Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s OCD! Do we recognise it? OCD is not me. OCD defines me, not really. OCD is wondrous, nope. It is only a part of me. Many people suffer from it. I am one of them, but it is not me, nor does it define me, and it is definitely not wondrous.
Then what is OCD? I will try to explain. Also, I will share some of my experiences and the ways I have dealt with it over the years in the monthly articles. At least, I hope so.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that causes repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations (obsessions) or the urge to do something over and over again (compulsions). Some of us, like myself, have had both, and I have dealt with both. When I was younger, I often checked the stove, doors, and windows, many, many times. In several instances, I had missed interviews and doctor appointments due to my OCD. But, OCD is not me, only a part of me.
A real example is one day in my early twenties, I woke around 9am for a 12pm therapy appointment. I would do my daily rituals, including brushing my teeth for about 15 minutes or until I was satisfied that all plaque was removed. Also, wow, it took me a long time to decide which shirt to wear. While getting dressed, I would start to make sure the stove was off. After 20, 30, or more times, I used to check that damn oven, and then I’d hear my therapist stating that if I was sure that the oven was shut off before I went to sleep, plus I did not put it on this morning, then the oven is very definitely off.
Hurriedly, I got dressed, put my jacket on, made sure I had my cell phone, grabbed something from the fridge, and raced out the front door, while thoughts of both my therapist and mine were dancing in my head. Eventually, this was all accomplished and I went on my way. But, was I? No, I proceeded back home to make sure the door was locked or thinking the door was not shut correctly, and then the process would start all over again. Initially, I decided to go back inside to inspect the stove for a few more minutes, then locked the door, and walked to the bus stop. Upon arrival, I was informed that the bus had already left and the next bus was in 20 minutes. Of course, I was late for therapy yet again. As we can see, my OCD was out of control. But I remind myself that OCD is not me, only a part of me.
In 1982, my therapist and I agreed that we needed to go in a new direction to combat my issues, so we discussed various options. After weeks of talking, she discussed a plan that might be good and beneficial for me where ideas were recommended that could make a difference in my treatment. Initially, she believed that I required more and consistent structure, so a referral was made for a Continuing Day Treatment (CDT) programme where I attended five days weekly from 9am to 3pm. Concurrently, she had filled out a series of forms for a phobia group. When they all started, I had more to do during the week than I had for years.
Fortunately for me, being half a mile from Mom’s house made it easier for me to show up. Although my anxiety and OCD was very high, especially the first few days, I was present every day except one for several months (snow caused this). During my months there, I went to several groups daily, some helped me, some not so much. As I hoped, it did give order to my life, built up my self-esteem, gaining more confidence talking in groups and returning to write again. Actually, for the last months, I was assistant editor of the monthly gazette.
In addition, after a short period, I was invited to begin a small phobia group of six to eight members. Unfortunately, the group was to be held in another one of the agency’s offices, three miles from home. Due to the fact I only travelled within a mile and a half from Mom’s place, I respectfully declined. Good news, a week before the scheduled start, the meetings were moved to the clinic two blocks from the CDT, so I reluctantly accepted. There were two meetings weekly, one at night where I learned a set of techniques that I still often use now. The other one was on the road, where I applied what was taught in real-life events. CDT understood the situation and they reduced my days to three.
My therapist and I met twice a week for eight weeks in a very structured format to assist with my OCD. This method helped me become more aware of my inaccurate and negative thinking, so I can view my challenging situation (OCD) clearly and respond in a more productive and effective way. When CBT was completed, there was some success with my compulsions plus my racing and repeated thoughts improved. During those last couple of months, I was able to develop ways to control that part of me and to keep a small segment of my well-being.
Once more, OCD is not me, only a part of me.
Howard Diamond is a certified peer specialist in New York.