There is nothing like that feeling when things are clicking for you. The moments when you can seamlessly integrate self-compassion, mindfulness, vulnerability, acceptance, and pure determination into this medium you use to draw the line on what you are going to allow your OCD to steal from you. These moments are beautiful, and they are incredibly empowering. These are the moments you feel like you can finally see clearly, after years of trying to work your way through the clouds. The thing is though, for me in my journey, these moments have always been followed by some of my most intense lows. I take a giant step forward only to turn around and get annihilated by my OCD right when I think I’m seeing things clearly. You know the whole one step forward, ten steps backward thing?
Okay, maybe not that many steps backward, but lately that’s how my therapy journey has felt. There have been these empowering moments of working my way through some of the toughest ERP I’ve ever had to work through. However, weaved into these moments of accomplishment have also been these incredible lows. These moments of deep sadness, where I spent time after therapy sessions bawling in my car, for the moments I’ve lost to my OCD that I will never get back. There have also been the moments where I think I have it all together, after knocking a session out of the park, only to show up to my next session, and shutdown like someone completely oblivious to the things she has learned the last three years. And to shut down in a way that spirals me into a mental space that is just pure ugliness. A running dialogue playing in my head of self-hating bullshit, fueled by the anger I feel towards myself. And sometimes when I’m in that place, I forget to press the pause button.
Recently I stumbled upon a different perspective. Amidst one of my lowest moments, when I was finally acknowledging the things I lost to my OCD, I began to see what was happening as part of a timeline. There was this moment in my life that I distinctly remember when my OCD started to steal things from me. Looking back now, I know I had OCD before that time, but it didn’t impact my life in a way that I really cared much. But that moment my OCD turned my world upside down when I was 12, that’s when my real timeline with OCD started. For years since then, I have allowed my OCD to continue to accumulate wins along that timeline. For most of that time I had no control, I didn’t know I had OCD, so it seamlessly stole things from me. Then I hit a point in my life, as I got older, that it felt like my OCD was stealing everything from me, and I was desperate to change things. I chose to get help and within the first two and half years of seeking that help, the rate at which my OCD has added to the timeline has drastically decreased. However, my OCD has also continued to rack up some pretty huge victories at my expense. But that day as I visualized that timeline of incredibly painful moments marking OCD victories, I also started to see how things were gradually changing, and how things could drastically change.
I am now at a point in therapy where I have mentally unpacked years upon years’ worth of emotional baggage I have carried with me. I have proven to myself that I can be vulnerable, and sat through intense amounts of shame. I have allowed myself to feel all the suppressed emotions and grieved the loss of so many moments of my life that my mental health disorder stole. I have done the work to educate myself on the strategies and treatments for OCD. I have proven to myself that I am capable of doing the easy ERP, and the hard ERP. I have shown up week after week, and sat across an invaluable resource in my fight against my OCD. Yet, those really low moments where my OCD stakes its claim once again always seem to overshadow the victories.
I have spent over two years in therapy acquiring a skill set that has more than prepared me to go to battle with my mental health disorder, but time after time I still find myself sitting in therapy, staring blankly back at my therapist wishing that he could just fix the problem. Or more often than not, being angry I even have a problem to fix in the first place. I also find myself blaming some circumstance or reason that I’m incapable of utilizing all the skills I have acquired. So that day when I was visualizing that timeline in my head, I came to the difficult realization that the only thing that remained the same across the entire timeline was the person in the center of it all: myself. It was in that moment that I needed to look myself in the mirror and be honest. I need to be the catalyst for change. My therapist can help guide me, my husband can help support me, but in every moment it’s my choice what behavior I choose to engage in.
I’m the only person that can slow the rate at which my OCD adds to the timeline. I’m the one that needs to do the work in every single moment to make changes in my life. I’m the one that needs to acknowledge that some days it’s hard as hell, but I still deserve to give myself the help I need. I’m the one that on those really challenging days, when I fall into old patterns, needs to sit down beside myself and offer some self-compassion. I’m the one that can say, “Katy I know you’re really scared right now, but this can be different. See this whole toolbox next to you that you just did all the work to find, you deserve to give yourself the chance to see if those tools actually work.” It’s scary because for so much of my life it was me going at it alone with my OCD, and the results were not always favorable. But it takes a whole hell of a lot of strength to be honest about that timeline, own every single painful moment of it, and realize that within you is everything you possibly need to be in control of what that timeline looks like going forward.
So going forward, I’m going to commit myself to challenging the assumption, “Things will never be different”. I know things can be different, because there have been these small glimmers every now and then when I connect the dots. It just requires me to be honest with myself. I’m going to challenge myself to do the really hard work of being true to my own story, owning every single bit of it, even the really ugly parts and choose to move forward. I’m going to acknowledge every version of Katy on that timeline. I’m going to thank each one for being brave and persevering, and I’m going to prove to each of them just how strong they really are, by truly allowing myself to do things differently. When I’m faced with adversity, I’m going to choose to walk down that unfamiliar path. The path that for so long I never even knew existed. The path lined with every single strategy I have acquired in my therapy journey.
I’m sure I’ll get lost a few times, but with each time I get lost it seems to be true that I continue to grow in my understanding of where that path can lead. And when I’m lost or feel stuck, I’m going to choose to be mindful and self-compassionate. I’m going to remember the present moment is all that matters, and remind myself that with each struggle is an opportunity for growth. I think with each moment that I can be honest and vulnerable with myself, I’m one step closer to showing all the versions of myself that struggled, what amazing things life has in store. It turns out that timeline will actually never stop, because my OCD is here to stay, but whether or not my OCD adds to that timeline and what it looks like; that is something I’m in complete control of. There are a lot of things in life that I’m uncertain of, but if I’m truly honest with myself, I know with certainty that I am 100% capable of making the changes required for me to consistently get better. I just need to be brave enough to try.