The term OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is often used to describe perfectionist behavior. While people with OCD may just seem overly organized, Medscape says OCD behavior stems from pervasive psychological pain, anxiety and “distressing intrusive obsessive thoughts.”
Intrusive and distressing, these thoughts certainly are. I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until adulthood, but I recognize now that I’ve had OCD since early childhood. I experience chronic anxiety, fear, panic and self-doubt and they are crippling. I have nagging fears that people dislike, are angry with me or a perpetual cloud of undefined shame hangs over my head and I am frequently depressed. Because I do not love myself, I have difficulty recognizing love from others or feeling it.
My OCD makes me a workaholic. I was always a good student, meticulous about my assignments. In college, I took 18-21 credits per semester, studied day and night and worked a part-time job. Whatever I do, I give 200 percent. When kids came along, I worried and worked constantly. I’m driven by persistent thoughts that I’m not doing enough or failing someone.
I get little respite at night. I have chronic terrifying dreams in which I’ve done something terrible. Since childhood. I’ve walked and talked in my sleep. For years, I dreamed that I was missing a child. I would awake crying and screaming. My husband would have to reassure me sometimes I didn’t believe him even after I was awake. My dreams haunt me during the day. Because my dreams are so vivid, they seem very real. I have to sort out dream memories and real experiences upon waking.
My OCD has physical manifestations, too. I’ve dealt with migraine headaches, chronic back pain, CTS (carpal tunnel syndrome), tendinitis, allergies, a skin condition and an irregular heartbeat, all stemming from or exacerbated by obsessive anxiety. I’ve also self-abused, including biting and head-banging. I have scars on my hands from scratching myself.
Doctors linked my anxiety to two second trimester miscarriages in 2001 and 2004. During my fourth pregnancy, my placenta tore and I bled profusely. On the day it happened, I was experiencing intensely obsessive worry and overdid it.
What coping skills I use for OCD have changed over the years. When I was a child, nobody talked about emotional problems. I knew I was unhappy and anxious, but I didn’t understand what was causing it until age 28. Then it took me until around 35 to find seek treatment.
I’ve seen several therapists. kept a journal, used self-help books and taken classes at a psychiatric hospital. In 2001, I began taking Paxil to combat anxiety. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and started using a breathing machine. This has improved my rest and reduced dreams. Sleeping better helps me manage my obsessive anxiety.
Two years ago, I stopped taking the antidepressant because it seemed to make me more compulsive. I began taking vitamins and herbs (St. John’s Wort, vitamin B, C and D, potassium and iron). I started eating more vegetables and less fast food, processed food, sweets, red meat, dairy and sodium. All this has reduced my OCD issues.
Mostly, I’m learning to take my OCD one day at a time. I use techniques from Al-Anon, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and positive affirmations and healthy self-talk to change my irrational thinking and manage my anxiety.