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OCD, Anxiety and Everything Else

Six Years On: The Ups and Downs (but Mainly the Downs) of OCD Recovery

Rewritten from 17 March 2019 – formerly 2 Years

On 17 March 2017, I had my final session of high-intensity CBT after previously being diagnosed with OCD. My OCD was largely contamination based, but I also experienced intrusive thoughts around harming others, as well as health-anxiety related compulsions (long story short, I had major health anxiety around cancer, and every time I mentioned it, I would be scared that doing so would give me cancer unless I carried out my ‘touch-wood’ compulsion).

That day, I drove away from the hospital, singing along to Taylor Swift’s Clean, having gotten through a good 75% of my exposure work and able to do the things that I never thought I’d go again. Things that most people take for granted like using their phone without having to wipe it down and cleaning the bathroom without having to shower afterwards. I felt as though I finally had my life back.

Here’s Some Context

When I initially wrote what was the original version of this post in 2019, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind. My mind was convinced that despite how far I’d come, I was still failing in my recovery.

Here’s an example – as of 2019, I was able to use my phone again whenever I was out of the house. Before I started CBT, I wouldn’t use my phone outside of my house at all. I’d take it with me, but essentially, it was useless. My logic behind it? If there was nowhere to wash my hands, I couldn’t use my phone. If there were germs on my hands, they would transfer to my phone, and then what if I inadvertently touched my mouth after touching my phone and got ill? I previously counteracted this by cleaning it repeatedly with Dettol wipes. Every single time I went out. However, that didn’t end well.

I broke two phones through water damage, making it apparent that this was no way to live – hence why I stopped using my phone whenever I was out. There would be rare times where I was drunk or wanting to look vaguely normal, and I would use my phone, but still Dettol the crap out of it when I got home. “But there were probably hand washing facilities in most places you went!” I hear you cry. Yes. Yes there were. But that’s too easy…

  • I could wash my hands in the toilets of most public places, but I’d still have to touch taps/door handles etc. Far too many people don’t wash their hands after using the toilet and I wasn’t a fan of smearing someone else’s genitals all over my hands and phone
  • Even if I washed my hands at work (at the time, I was working in retail), there was usually someone who was ill. They could have coughed or sneezed near my phone (I’m genuinely embarrassed to confess this was a thought)
  • Surely I trusted the houses of friends and family? Well, yes. Sort of. The phone would stay in my bag because I absolutely could not put it on any surface. What if someone had been ill?

You get the idea. If you needed to contact me in an emergency, you’d be stuffed. Apologies to anyone who’s calls I snubbed or texts I took forever to answer. However, when I was discharged in March 2017, that was all gone. I was able to use my phone on a night out, at work, shopping, at friends and family members’ houses and so on. For me, it was huge. It still is huge. However, my brain focused on the fact that while I would use my phone in these situations, I wouldn’t touch it unless I’d washed my hands or used hand sanitiser. To this day, I still occasionally Dettol wipe my phone if it’s come into contact with something or someone I deem “risky.” Namely, if someone else picks it up, or I’m in contact with someone who is ill.

When I wrote a post on my two-year discharge-iversary, I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that I wasn’t as far as I wanted to be in my recovery. I spent such a long time thinking that I would never get my life back, having wasted so much time doing stupid rituals and cleaning things which didn’t need to be cleaned. And then, the funniest thing happened.

I say it’s funny. It wasn’t funny. I was just trying to be a bit of a comedian and be entertaining (channelling my inner Bo Burnham…if you’ve seen Inside, you’ll know).

Before the absolute carnage that was 2020, despite my doubts, I very slowly started to remember the feelings of accomplishment I felt when, for the first time in over a year, I cleaned my bathroom and didn’t have a shower afterwards. It’s something which I can still do – a task that used to take me over an hour now takes me around 30 minutes tops. It’s still probably my most hated chore, but who enjoys cleaning a toilet anyway?

However, the pandemic changed my perception of what was rational and what wasn’t. I knew people who were wiping down their groceries, and that was something I didn’t even do when my OCD was at its worst. Instead of fighting against my ‘everyday’ compulsions, I was now fighting against brand new compulsions that had the potential to completely overhaul my recovery.

I could probably write an entire book on how the pandemic impacted my OCD, but I’m aware that this post is already a pretty long one. Long story short, my recovery has taken a huge nose-dive in the last three years.  As a side note, I’d also like to shout out to the people who told me I was “lucky” to have OCD in the middle of a pandemic because I was “prepared” – your comments were SUPER helpful.

On top of that, my mental health has struggled in other ways over the last few years. Depression and anxiety took up residence thanks to working for a toxic boss who repeatedly gaslit me and my colleagues, as well as humiliating and belittling me whenever I did the smallest thing he didn’t agree with. Thankfully, I took steps to contact my GP again who referred me for low-intensity CBT, who in-turn referred me for employment support. It was that which ultimately gave me the confidence and spurred me to apply for a new job, a job which I was offered, and have now been happily settled in for almost two years.

We all know my most recent thwack on my mental health. Over the four weeks where my dad was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with cancer, and ultimately died from it, I experienced some of the worst psychological pain I’d ever experienced. Pain which I’m still struggling with as I type this and I don’t think will ever completely go away. I’d be lying if I said I was okay, because I’m not. The depression that hits me all too often also drags my OCD tendencies out again, causing me to repeatedly wash my hands and flooding me with intrusive thoughts. It’s almost like the events of the last few years have deleted virtually all of my coping strategies (aside from drinking wine, I’m an expert at that one).

I’m still having counselling, something which I started up early last year, and in recent weeks after my dad’s death we’ve established there’s a lot of trauma from it. During the three days in which my dad very quickly started to decline, I witnessed things that will stay with me forever and that run through my head on a daily basis.

I’ve been taking medication since I was originally diagnosed with OCD in 2016. There was one point in early 2019 where I was hoping to come off it at some point in the future. In a way, I’m relieved that I never got to that point. Had I endured the pandemic and subsequent events medication-free, I genuinely don’t know how I would have coped without those little white pills (Sertraline, not Es). Would I like to come off it in the future? Absolutely. Is it a big deal if I don’t? Probably not. You would take medication for your physical health – whether it’s for diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma – there should be no shame in taking it for your mental health.

Anyway, I derailed things there. I feel a bit indifferent to my recovery at the moment. It’s weird. In 2019, I was proud to have gotten to the stage I was at. In 2021, I felt disappointed in myself that I let the pandemic crap on things. It’s now 2023, and I don’t really know what to think. I feel like given what happened in the last year, I should give myself a break, but at the same time, I can’t silence the part of my brain that keeps shouting “STOP USING IT AS AN EXCUSE.” Is there a positive I can focus on? I guess it’s this: I’m still here. Just. I feel like I’m completely fucking broken, but I’m still here. I may be drinking copious amounts of wine and watching Bo Burnham specials on repeat (something about that self-deprecating, mental health infused comedy is comforting), but I’m still here. To quote the lyrics of our queen and saviour, Ms Swift, “I just wanted you to know that this is me trying.”

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