I have anxiety and OCD. It’s been diagnosed by psychologists and psychiatrists alike. I’ve done therapy to work through it. I also take medication for it. And symptoms are much better than they were in the past. However, I didn’t understand OCD’s role in my life until just recently.
I knew I had anxiety. And I figured that was the main culprit behind past mental health issues. But I just read a book that changed my opinion.
Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz is a book about OCD. About understanding its symptoms and how to work through them. I didn’t expect to gain much from it. However, near immediately I was proven wrong. The book opened with example after example of real people dealing with OCD. From their, at times, paranoid, obsessive behaviors, to the compulsions and rituals they performed to rid themselves of such intrusive thoughts.
It resonated with me. A lot. Suddenly, much of my life made sense.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD works in two stages. There is an obsession (O) and a compulsion (C).
A common OCD scenario has to do with handwashing. A thought comes into your head that says, “Your hands are dirty. If you don’t do something about it, everyone you love will get sick and die.” Obsession. Overcome with stress, you go to the sink and wash your hands. But you can never seem to get them clean enough. Hours later, you’re still at the sink scrubbing away at your raw hands. Compulsion. The obsession is often intrusive and relentless. The compulsion is equally so.
My OCD has never been that extreme. In fact, my compulsions are somewhat limited. I generally spend most of my time in the obsessions stage. I’d say the split is 85/15. As in, of my OCD, 85% of it is made up of obsessions.
That said, here’s a story that includes both factors.
For years, I kept a detailed schedule. I would plan out my Monday through Sunday on an Excel spreadsheet. That’s not a big deal. I still do something like that to some degree. This next part though has OCD written all over it. Each week, I needed to save my schedule as a screenshot. That way I could reference it whenever necessary. That was the compulsion. Save a snapshot of my week. If I didn’t, I would panic and try to recreate it from memory.
The obsession was that the police were going to interrogate me. And that if I didn’t know where I had been at a specific day and time, I would be wrongly sentenced. If I didn’t keep diligent records of my schedule, if I didn’t feed the obsession with a compulsion, terrible things would happen.
The funny thing is, that obsession was actually born out of a previous obsession I had. I knew none of it made sense. But logic wouldn’t make it go away.
Terror on the road
Many times, I’m solely bombarded by intrusive, dark thoughts.
My wife and I were on a trip earlier this year. I took a nap while she drove. Not long after, I woke up with a terrible thought that something bad was going to happen to our daughter (a toddler). I could see it bright and clear in my mind. Was this a premonition? A subconscious warning? I panicked. I texted my mom who was watching her. Explaining the situation, I told her about my concerns and to be extra vigilant. Especially during meal times.
Our weekend away was still a lot of fun. However, I did have a hard time shaking those obsessive thoughts. But, of course, when we returned home our daughter was completely fine.
Classic OCD obsession.
That was light compared to intrusions of the past. At least in this case it was mostly background noise. Years ago, my OCD was so intense it was living front and center in my life. There was no present moment for me. In every conversation, every activity, the intrusive thoughts were loud and in my face.
Daisies in the dark
OCD plagued me for much of my life. It still does, but nowhere near like it used to. Medication has helped a lot. I still have symptoms, but they’re manageable.
Yet through all that tumult, I launched companies, got married, started a family, bought a home, and now run my blog, QuickBooost, full-time. Most of that happened before meds even entered the picture. Things just continued to get better once they did.
I could have easily let the OCD drive me mad. If I had more intense symptoms, it may have. Just look at Howard Hughes.
That said, it was during my first intensive flare-up that I began setting goals for myself. My life was in chaos, my mind was being pounded with intrusions, and I needed control over something. Anything. I began reading more, though I couldn’t do it for too long. The obsessions would creep in after a while. I also began exercising more and eating better. I somehow launched my first business during that time and elected to get outdoors more.
This was the beginning of my self improvement.
Make it good
Things didn’t get easier immediately. It took a long time for symptoms to become more manageable. But focusing on those goals made it better. I had something positive to sink my OCD into. I had things that kept me busy in meaningful ways.
There were other factors that helped: moving home, detaching from toxic friend groups, getting more sleep. All things that improved my life. Things I may never have had done had I not been struggling with an illness that went largely undiagnosed for years.
Regardless, I made it through. And, my life is all the more fulfilled because of it.
I still do goal setting. In fact, I’m a huge proponent of it. But it’s no longer something I do to control my out-of-control mind. Rather, I do it out of the intentional, fulfilling life it has helped me create.
We all have things we struggle with. It isn’t always easy to find the hope in the darkness. But know that it is possible. Focus on something good and take baby steps each day towards it. In time, you will build a truly wonderful life for yourself.
Now, please excuse me. I’m going to go give my past self a hug.