We’re all taught from a young age that the secret to a happy and fulfilling life is to love yourself. It is common to hear: “Love yourself and the rest is easy” and “To eradicate self-doubt, just think positively!” While they are nice notions, my experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has contradicted all of them. How can I love myself if my own mind traps me in a constant state of chaos? As for thinking positively – it is ineffective in the face of sneaky obsessions, terrifying intrusive thoughts, and exhausting compulsions.
Only when I was diagnosed with OCD at the age of 20 did I discover that what was going on in my head wasn’t just a distorted personality trait, but an actual identifiable disorder. As a teenager, I spent years locked away in my room due to my depression and social anxiety around being at school. The counting while putting on deodorant (and my raw, scratched armpits) as well as the constant worry about the uncertainty of basically everything just seemed like, well… me. Besides going to therapy for the intermittently angry outbursts I experienced as a teenager, everything seemed to be fine.
Listening to friends talk in the hallway at school, mental disorders seemed to be an adjective for everything. “The weather today is so bipolar, can the sun just come out?”; “I’m so OCD when it comes to my shoes, they have to be clean.”
Everything became far worse after I turned 18. The angry outbursts became more frequent, and I felt constantly on edge because the intrusive thoughts were infecting parts of my personality. Thoughts like these flowed through my mind multiple times a day:
What if I didn’t blow the candle out? What will happen to my dog? Does my boyfriend still love me? Do I still love him? What if the violent intrusive thoughts actually happened; what if I really hurt this person? What if I killed them? How will I survive in jail? How will I pay for a lawyer?
Although I love my partner very much, at one point I experienced intrusive thoughts of cheating on him and ruining our relationship. Consequently, I stopped looking people in the eyes terrified that I would fall in love with someone else.
Everything around me became a trigger. The thoughts became so constant and worrisome that I stopped sleeping. I fell into a depression that was so isolating it felt like I was in a sustained state of darkness. All of this interfered with my schooling, which has always been a top priority for me. Crying during presentations and being half asleep at the wheel became the norm.
Being a psychology student, I’m quite aware of the benefits that result from social support. My partner and I have been together for almost five years, and the support he has given me has helped me tackle the OCD and make my life worth living. When I was 20, he advocated for me and found fantastic doctors that completely changed my life, thus beginning the journey of finally learning to love myself.
Finding the right doctors has been a crucial part of my treatment. Starting an antidepressant while in therapy made everything a tad easier, as it lifted a curtain on the sadness that was interfering with the exposure and response prevention therapy. While I am not completely free of my fears, dealing with them and coping with the anxiety has been so much easier.
I must admit: two years out of therapy and I still haven’t learned to completely love myself, but I now admire parts of myself. I admire my persistence after the many ups and downs. Through dialectal behavioral therapy, I’ve learned how to manage my anxiety and cope with OCD symptoms, and have embraced mindfulness as a practice. It’s important to be mindful and remind yourself that you are not the stigma; seeing a tiny ray of light even in the darkest of places is important. My personal ray of light that has paved the road to (partial) self-acceptance has been the people around me, especially my partner. I do not know where I would be without his love, acceptance, and understanding.
I would hope that those who experience OCD or any mental disorder have their own support system and if unattainable, be their own light in their life.
Mitchell, a current patient at DBT Psychological Services of Long Island