Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Journey Continues

This post is a more detailed version of my OCD story, which I have shared previously. This post contains much more vivid recall of some of the intrusive thoughts that I've dealt with, in particular, those in the wheelhouse of HOCD and specifically those that came on after becoming a mom.

The journey continues....

It started when I was six years old. I constantly checked for my own heartbeat. I can’t tell you what I was thinking then, what obsessions were playing like a broken record in my mind. All I remember is feeling like I needed to make sure my heart was beating. I’d bring my shaky little hand to my chest and hold it there, waiting, eyes wide, until I was sure my heart was doing what it was supposed to, and I would continue living. I remember my mom saying, “Honey your heart is beating, you wouldn’t be breathing if it wasn’t”.

When I was about twelve I had to cough and flick my fingers. It’s like I was expelling the bad juju. I had to forcefully breathe it out and away. I can remember sitting in my living room, looking out the window coughing and flicking. I usually had to look outside when doing it, so I could direct the juju out there somewhere and not into whatever space I was in where it could be re-inhaled.

There were obsessions about the devil possessing me.

There were obsessions about being gay, when I was barely even old enough to know what that meant.

I would hold my breath around certain people that gave me weird vibes.

I avoided certain rooms in our house because they were cursed.

I’ve obsessed over my food being poisoned or contaminated.

There were times in which if I touched something with one hand, I had to touch it with the other, so I could feel balanced.

I've compulsively prayed. Over and over the same prayers from childhood. Not offering any solace, only making noise in my mind and giving me a moments reprieve from the fear.

I was somehow able to keep any outward compulsions mostly sequestered to home or in the car. I didn’t perform them at school or where anyone else, besides my family would see me. The majority of my compulsions were, and still are, mental, so most people would never know the way my own mind tormented me. They would never imagine the pure terror that coursed through my veins throughout most days. Besides being a little quirky, I probably seemed like a pretty average kid. Of course, my parents knew. My mom struggled with OCD herself growing up and knew right away what was happening with her little girl. She tried to find help, reaching out to the pediatrician, but in the 80’s there was not a lot of support for kids with OCD. The doctor gave me pills to help my anxious tummy and told me I was too young to be worrying so much.

I don’t remember having any real specific obsessions in high school. OCD, as I had known it, had taken a back seat. Anxiety and panic took the lead when I was about 16 years old. It came and went throughout high school, until one night when I was about 20. I was living with my boyfriend (now husband) at the time. We were in bed, when suddenly I had the most vivid thought of stabbing him through the chest. I broke out into a cold sweat. I shook with fear, and was terrified to move, because if I moved, I might move right on over to the kitchen to grab the knife. When I was able to get myself out of the bed I called my mom. I could always count on my mom. I told her what was happening. I don’t remember the details, but she talked me down somehow. Again, I was a master of disguise, completely composing my outward appearance. The man I lived with didn’t even know I was a soon to be ax murderer. Some months, or years later, I found a therapist.

I had been to therapy before that. Mostly talk therapy, for the anxiety, but had never seen an actual psychiatrist until somewhere around 23 years old. God, I can remember that appointment so well. I hold a special place in my heart for that doctor. I went into his office, sure he was going to tell me I was a threat to society, a sociopath killer about to be unleashed at any second. I knew I had to be honest and tell him everything. He made it easy. He had such a warm presence. When I was done spilling my guts and explaining how I was certain I was on the verge of completely losing my sanity, he looked at me with such compassion and certainty in his eyes. “You have OCD. A mild to moderate case. You are not crazy, and you are not dangerous.” Just thinking of it now, 2 decades later, still fills me with relief. It had a name. It was a real thing. The doctor had no question on the diagnosis. Of course, that didn’t leave me completely convinced, because OCD is the “doubting disease”. “What if he’s wrong? What if I’m the first case…the first one who actually does it, who acts out their obsession? Maybe he doesn’t see the whole picture and I’m really a dangerous killer?” He explained the way OCD works. He defined obsessions and compulsions for me. He explained treatment options. He emphatically insisted OCD was not who I was. In fact, very opposite of who I was at the core of my being. He told me that we would begin ERP and medication. He compared OCD to diabetes, saying just as a diabetic needs to take medication and care for themselves with diet and exercise, so would I. That with therapy, medication and self-care, I should find significant relief.

And I did. It took time. There was probably a year or so in which holding knives or cutting things panicked me. Many years in which I adamantly avoided the news and violent movies. But it got better, little by little. I plowed through, cut chicken even though it petrified me and, although it often sent me into a tail spin, even let myself be exposed to the terrible nightly news. For years following, I was nearly free of OCD. Or at least, when obsessions came, I was mostly able to recognize, relabel them, and refocus. I got married, had a career in banking and moved on. Then I got pregnant. At the time I was on Paxil, so immediately started weaning. I lasted almost the whole pregnancy. I began struggling again towards my last month (replaying past guilt inducing events over and over like a broken movie film in my mind) and the OBGYN started a very low dose of Zoloft. I had the baby, and post-partum OCD hit like a bullet train.

The first week or so home with the baby, I don’t necessarily recall intrusive thoughts, just intense consuming anxiety. I was not able to eat and constantly shaking. I was still able to care for him but looking back I’m not sure how I did.  It didn’t take long for OCD to pick a new obsession, and really it wasn’t new. The theme was the same thing I struggled against for years, now it just had a new target. The obsessions, of course, centered around my sweet new bundle of joy. More specifically, on throwing my precious baby against the wall and killing him. I have a vivid imagination which enables these types of intrusive thoughts to be very realistic and detailed. I saw every millisecond in slow motion. I’m leaning over my beautiful boy as he lay on his changing table looking up into my face. I go to pick him up, like I always do. Then, instead of holding him to my chest and kissing his head, I throw him, with all my strength, against the far wall. His arms and legs flail. He looks at me, wide eyed. His cry pierces my heart. I hear his head hit the hard-flat surface and see the blood on the light blue wall as his quiet body falls to the floor. My body would instantly be inundated with cortisol. My breath became shallow and sweat poured from me in sheets.

It’s difficult to remember this time with accuracy. I can’t recollect what behaviors I performed to counteract the intrusive thoughts, other than falling back into compulsive praying and reciting certain phrases in my mind on a loop ("it's alright, it's okay"). I remember some lovely moments of rocking him to sleep while singing to him. Looking into his angel face, nuzzling into his neck. I think it was just all mixed together. Pleasure and pain, moment to moment. But I was lucky in a sense. OCD was not new to me. Although I was completely overwhelmed and sickened by it, I knew what it was. I recognized this bully, even in its new mask.

 My trusty old therapist who began my OCD recovery was not available, but his office recommended another. I made an appointment and met another angel and we got to work. At this point I was a pissed off mamma bear. I was completely terrified, yes absolutely, but I was not going to let myself go down this pit. I was going to fight this with every ounce of my being, because now it was for my baby. I needed to be a strong and healthy mommy, and I knew that meant ERP. The new doctor and I got down to the nitty gritty immediately. I was habituating the obsessions by purposefully and vividly bringing on the images that filled me with panic. I was doing so many times each day. I was singing about killing my baby as I took my bath, letting the fear flood my body and the tears run down my face. As we strolled down the sidewalk on our daily walk I told myself out loud, today was the day, today I was going to kill him.  It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever EVER done.  And it worked. The obsession lost its power within a month or two. It no longer paralyzed me. The intrusive thoughts were not gone. They still popped in, but the fear associated with them, the worry that these thoughts meant something, was completely minimized.

That was 12 years ago. I stayed on Zoloft and continued to use “my tools” when things came up.
About 4 years ago I became a passionate yoga student. Followed by practicing meditation, then becoming a Reiki practitioner and teaching yoga. Almost a year ago I went off the medication, feeling I had the tools I needed to do this without the pills. I have grown so much since the beginning of my journey. I have learned breathing practices and mindfulness. I have delved into non-attachment, acceptance and the subtle energy body. I have essential oils and herbal remedies……

And…..several months ago I reintroduced Zoloft. I have grown, and I do have amazing tools and beautiful practices that have opened a whole new way of seeing the world and the people living in it…and I STILL HAVE OCD. My old friend, harm obsessions, came back to remind me of that. Gosh, I swear, you’d think OCD would come up with some new material after decades. It’s sneaky though. Even if the theme of the thoughts is the same (harming a loved one) the specifics will be slightly different. Just enough to create the rise of panic OCD feeds off of. Different enough to enable the worry that this thought is different, therefore a new manifestation of the truly hidden desire to kill those closest to me. Tricky tricky.  I habituated these old but new obsessions immediately. I, mostly, stole their thunder. I felt like sh*@ while doing it, but I did it anyway. And it gifted me with the opportunity to reexamine my self-care, and my beliefs. It allowed me to practice giving myself grace that I would not have otherwise known was lacking.

Grace because...when I began feeling like maybe it was best to go back to having the medication as part of my self-care potpourri, I struggled. I overthought it. I analyzed and investigated. I pro-ed and con-ed it to death. I reread vast amounts of information on OCD, what causes it and what treatments are most successful. Of course, this in itself was compulsive.

Ultimately, I was feeling beaten. I was looking at this as a failed attempt to live without the support that medication brings. I was taking the easy way out. I was blocking my path to enlightenment by adding this substance back into my body, into my life. I was admitting defeat, admitting that I didn’t have the mental or spiritual strength to do the work, to walk the path I’ve been given.

Oh, how we beat ourselves up. How we talk down to ourselves. How we twist our own reality. We sometimes expect so much more out of ourselves then we do anyone else. If my friend were in the position I am in, I know what I’d say. I’d support them. I’d tell them “you are a warrior, not broken but completely perfect in your imperfection.” That taking medication does not make them weak. It does not block their truest potential but actually allows it and supports it. That caring for themselves the best that they can, whatever that means, is the right thing to do.

So, I’m taking own advice. I’ve reintroduced medication. I’m continuing with my yoga, Reiki and meditation practice. I’m absolutely using ERP, and mindfulness. I'm allowing for various paths and supports to continue healing. And I’m remembering….

I am a warrior. I am not broken but completely perfect in my imperfection. I am just as I was meant to be. OCD and all.

I share this story with hope in my heart, that it will serve someone. That my story will shed light on OCD, in its various forms, for those who are unfamiliar with the disorder. And mainly, for other sufferers. New moms who are being tormented by terrifying intrusive thoughts and all-consuming anxiety. New moms who are afraid they will hurt their babies. Who only want to be the best parent that they can be but are battling for their lives in secret. You are not alone. This pain, this fiend has a name. And it’s not yours. It’s OCD. There is help and there is hope. Don’t hide in shame. Come into the light. There are lots of us here.