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How My OCD Is Driven by Fear and Guilt

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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 the International OCD Foundation’s website.

With obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) it’s like there is two sides of your brain constantly warring, rational and irrational. The question is: Which one wins? Don’t let the fear decide for you.

Would you call yourself a fearful person? I do. In some people, fear is just a small thing that can be pushed to the back of your brain, locked away, lying dormant. For others, fear is a very real part of everything they do. It’s all-consuming.

For me, fear is a major contributor to my OCD and even though I am aware of the part it plays, I’m yet to be able to control it. Fear doesn’t wake me up, it shuts me down. How many of you have experienced the same thing? How do I know the part fear plays in my mental health? Well, it’s simple really. My obsessions are based around fear.

Fear of contamination.

I worry constantly about being contaminated, that everything is dirty, and it is that fear of becoming contaminated which drives me to obsession. That is one of the hardest things to get to grips with in my daily life because to me, everything is dirty. From the shoes I have to put on my son’s feet, to the taps and door handles to the bathroom, it always feels like there is a list a mile long of obstacles to overcome before you even reach the front door in the morning.

Fear of something bad happening.

I check things constantly, and even if I have done all my checks I can’t be sure that they’re done properly, that it will stop something bad from happening. Sometimes it’s just a feeling you get in your gut, but other times you’re convinced that you didn’t check the oven was off and as a result, the house will catch fire. It doesn’t matter if you checked it a certain number of times or in a certain order the fear that it will happen is very real, and often it bothers me all day, sometimes to the point of a panic attack. My brain will just unhelpfully remind me of the one time it actually wasn’t off and use that as proof and justification for my fear.

Fear of it being my fault.

Even if a tiny slither of your brain understands you did everything you could, took every reasonable precaution you could think of at the time. If something bad happens you go from fearing it is your fault to knowing it is your fault. It is something I war with, and it all leads back to the OCD guilt cycle.

For me, my OCD behaviors are in a constant state of flux. The more stressed I feel, the more anxious I become. The more anxious I become, the worse my obsessions are, which lead to an increase in compulsions. This then leads to low mood and depression. Although it is helpful to know the cause and effect, the cycle of thoughts fails to take into account external factors that make things worse.

The second I wet my hands and rub in soap, I momentarily feel better, a great swell of relief. However, even if I can ease the feeling of being dirty, what about the other obsessions I can’t do anything about? Well, guess what… they don’t go away. Maybe I will feel more able to think in a rational way, but the longer you go without checking, the harder it gets to ignore the thoughts rattling inside my brain. So, in conclusion, it is only partial relief…

Then comes the guilt.

So, guilt? That isn’t in the OCD cycle, or so they say, but I find it to be one of the most difficult things to get to grips with. I feel constantly guilty — overwhelmingly so, sometimes — but what do I have to feel guilty about? Well, mainly my guilt surrounds my son. He may only be 5, but he notices things. Only today, he said to me: “Mummy, why do you use so much soap, more and more and more? You don’t need to.” Ouch. It’s like a knife being twisted in my gut. The heart-wrenching knowledge that your behaviors are noticed, the fear that they will develop OCD, the fear of being dirty, becoming sick. A life ruined when it’s only begun and worse, it’s my fault. That guilt is always with me.

So how does obsessive-compulsive disorder feel to me? It’s one thing to talk about it objectively, the cycle of thoughts and all that, but how it feels? That’s something else entirely.

It feels like an underlying hum of fear and worry that is always there, simmering under the surface, trying to break free, just waiting for a lapse in control. Like ants crawling under your skin, your blood boiling, like waves that crash and tumble against the cliffside, trying to break it down. It is hard to describe to someone unless it is something you are familiar with yourself. The constant fight or flight mode that your body is in, muscles tense all the time, the feeling of mental and physical exhaustion.

I truly hope, one day, I will own and accept my fear. Maybe then I will be able to control it. Until that day comes, I will keep fighting, even if giving up is what seems easy.

So if you are struggling with OCD, please reach out to anyone you feel comfortable with, whether it be a family member, friend or medical professional. Believe me when I say a problem shared is a problem halved. For more information, please check out my blog at Life With OCD and Me.

Getty Images photo via Rawpixel

Originally published: January 20, 2021
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