Let this sink in: Recovery from OCD is a journey, not a destination.
Since I’ve written a book about “how I learned to obsess less and live my life,” people sometimes ask me if I have overcome OCD or if I still obsess. The answer is that I don’t obsess like I used to, which sometimes feels like a miracle. But what makes life easier, and this long, winding road of recovery less treacherous, is that I realized years ago that there’s no such thing as perfection. If my goal were to be obsession-free, or to never, ever let a bad thought enter my mind again, life would be torture.
Living with OCD–and not constantly battling against it–means accepting that I will have doubts. I will have bad thoughts. I will, from time to time, feel panic surge through my body because an old obsession has been triggered. It’s frustrating to have to continue to deal with this disorder, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I do have OCD. I just do. Nothing will change that basic fact, but I can work to give my thoughts less power and to simply react to them rather than overreact to them.
I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel discouraged. Quite the opposite! I want you to know you are a human being. You are imperfect. You will fail. (You must be thinking, “Wait, I thought she said she wasn’t trying to discourage me.”) We are all imperfect, whether we have OCD or not. Lay down the burden of trying to rid yourself of every intrusive thought you’ve ever had, or of never performing a compulsion again. Success does not equal perfection. Success means you’ve improved. Success means you’ve tried, and you’ll try again tomorrow.
So, yes, I still obsess, often in different ways than I did before I was diagnosed with OCD and got help:
- A few weeks ago I was babysitting my nephews. One of them wriggled so much as I helped him get his pajamas on that the pants ended up backward. That bothered me. The third time I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to turn your pants around?” I really heard myself and knew I had to just let it go. It wasn’t bothering him at all–why was I stressing about it?
- I keep track of readers’ reviews of my book. One day I noticed that one reviewer had downgraded her five-star rating to four stars. What? Why? Did she read my book again and change her mind? Was it a mistake? Should I try to contact her to ask what happened?! Whoa! No! I should definitely not try to track down a perfect stranger, a well-meaning reader of my book, and ask her why she’d changed her review. I admit, with some shame, that it still bothers me. I’ve even “done the math” and thought, “If only that rating hadn’t changed, I’d now be at 36% five stars, not 32%…” But I’m working on letting it go. See?! I am far from perfect. Embarrassingly so. (Please, don’t let this confession stop you from being completely honest if you do ever review my book online.)
- When I started reading Rewind, Replay, Repeat by Jeff Bell, there were so many similarities in our stories I worried that he’d think I’d copied him if he were to read my book. Twice I even started writing emails to him to assure him that I hadn’t stolen his book idea–but I felt so ridiculous each time that I stopped writing and deleted my draft. I mean, come on. We both have OCD. Of course there will be some overlap! Yeah, Alison, you both wrote about seeing a psychiatrist. Big whoop. What kept me from telling Jeff this, and pseudo-apologizing to him, was that I could pretty much guess how he’d react. He’d either laugh or, in a very nice Jeff Bell way, simply refuse to reassure me that it was okay. Basically, I knew I was “being OCD” and didn’t need Jeff to tell me that. I could tell myself that just fine and save both of us some time and trouble.
There you have it: A slice of life with OCD. I’m not depressed or obsessing every single day, and my obsessions aren’t dark like they once were. But I do feel anxious sometimes. I do jump to the most illogical conclusions. I do toss and turn some nights worrying about something I said, or didn’t say, and how I could make up for it. And this is all okay, because I’m me, Alison Dotson, and I have OCD–as well as a life to live.
Great post, Alison! Even without having OCD, I could relate to how you reacted to the situations in your examples; I would have done the same thing in most of the cases.I think the most important thing is that, as you say, you can deal with these “blips” and still live the life you want for yourself. OCD is no longer calling the shots, and that’s huge!