Welcome to my personal nightmare, not being in control. I am your typical A type personality. I love (okay need) things to be a certain way, I am very very hard on myself, and I expect perfection. Funny enough, the one place I didn’t have control was in my mind. In fact, I felt like I was a prisoner in my own head, and my own life.
OCD runs in my family and I started having symptoms when I first started having anxiety. If you don’t know what OCD, let me share. The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), and behaviors that drive them to do something over and over (compulsions). Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts. I describe OCD like this, it's a relentless voice or feeling that makes you do things for nonsensical reasons for as long as it wants. It makes no sense, you are fully aware of what is happening, and yet…you do it anyways. For some people it shows up as obsessions – such as an irrational fear of germs or consistently worrying about whether the stove was turned off when they left the house. People with obsessions often feel fear along with their obsessive thoughts. Compulsion is different, it’s when you engage in an activity over and over again until the thoughts (obsessions) go away. But they don’t go away forever, and sometimes not even for very long. And you just find yourself in a loop of obsession and compulsion.
So this was my life. It would take me 45 minutes to put pants on. Or 3 hours to clean the kitchen. Sometimes cleaning was so overwhelming that I would just sit on the floor and cry, or leave it because I couldn’t handle all the compulsive behaviours that came with moving objects. My OCD followed me everywhere. It was hard being around people because I didn’t want them to see me do it. And as a perfectionist I didn't want anyone to see my flaws, so I never told anyone. I didn't want them to see my that way because it felt stupid in my head, so I dealt with it alone. This is very common amoung people with OCD.
Honestly, OCD sucked hard. It controlled my life. I was constantly frustrated that a voice in my head could control my actions. I was determined to stop, but the thing is, you can’t just stop. You can’t just think to yourself one day, "okay today’s the day I stopping obsessively walking over this doorway 30 times til I get it right". Trying to stop thoughts with more thoughts wasn’t working for me. After years of torture I finally found things that worked.
1. Breathing Meditation – I don’t even know how I came up with this but one day I went to bed and started counting my breaths. I would inhale and count to 4, then exhale for 8 counts. I would try and make each breath longer, breathing in for 5, out for 10. Always a longer exhale. After only 2 weeks of this my OCD was SIGNIFICANTLY better!
2. Mantras – during the breathing meditation I eventually added a mantra while inhaling and exhaling. For me I would repeat I Am in tandem with the breaths. This increased my results even more.
3. Pause – This is an important one. When the obsession would come in I would pause, not automatically reacting with a compulsive behaviour. The pause sometimes helped in being able to break the cycle.
4. Feel the fear – This was hard, but it worked. With each obsession there is this all consuming fear; usually a fear that something terrible is going to happen. So, as difficult as it was, I would let the fear in. This increased my anxiety but once the sensation of fear passed (and to my amazement I was still alive ;) ) the obsession would go away, and for a much longer period of time – sometimes days of weeks.
5. Stress reduction techniques – My OCD was (and still is) related to my anxiety, so on top of the breath work I was doing at night I needed something that would help me handle my stress and change my thinking. I use the Max Meditation System TM. It’s easy and effective. Whether I make 15 minutes or an hour, it helped me my bring my stress levels down so that I could handle my life better. (Shameless plug here, I found a school that helped me meditate and find personal empowerment, which I am now trained in, and sharing these tools with others is my personal mission and joy.)
6. Will Power – This, guys and gals, is the one. This is what you need. 14 years after overcoming OCD it still pops it head. The only thing that for me is 100% effective in stopping my OCD is by using my Will Power to say NO! No I will not listen and NO I am not controlled by you. It took years for me to build my Will Power and then use it, but it works for me every time.
I hope that you find this helpful. Try the breathing exercises as soon as possible. It might help. Don’t stop going to your doctor or taking medication if you’re on it, or talking to your therapist or healer of choice. My intention for writing this was to help you feel like you’re not alone. In fact in the U.S. 1 IN 40 adults deal with OCD, and 1 in 100 children. While there is no agreed upon cause for OCD, I believe that it is connected to our mental state and our fears. I believe that to conquer OCD we have to face the fears in our head and learn that we are stronger than the voices that say we can’t. This is most effectively done with a calm, clear mind and a strong will.
In my personal journey with OCD, it turned out that losing control (aka letting go) was at first my biggest fear and wound of being my biggest saviour.
Please reach out if you are dealing with OCD. Maybe we can help you, maybe we can’t, but I can promise you that you have someone to talk to.