One part of my life the majority of people do not know about me is that I’ve struggled greatly with OCD, also known as obsessive compulsive disorder.
Many people toss this term around lightly as a joke, saying things like, “I’m so OCD about my clothes” or “I’m OCD about taking my makeup off” or “I’m OCD about organizing all my shoes” and so on. Although this term is thrown around casually, it is important to remember that millions of people (including myself) struggle very greatly with this condition. This is not something we chose, it’s not something we can control very easily, and there’s no reason why some people have it over others in many cases. My mother has dealt with anxiety in the past, so I think that could be one potential reason I developed OCD, (genetics) but I’ll never truly know. OCD can be considered a form of anxiety in certain respects, but it is more specific than anxiety in general. I will be discussing how OCD has manifested itself in my life personally, how I deal with it, and how it has changed my perspective. This is a very personal topic, and only my close friends and family know the extent of what it is, but I think mental health problems are not discussed in the health and fitness world as much as they should be. They are considered kind of taboo to talk about openly. Most people like to pretend like everything is all good and fine and perfect, however OCD is something that has greatly affected my life, who I am, how I face certain situations, how I view myself and how I view the world. Being able to share my story and even help one person who struggles with anxiety/depression/anything similar, makes doing so worth it in my eyes.
Without further ado…here’s my OCD story.
I can’t remember exactly when it started, but I think it was around 7th or 8th grade, I started to have these strange tendencies about checking the house. These tendencies included, ensuring all the doors were locked, the lights were off, and small things like that. It wasn’t that big of a deal and it didn’t bother me that much…but soon became so ingrained in my daily routine, that I became uncomfortable if I realized I missed a step or forgot something. All throughout high school it continued. I can’t tell you exactly why…it had something to do with feeling safe and secure before going to bed, and it became habitual. I also want to mention that I am extremely lucky to live in an incredibly safe, rural town so it was not like I had any real threat I was incredibly worried about. The only thing I can think of is one time someone broke into my babysitter’s care that was parked in my driveway, and stole her purse. It happened when I was really young, and was a totally out of ordinary, freak incident. Still, maybe that has something to do with the need to feel safe at night.
Senior year of high-school is when the condition reached its peak. It was June or May and at this point in my life I was extremely stressed out. I was trying to pick a college, sort out my relationships, and in addition, my mom was in a bad place with her anxiety which added to my stress. I was confused and scared and nervous. With so much stress going on, my OCD spiraled out of control. I had some nights where I would literally be up until 5 or 6 in the morning, unable to sleep, because I would need to keep going downstairs to make sure the lights were off, the water was off, the oven was off…and so on and so forth. It made no sense because I knew logically everything was off, but my brain kept telling me that I needed to check again. This is essentially what OCD does to you; it makes you feel a crazy person. That is why it is so hard to share and open up about because most people don’t understand what it’s like to deal with something like this.
After one terrible night where I cried myself to sleep because the thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone, I decided to see a therapist for the first time. I’m so glad I did. She made me feel like I was not insane. She told me what was actually happening to me, it was a condition that many people deal with, and its possible to get help. I was so relieved. I began going to her twice a week. I don’t see her anymore, but I still am so thankful to have found her and establish such a strong relationship with someone who finally understood what I was experiencing.
How was I able to get better?
- One of the biggest coping mechanisms by therapist gave me that still do to this day is called exposure therapy. Have you ever heard someone say; “You need to face your fears to get over them?” It’s essentially the same idea with this treatment. You expose yourself to the trigger that is bothering you. So, for example, if I thought I had left the lights on downstairs I would need to expose myself to this and not go up and check to see if they were off. I would just have to accept the fact that maybe they are on, maybe they are off, but I’m not checking it either way. Exposure therapy works because if you do it correctly, your brain is able to register that what you are perceiving as a threat, isn’t actually a threat.
- Getting off birth control pills. Some people may not believe this is valid, but I think that stopping hormonal contraceptives did wonders for my mental state. I feel more relaxed on a day to day basis, and if I am having an OCD thought I am usually able to ignore it and move on, rather than ruminate and stress on it. There have been studies linking mental health deterioration and birth control pills. Usually, the longer you are on the pill, the more likely it is it will have bad effects. It took almost a year for the hormones to start sending me over the edge mentally. I also want to make it clear I am not saying I believe there is a direct link between birth control pills and OCD or mental health issues, but for me, I believe the hormones in the pills exacerbated a pre-existing condition I had developed.
- Understanding that I am not my thoughts. This advice I received from a different therapist, but it was a huge game changer. Your thoughts do not define who you are and the type of person you want to be. She told me to picture my obsessive thoughts as clouds floating across the sky…there’s no reason to obsess over one cloud vs. a different cloud. We cannot control the thoughts that come into our head, and often these thoughts are intrusive and unwanted. This means it is important to be able to let the thoughts come and go. We also started calling my OCD “Annoying Mother F***” and the purpose of doing this, is to again, establish the fact that I am NOT my illness, it does not define me, and it won’t have the power to control the person I want to be. Another book that discusses this concept is Mark Freeman’s The Mind Workout. This is a great book; I would recommend it to anyone who struggles with mental health issues, even if it’s not OCD in particular.
- Keeping up with a regular fitness schedule, eating well, and focusing on gut health. I was physically active (I ran track) and a relatively healthy eater when my OCD got the best of me, but in the past year I have really shifted my views on health to a more holistic, well-balanced approach. In high school, I was running way too much and not eating enough. This explains why I was skinny, but had hardly any muscle tone or definition. I also was pretty much plant-based, so that meant no animal products. My fitness and eating has changed a lot since that time. I now incorporate pasture raised organic animal products, such as eggs, meat, bone broth, and collagen. I eat fatty fish such as salmon, or sardines at least twice a week. I also have started bulletproof coffee to increase my healthy fats and brain function. Along with these dietary changes, I now follow an intermittent fasting schedule and usually get my workout done in the morning, which now focuses on lifting weights with HIIT here and there. These changes have allowed me to feel stronger, healthier, and more alive. In turn, my mental health has been so much better. It makes sense, too. If you exercise, eat well, and treat your body well, your mental clarity will improve, which can do wonders for mental health.
Am I “fixed” now?
No. I still deal with OCD. Unfortunately, it’s not really something you can have and then just wipe away like writing on a chalkboard. With mental health issues, instead of trying to “fix” them and completely eliminate them (not saying this can’t be possible…) it’s best to try and find out ways to cope with it, rather than get rid of it. This takes some of the pressure off, and allows for a more long-term approach to whatever you are going through. Taking care off your mental state and well-being is not something you work on for a month, and yay you’re done. No…it is something you must be cautious and aware of for your whole life. Obviously, I have transitioned to taking a very well rounded, holistic approach to all areas of my life, and that includes my mental well being. I’m not perfect all the time, and I cannot help or control when obsessive thoughts enter my head. But, I can control how I react to them. And I don’t obsess anymore, I try to not get angry, and I do my best to stay calm and relaxed. Usually, this works, but it doesn’t always. If I give in to my compulsion, I always forgive myself though. This is so important. Be easy on yourself, be kind and gentle…understand that having a great mental state is a journey, it doesn’t happen over night. Also understand that getting off social media, away from screens, and work and stepping into nature, being with friends and family who support you, or perhaps meditating or doing yoga are all fantastic ways to feel better mentally, and ones I personally incorporate when I feel my head space is not good.
I hope this post was helpful for some of you, and at the least, interesting to read about. Thank you so much for reading until the end!