Fear is fear. My fear may be different than yours, but we fight it just the same.
Living with OCD is living with constant fear pulling at your mind. And I want to be clear, it is real fear, I chose that word purposefully. I did not say discomfort. I did not say annoyance. I did not say worry. I said fear. Try to imagine the absolute terror you would feel if you suddenly woke up in a dark cave. You don’t know how you got there. You don’t know how long you’ve been there. And now that you think of it, you don’t even know that it is a cave. You don’t know who or what else is in there with you. You don’t know what is going to happen next. And worse of all, you don’t even know what is reality anymore. It is that level of uncertainty and fear that is always with someone living with OCD. Constantly. And I truly mean constantly.
“OCD takes that window of uncertainty and runs with it.”
With every movement I make, I have at least ten what-if’s running through my mind. What do you think about when you’re walking to your car to go run some errands? Probably your grocery list, what you want for lunch, what so-and-so’s new Facebook status said. Did you consciously think about every step you took to get to the door? Did you think about every object you passed and whether you may or may not have touched them? Probably not. You most likely walk that path every day without a second thought. I walk to the door and each and every one of my steps is slow and deliberate so that I can know without a doubt what I’ve stepped on. And while I’m painstakingly monitoring the path of my feet, I am also trying to keep track of my elbows and my hands, making sure that they don’t touch something that my OCD has labeled as life-threatening. And while I am tracking my feet, elbows and hands, I am also trying to keep track of just how much I move my head in case the hair piled up into a messy bun might also touch something dangerous. And while tracking my feet, elbows, hands, head and hair, I am also looking ahead and trying to plan every step and every movement that will get me from point A to point B while avoiding all of the OCD traps. Now if you have ever tried this, you probably very quickly determined that it is not possible for your mind to actually track all of these things. At least not to the level of detail that the little OCD-brain-monster requires. So inevitably, before you can get to the door, you probably focused too closely on your left elbow, took a step, and then realized that within that step, you have no idea where your right elbow was! (Although if OCD wasn’t warping your reality, you very well know where your right elbow was. It’s attached to your arm and you have spatial awareness as well as a sense of touch, although OCD would like you to forget that). So now OCD takes this window of uncertainty and runs with it. Convincing you that since you were not painfully aware of where your right elbow was in space, you have no way of knowing what it touched. Therefore it could have touched something dangerous. So by the time you get to the car, if you ever do get to the car, you had to go wash your elbow, but let’s face it, what starts as just washing an elbow will most likely turn into a full-body shower. Because the fear you feel is as real and paralyzing as the fear you would feel if you woke up in that dark cave.
“It is amazing that you got out of bed today.”
If you have the tools and the support, you can fight this fear and OCD. But that’s easier said than done and some days are harder than others. Everyone battling their OCD will have their ups and downs. But sometimes it is that hard just to walk through your house. At this point in my fight it is that hard for me. So I am trying to change my definition of success. And as someone who used to be very driven and hold very high standards for myself, this is a very real struggle for me. This is why it is so crucial for people struggling with any type of mental illness to have someone in their life who is able to recognize and celebrate the small, yet not so small achievements. It is amazing that you got out of bed today. It is amazing that you got dressed. You won’t be able to do everything in one day. But don’t let the many little set backs take away from that one big stride forward.