The Ever-Changing Face of OCD

So you’ve heard my backstory; what can I tell you about my life now? Despite being recovered from my intrusive thoughts I am still as neurotic, emotionally unstable, and all over the place as I ever was. I’ve come to accept that this is just me and I probably won’t change any time soon. Some of my milder obsessions returned when my severe thoughts disappeared; specifically, those surrounding order and cleanliness. After the hell I went through with pure o this was tame in comparison, but it did put a lot of pressure on my relationship. Not only did I attempt to have my husband live by the same rules that I did, I also refused to have visitors over to the house. This meant his family couldn’t visit (we live interstate), I wouldn’t host Christmas when it was our turn, we couldn’t have his mates over for a BBQ, and so on. So although this milder form of OCD didn’t bother me one bit, it was affecting those around me.

Almost three years ago I decided I would challenge myself with the ultimate form of exposure therapy… we purchased a beautiful Golden Retriever named Bailey (photo below – I know, adorable), who lived inside with us. I spent the first week or so in the worst panic of my life, struggling to come to terms with the fact that (a) the puppy was dirty, ate bugs, soiled the carpets, and I couldn’t possibly track and clean up after him like I could a human guest, and (b) he was mine now, and I couldn’t give him back. It probably took a few months before I very slowly started to relinquish control, and accept the fact that we were not going to die if there was a bit of dog hair on our clothes or a bit of slobber on the tiles. Eventually, I grew to love the big fluffball to bits and he is now one of my primary sources of happiness. My relationship with him is all the more special because he helped me to overcome a part of my OCD.

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My anxiety still pops up occasionally, but usually only in response to specific triggers. Probably my biggest trigger is contact with my other family members who suffer from anxiety (my OCD is genetic) when they’re mid-episode. Many of them lack my determined streak and are not able (willing?) to seek help and put the work in that is required to recover. I’ve become better at accepting that I can’t control them and that they will come around with time, but being on the other end of the phone during a panic attack always throws me, especially when it feels like I have the key and they won’t take it. Outside of this, these days my anxiety usually manifests itself as anger rather than fear or panic. For example, my husband is in the Army and often leaves on long exercises or deployments. Sometimes in the weeks before he is due to leave I will become irrationally angry and throw tantrums about the most ridiculous things. I’m not exaggerating there… for example, a recent tantrum involved me screaming the house down because he opened the curtains the wrong way. Wife of the year award goes to… yeah. It often takes me a while to figure out what’s happening (or my husband will tell me, he’s good at picking up on it now), and once I recognise my anger is actually anxiety and can identify the source of it, I’m able to deal with it using the techniques I used in therapy.

“Being on the other end of the phone during a panic attack always throws me, especially when it feels like I have the key but they won’t take it.”

Mostly though, these days my biggest issue is the depressive episodes. I acknowledge that for somebody with a ‘faulty’ brain, I haven’t exactly chosen the easiest life for myself. As an Army spouse, it is necessary to start from scratch and re-establish myself in a new city or town every 2-3 years, meaning new jobs, new social networks, new surroundings and a general need to be adaptable as fuck. Once I’ve managed to make a place ‘home’, it’s nearly time to move again. My husband is away more often than not, leaving me alone with my thoughts and often the question “Why am I doing this again?” We were living in Brisbane for the first few years. Brisbane is beautiful, I made great friends, I was studying, and generally life was good. We then got posted to a regional town in NSW, which was a bit more of a challenge but it was a short posting and at least we were together. At the end of 2015 my husband received a posting order that would take him to Darwin, a remote city in Australia’s tropical north. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a job there so I decided to move back to Melbourne, where all of my family is, and we decided to do the long-distance thing for a while.

Well that didn’t work. It looked promising to start with; I found a job in Melbourne easily and moved into my own little townhouse, with trips to see my husband planned every 6-8 weeks. However it didn’t take long for me to start struggling. Turns out my work environment sucked and I absolutely hated my job, and boy did it show. I showed up late, slacked off all day, took frequent long breaks, and left early every day. (The most shocking part is that I was getting paid very well to do this job and nobody noticed – which then of course incited my old friend, guilt.) When I got home of an evening I would head straight for my couch, order takeout, and not move from there until I went to bed. Despite being right into my fitness when I am feeling well, I very rarely stepped foot into a gym. My darling Bailey who was having medical issues ended up at my parents’ farm for six months, which meant I didn’t even have to step outside to walk him anymore. It was a really dark time, and so at the end of last year when my lease ran out, I decided to move to Darwin to be with my husband. I spoke to a potential employer and had a job lined up, and moved with a really optimistic outlook on where life was headed.

At the start of this year I moved to Darwin as planned, and in true Army style, my husband deployed to Iraq the very next day. The job I had lined up fell through due to an unexpected decrease in funding. Fast forward two months and despite my efforts I’m still unemployed, and after eight weeks of sitting around the house not knowing a single human within a 2000 mile radius, it’s all happening all over again. I have to emphasise that I’m really proud that I’ve managed to conquer my OCD to such an extent that my pure o thoughts don’t return to me at times like this. However my depressive brain likes to fall into a ‘simply do not care anymore’ mode, pushing all of my goals and productivity out of the window and replacing them with a desire to do nothing but lie in bed or sit on the couch and eat junk, all day long.

“I’m in charge of my brain, my brain is not in charge of me. I call the shots here.”

When I first started experiencing depression I almost didn’t mind it; the apathy was much easier to deal with than my former anxiety, and while my anxiety made my appetite diminish (causing all sorts of problems for my physical health), my depression just resulted in me gaining a few pounds. These days though it’s becoming problematic, and not just for my waistline. I’ve done years of study in the area of mental health and I know how to get out of the rut (get out, even if you don’t want to; call somebody, even if you don’t feel like talking), but finding the motivation to do it without having somebody around to nudge me in the right direction seems impossible sometimes. I know that for me it starts the second I wake up. I have a decision to make there and then. Either keep sleeping and laze the day away, or use every last bit of willpower to get out of bed and walk the dog. Once I’m up, it’s then so much easier to head to the gym or do a bit of study or run some errands. I know how to get out of this. I just have to remind myself of my old mantra – I’m in charge of my brain, my brain is not in charge of me. I call the shots here.

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