How I used OCD to my advantage, despite its debilitating effects
Posted Wednesday 15 August 2012
I have kept every little memento of my life: in depth diaries, airline tickets, photos, letters, emails, text messages, notes from people – everything and anything. I had an inkling from a young age that my life was different; that I might one day write my story. But it wasn’t until my depression and anxiety worsened in my thirties, and I embarked on a journey to rediscover my past, that I began to see that maybe I really was different.
I had no idea just how much of my life I had dissociated from, including being raped when I was fifteen. It was like I was reading about someone else. In 2008, after referral to a psychiatrist, I finally had a name that explained the many symptoms I’d suffered since my teens as well as depression, OCD, self-harm, eating disorder and alcohol issues to name a few. I was diagnosed with co-occurring Borderline personality disorder, and for a long time I was still in denial. But I always knew I would eventually have to face up to it.
So I wrote my story; my journey back to me. How I was able to use all those mementos of my past to finally see who I had become, and more importantly with a combination of therapy, medication and my self therapy writing, how I became that alien self and how to find the real me.
But I do believe my recovery and writing of my book was powered by obsession and strength. I used my OCD tendencies to get me through. While they were debilitating and controlled me in some ways, I was controlling them in others.
We can all have worries or suspicions but many people can think about them logically and dissolve them with explanation or positive action. Those people can get on with their lives and put their worries to the side. But with OCD the thoughts, obsessions do not stop and a perpetual cycle of rituals and routines can begin.
I knew my compulsive behaviours were not logical but I could not stop the destructive behaviours. I would think I hadn’t locked the door when I left my flat. I would have to go back, no matter what time of day or night, to check that it was locked, even though I knew it was. Or, I would think that a glass near a window would set the flat alight because the sun would shine through the window, onto the glass and cause fire. I knew that these things were not viable, yet I absolutely had to go back home to check, no matter where I was, despite there never being a problem. I’d even have to get my ex-boyfriend out of bed at 2am to drive me home to check if I was staying at his home. He wouldn’t argue either, as he knew there was no point – he couldn’t talk sense into me.
As a child I counted everything – steps as I walked along, and pavement squares, counting words I would say over and over in my head. How many pages of a book I’d read, statistically analysing what percentage of a book or task I was at.
At fifteen, I became obsessed with my stomach being flat and formed an eating/exercising disorder. Then it was obsessions with boys, men, taking photographs, being scared of responsibilities, convinced I couldn’t do my job; my profession…
I was a perfectionist. I needed everything done in a certain way and if it wasn’t perfect I’d reject it, like the garage leaking in my old flat, meant I had to sell the flat and I’d do things three times for luck, like taking three lots of toilet paper, or touching things three times.
It was only during my therapies I began to realise the full extent of them. As I made my list of ‘Amanda’s mental symptoms’ I realised just how many of them I had. No wonder I felt mentally and physically worn out!
Obsession led me to bankruptcy… I lost relationships as I tarred everyone with my rules, wanting everyone to abide by them… It led to jealousy…and it led to denial of my own issues.
Lists helped me to put things into perspective, until my whole life ran on lists – endless things to do. My stress would lead to drinking copious amounts of alcohol, smoking lots of cigarettes, a denial of food, taking my stress out on others, twiddling endlessly with my hair which achieved nothing actually except for greasy hair and more stress.
But I wrote my book, all the while learning about myself and therapies and medicines, illnesses and my past to recovery. Everything had to be logged, then I had to find a way to turn those hundreds of thousands of words into a story that people could read cohesively
It made me more ill; getting lost in the past, but with sheer determination to beat my demons – I did not give up. I knew it would hurt, particularly doing it alone and I do not recommend the process as it wouldn’t work for everyone, but I had an consuming need to show myself and the world who I really was.
Without the drive of obsession I would never have had all the memorabilia of my life, I would not have had the urge to keep writing, I would not have been a perfectionist to learn how to write better and make it the best it could be. And now the obsession that has dominated my life for all these years has been put to rest.
Amanda also has her own website where you can find out more.
If you are struggling with symptoms of OCD, find out how you can cope and what help is available.
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