things to see if anyone else had any symptoms like me. In a world where I thought I was all alone, I had some hope. There were many people with these symptoms, and they are part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When I read the signs and symptoms of OCD, I could not believe it. It was a perfect picture of me. I knew that was what I had, and it was a tremendous sigh of relief.
After almost three months since I had my first panic attack, I researched treatment options for OCD, and I found that there is a very specific therapy that works. It is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). I found a few therapists and decided on one who seemed to have an extensive background in OCD related treatments.
Then began the very hard work. I won’t mince words here. ERP is awful! You purposefully think the exact thoughts you are trying to get away from. You lean into the thoughts and let the anxiety flow. It made me feel like garbage. I felt as bad as I did when I went to the hospital. I felt like I was going backwards in my treatment. My first ERP therapist was old school. He was all about building a habit of thinking the thoughts, so they didn’t bother you anymore. I found this method to work fairly well. At the end of my three-month treatment with him, I still felt like there was more work to do, even though I was almost completely better. I still felt like something was missing.
Out of the blue, I received a phone call from a therapist I had signed up for about 8 months prior. I almost said no to scheduling an appointment because of the pain I felt during my ERP sessions, but I knew I could do even better with additional treatment. I eventually said yes, and scheduled a telehealth visit.
Seeing this therapist was the best decision I had ever made in my treatment. Her work was excellent, and she flat out told me, habitual ERP is not good because not one person would feel comfortable thinking these distressing thoughts. Instead of focusing on thinking these thoughts, you need to focus on what you do with them afterwards. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel with this single statement. I felt like I could become 100% better.
I started working on it. I distracted myself after a thought would pop in because my compulsion was rumination. Rumination is, by definition, a deep or considered thought about something, meaning I would get stuck analyzing my intrusive thoughts. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I want to make something clear here, distraction is NOT a compulsion as long as you are doing it to stop a compulsion. What I mean is, don’t distract yourself from thinking thoughts. That is called avoidance. What you have to do is let the thoughts happen, but stop ruminating, or critically thinking, about them. Rumination is the enemy, and it fuels the OCD fire.
This new therapist was excellent and pushed me to just about 100% better. This, in combination with Zoloft has made me myself again, after a year of trying to figure it all out. I went from thinking my world was over to knowing that life is worth living, even though I have OCD. We all can do this together. If you are a sufferer of OCD, please keep your head up, and be strong. Therapy is tough, but it can and will get you to a suitable spot. It’s worth it, and you can do it!