Losing a childhood friend to a rare and fatal post-operative complication of a minor surgery or hearing the news of second relapse of my cousin to breast cancer would have broken my spirits had it occurred a few months ago. I would have been a nervous wreck.
I can’t adapt well to stress and bad news. Anticipatory anxiety, fearing what might happen, over-analyzing little details, brooding over hard facts of life that can’t be changed…my life at 24 was a never-ending series of worries of varying magnitude.
I used various adaptation ( mostly immature) techniques to avoid stress; avoiding confrontation with the real issue and procrastinating indefinitely, whining and cursing my fate, perennially questioning ‘why me?‘, retreating into a self-created cocoon; and the worst, obsessing over the worries and compulsively acting out irrational acts in an attempt to negate the bad thoughts that came to my mind. Like if I let the books on my shelf remain disorderly, scary thoughts that come to my mind regarding my loved ones will come true! So, I would spend a lot of my time arranging and re-arranging the books alphabetically, or by author, or by genre and spend a good 2-3 hrs unproductively! Absurd? Yes Irrational and impulsive? Yes. I knew it? Yes. So, I stopped doing it? Hell no!
Life had come to a standstill for me. Growing up with a strong sense of cleanliness and organization, it never occurred to me that severe stress will create havoc with this very organization fetish! It started gradually with breaking of basic discipline of my priorities;studies and household chores. I got distracted by superficial, fickle gratifications rather than a sense of satisfaction of completing my responsibilities well. Once distracted, it was hard to go back to my earlier routine. Acceptance of this problem and seeking help didn’t cross my mind. Anxiety built up during exams, family crisis, expectations not met…the cumulative effect of which I couldn’t anticipate. I felt if I did everything 16 times, bad things won’t happen to my family! I studied each line 16 times and completed a mere two pages of studying every day. I was busy with ‘pseudo work’. Making schedules and time-tables, procrastinating and again making new time-tables. Vicious cycle!
I had emotional breakdowns, woke up in panic, had insomnia, suffered from hormonal imbalances, gained weight, was lethargic, had hair loss, joint pain and an incurable headache; which a string of physicians couldn’t cure. My self-confidence had taken a beating. My obsessive-compulsive habits increased, fueled by my anxieties and in an effort to negate them.
If my mother was late in coming home after her weekly shopping trip, the first thought that crossed my mind that she had met with an accident! Not that she could be caught in a traffic jam, or she ran some other errands on the way, or that she stopped by a friend’s place on the way home. If my father had a bout of cough and sneezing at night, I would remain awake whole night dreading that we would have to again rush him to hospital like the time when he had sepsis! A mere cough and cold equated in my mind to sepsis! I became suspicious of people’s comments and doubted ulterior motives because of few inaccurate judgments on my part earlier. Generalizing men and their intentions became a habit modeled on my exes and their flaws!
Then came a time when my career and personal life started getting seriously hampered by my inability to deal with stress and acting out as OCD. I sought help, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to recognize, halt and remove obsessive anxiety-inducing thoughts. It took me few months of CBT, a healthy diet, a yoga regimen, deep breathing exercises, a conscious and deliberate desire to overcome my problems and reach out to others, like I used to earlier.
Now I’m back to leading a normal life; the competitive streak in me returning, self-confidence boosted up, and anxieties a thing of the past. Sure, I get anxious but I know now where to cut it. I’m the master of my mind and not the other way round anymore.
A big help was the book, “How to stop worrying and start living” by Dale Carnegie. A single quote from the book kept me going through all hurdles: “Every day is a new life for the wise man.”
Past regrets, future worries, what could have been, what might happen…erase all these from your mind. Just concentrate on today. Live ‘TODAY’ well. Make ‘TODAY’ worthwhile. Love, laugh, work, have fun…do it all today. It’s the only thing we’ve control upon…’NOW’, the present moment. Live it well. Rest will take care of itself. And when obstacles threaten to overpower your resolve to keep going, just remember that ‘Every man can carry his burden, however hard, till nightfall…”.
One day at a time, one step at a time, forget multi-tasking…That’s the mantra. And seek help if you have OCD. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a disease you’ve to combat, just like diabetes or hypertension, but which can be paralyze your life more than a physical illness. Don’t be bothered about social stigmas associated with consulting a psychiatrist, or being branded weak-willed. You can control your mind, you just might need guidance during stress.
Leading a happy, fulfilled life with OCD is not just a possibility. It’s my reality.