Struggling with life after OCD
Today’s post isn’t one I was planning on needing to write, but here we are! Over the last few months, as I’ve completed the process of stopping my rituals, I’ve found my depression worsening and generally feeling lost and hopeless. I wanted to share my experience in the hope that someone out there might have experienced something similar and can offer advice.
A little warning/disclaimer, I don’t write this with the intention of putting people off seeking treatment for OCD and attempting to stop their rituals. That is absolutely not what I’d say to anyone but in my rational moments, I can see how much my life has improved since starting my treatment. . At times, I feel braver than I ever have before and I’m finding the courage to try things that seemed impossible before – they’re small things that others wouldn’t give a second thought to, but they’re mountains to me.
My intention is to get some advice for myself and also to let others know that if you’re emerging from the cocoon of OCD as I am and you’re not feeling like you’ve achieved anything or like you’ve made your life better, you’re not alone, I feel it too.
A little background…
I’ve been undergoing CBT for severe OCD for over a year now and I’ve finally managed to stop all of my rituals. It’s been about 3 months since I stopped doing my rituals every day. I’ve had a few instances where I’ve given in to a ritual on a day when I was feeling pretty stressed but to be honest, I could probably count the number of times that’s happened over the last couple of months on one hand.
The obsession and the compulsion…
When I started CBT, I thought that everything would just ‘click’ and I’d be able to drop my rituals easily because whatever was wrong in my brain would have been fixed by the therapy. Obviously, as those of you who’ve been through CBT and/or OCD will probably know, that was not realistic in the slightest! When I eventually started gradually dropping the rituals and found it harder than I’d expected, I kept myself going by telling myself that once I dropped the rituals, everything would be good. I’d be happy, my life would be everything I wanted it to be – I didn’t know what I wanted out of life but I believed that dropping my rituals would fix that.
What I hadn’t allowed for was the two-fold nature of OCD - the fact that the obsession and the compulsion, although linked, are still separate entities. Dropping the rituals/compulsions was the first part and wouldn’t automatically get rid of the negative thoughts/obsessions.
Being defined by OCD…
Even when I was down to my last ritual, I still felt sick with dread. I still believed that something awful was going to happen because I was no longer doing my rituals. Not having the rituals there every day to remind me of those negative thoughts has meant that they’ve retreated to a certain degree but that’s also left room in my mind for other thoughts: Who am I without my OCD? If it was all for nothing, if my rituals were pointless, have I just wasted the last 14 years of my life?
The depression that followed…
No longer having my rituals to occupy me has left me with far too much time. For example, it used to take me at least 45 minutes to an hour to get ready for bed whereas it now takes about 15 minutes. That leaves me with 30 to 45 minutes that I didn’t have before which I’ve been using to think, think and think some more - think about life, think about all of the time I’ve wasted, think about how something is going to happen because I’ve stopped the rituals, think about all of the things that are wrong with me – my personality, how I look, how I talk.
These negative thoughts were always there, even while I was performing rituals – I’ve always had low self-esteem since I was a child and I’ve always been very introspective, thinking about things much too deeply. Clearly, these things have been building and growing under the cover of OCD all these years.
Since stopping my rituals, the depression that was already there beneath the surface has escalated dramatically. I find myself frequently crying because it feels like all of the effort that I put in to dropping the rituals wasn’t worth it. I have much more spare time now but that spare time is making me feel worse than I ever did while I was doing the rituals.
The only way I can find to explain it is that during the rituals, I had a kind of tunnel vision – the rituals were all that I could see. Although I cared what I looked like, whether I was doing something meaningful with my life etc., I was so completely focussed on my rituals that I wasn’t paying attention to the other issues. Now that the rituals are gone, my vision has been widened and I’m seeing all of the other issues that were waiting on the periphery for my attention.
Adjustment to life after OCD…
The advice that I’ve been given is that this is a period of adjustment. You’ve spent a significant amount of time living your life in a certain way and you’re now learning to live it differently. In my case, I’ve been carrying out rituals for over a decade which covers all of my teenage years and most of my twenties. I’m now trying to play catch-up with my peers – they’ve had those years to learn to be adults, learn to take risks, all of those things that OCD prevented me from doing.
My trouble is learning to accept that those years are gone and I can’t get them back. If I could go back to the day when I did my first ritual, I would do things so differently.
I’d love to hear in the comments from anyone reading this who’s come through OCD and is feeling this way or felt this way and has found a way to deal with it – do you have any tips or advice?