What Recovering From OCD Rituals Looks Like
Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.
Three, three, three. Everything in my life is in threes. My head shouts and screams and makes me anxious if something isn’t done in this “magical” number. I can’t do anything in fours, fives or sixes — that wouldn’t be right, or something would go wrong or harm may be caused — but three makes me feel safe and reassured.
No one knew about my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It convinced me it was my little secret no one knew about. Just me and it. Together we could do anything. It was my safety net — a friend. It convinced me it made my life easier, my own little guide to surviving life in my head. It told me none of my friends had it; I was special.
I was so special it took over my life and made it a misery. Every second of the day, I was completing these tasks it told me I had to do. It wasn’t until my care coordinator asked me why I stood up mid-appointment, walked to the light switch, touched it and sat down again did I reveal to her how much of my life was taken up with this voice in my head telling me to do certain things to stop bad from happening.
My OCD hated me for telling someone. People knew about my trauma and eating disorder, but OCD told me it would keep me safe if no one knew. Now reaching the end of my CBT sessions, I know it was trying to keep me safe from nothing. There is no danger. My head was just convincing me there was danger and I had the power to create danger.
CBT included exposure and response prevention (ERP) — each session setting up ‘experiments’ to expose me to situations that would trigger a compulsive ritual. It was awful. Every session I ended up in tears, having panic attacks, dissociating. All because I resisted the shouting, abusive voices.
For example, my therapist slammed a door. OCD made me go and touch the light switch because it would mean I wouldn’t get trapped. We repeated the experiment. This time I had to do the opposite of what OCD told me to do. My therapist slammed a door. The rational part of me sat and embraced the anxiety OCD brought. I was disobeying it. It was angry.
As I started to resist OCD more and more, the anxiety started to get better. Each time I resisted my anxiety went up, but as physics tells us anything that goes up must go down. And each time I resisted, the anxiety went down even quicker. But OCD is sly. It shifts. As one thing got better others got worse.
That’s the stage in recovery I am at now. Some things OCD used to make me do, I don’t even think about doing anymore. But other obsessions and compulsions take over my life even more than they previously did. I would rather add an hour onto my journey and get three trains rather than two. I will not eat my sandwich unless it is cut into three pieces. I will not do anything unless it is possible to manipulate the task to be related to a three.
There are other rituals OCD makes me do too, but I know now I can resist them. Resisting something that tells you it’s keeping you safe feels like going against natural human instinct, especially when it is your own head telling you. I know now OCD is a separate thing to me. With further work, it will not be OCD and me. It will just be me. And I will be able to do anything.
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Thinkstock photo via Dreamerjl83.