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OCD and the Real Me

Looking Back-02sf


I’m medicated for OCD. I have to be. And it’s not 100% symptom control…more like anywhere from 30-60%. But my OCD is severe enough that I don’t expect total symptom control.

There’s this thing about going the medication route. You’re not working through your problems and coping despite them like you do with therapy.  You’re not feeling them every moment like when you’re suffering with them or practicing avoidance. They’re a background noise…one that you’re ignoring, and the medication makes it easier to ignore them.

The strange thing is…I start to question if this is really me when I have more symptom control. Who am I once you take away all my quirky issues? Sure, it’s lame being tormented by every little thing…and I get a little crazy, but then there’s this…when things feel flat.

Someone I know once confided in me that their medication was messing with their ability to feel remorse, and I get that. I don’t know what it’s like to live in this world where everything doesn’t haunt me at night. Where I can get to sleep instead of thinking about things I did wrong in junior high. I don’t know how to be without guilt being the strongest motivating factor in my life. Guilt is like a safety net. My guilt is so strong that I can count on it to keep me to making minimal mistakes.

Without guilt, who am I?

Don’t get me wrong, I do feel guilt and remorse, but it’s a small fraction of what I used to feel. Is this normal? What is the normal amount of guilt? Should I feel guilty about things that happened a year ago? What about a month ago? Yesterday? What’s the time limit on guilt?

The meds haven’t even dented my agoraphobia however. It’s alive and well. Every day I have carpool, and it’s starting to peel my shell off. I feel raw and exposed every day. Things feel so flat. I’m not diving deep into the darkness of guilt and fear of contamination, but I’m not really hitting the highs that I get on the good days off the meds. It all just feels so…mediocre.

The cost of guilt seems to be the pride of accomplishment. But maybe this is normal.

Meds and treatment can become a double-edged sword for the severely affected. Our symptoms are such a part of our psyche that when you take them away–it’s taking away something we view as “us.” Somewhere in between functional and psychosis is this person…this “Real Me” who is the person I’d be if you stripped out the OCD, but left behind my personality. Unfortunately, at my age–my late thirties, my personality is tentacled by symptoms. You strip out a symptom…and a part of me goes with it.

Sometimes, when the medication works, it feels like a loss. It feels like you took away one of my character traits because it wasn’t good enough for society. Two pills in the morning and WHAM there goes my need to stack things. One pill in the afternoon and SMACK there goes my hoarding issue. Two pills at night and SLAM there goes my guilt over that cruel thing I said two years ago.

On the other hand, there’s my husband and kids. Should they have to deal with a psychopath because I’m attached to my OCD symptoms? Because, like it or not, I know that I’m a better person on medication. My daughter is getting older and she deserves a mom who has her OCD under control–who can help her see proper coping mechanisms. I was around twelve when I first started cutting to cope. B is just a little older than that.

In the end, maybe we all sacrifice a little of us on the altar of self-improvement on behalf of those we love.  Maybe this is the right amount of guilt to be mentally healthy–and, at the very least, I’m feeling guilty about my lack of guilt. I know that my family is more important to me than anything, and they’ll support me either way, but I just wish I knew if this was the real me…or if this is the washed-out version of Wendy. If you take away my OCD, I’m not sure who I am underneath.

What about you? Do you ever wonder if you’ve lost yourself in the pursuit of finding the real you? I know I cringed and shuddered when someone jokingly tried to hug me last week, so at least I’m not THAT far gone.

*None of these posts on OCD can replicate or replace a visit to a health care professional and are my own personal experience and opinions. Please seek help if you feel you or someone you love needs it.*

20 Responses so far.

  1. John Ross Barnes says:

    Awe, geez Louise, now yer in My backyard. I need to get back in and start back on depression/anxiety meds after having been off for four months.

    Although our main diagnosis are different there are some very strong similarities running along side of our very differences. That guilt thing, and pain, and fear, and enough anger to leave scars. On granite cliffs.

    I feel more clear off the meds, but also more hair-triggered. When suicide and suicidal tendencies run in the family being hair triggered may not be a good thing.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    You’re a fine painter too?! Swear to God, if I dint like you so much, I might have to hate You. (Seriously, quite like the painting 😉

    • My memory is so much better off the meds. It’s why, every so often, I go off them. Also, I’m stupid and want to prove I’m in control…but partly the memory thing. My OCD fluctuates in severity due to stress and hormones, but I can’t see myself going off meds with B now in junior high.

      LOL. I thought everyone knew I’m a painter. The background on this blog is a painting of mine. The header on my personal blog (which I’ve been neglecting) of a ladybug roaring is a painting of mine. Jay (TechDad) has told me that I should have a separate section of all my paintings. Maybe I’ll do that. I don’t paint as much anymore. There’s just always so much to do and so little time to drag out everything…also I strongly suspect I’ll be allergic to some of it now. Then again, I do have my bandit mask for that.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Kristy says:

    I sometimes do feel lost, as to who I am…
    What is it about me, that makes me, me? (And how many times can I say me in a sentence? Ha!)
    Right now, I am a Mom, but who am I going to be when my kids are grown? I will still be a mom, but my actions and focus will be different. And because my actions and focus will be different, will that really make me all that much different?
    I do know the intents of my heart. I do know what I want to be and how I want to act…but I also know it is hard getting there all the time. It is hard being kind, patient and understanding, looking in the mirror, at myself, in the whole process of it all.
    I am not always “me”, the person I want to be, all the time.
    And sometimes, I do feel a little lost while trying to figure that out.

    • It’s good to know other people feel that way, actually.

      As I was driving home from dropping off T at school this morning (he missed the bus), I saw my house…and rather than thinking, “I’m home,” I thought, “I feel so lost.” And I do. I can’t seem to recover from the latest batch of stress and going out every day for carpool and then twice a week for allergy shots is making my agoraphobia choke me. On top of that, the schools have had half-days this week which are ridiculously short for the junior high. And my coping mechanism seems to be just becoming a robot. So, I’ve felt like a robot this week…going through the motions…doing all the things that mothers are supposed to do. *sighs* At the same time, life was meant to be more than these roles we play.

      *hugs* Thanks for commenting.

  3. I’d love to say something comforting and profound right now, Wendy, but truthfully I got nothin’. No words of wisdom, no pearls of great price harvested from sad experience, not even a dry textbook answer.

    Thing is, you have something not a lot of the rest of us have. No, I’m not talking about OCD. What you have is insight. You know what you’re like both when you’re on meds and when you’re off, and you can decide which “you” is best for your family. My generation went through the “if it feels good, do it” years and it took many of us horrible experiences to understand that we can’t disregard how other people are affected by our behavior.

    You’re articulate, too. By your openness about your struggles and guilty feelings, you’re helping other people with similar problems. Not everyone will leave a message like John Ross Barnes, but they’ll understand. They’ll know they’re not alone.

    In the end, of course, you’re the only one who can decide if the end result is worth the price you have to pay. On the other hand, heroic sacrifice is a hallmark of those who love much. *heart*

    • Suzanne,

      I hope this is worth something to someone. Every time I hover between post and delete, I always think that I wish someone had said this for me. But keeping up this facade of mental health for half my life hasn’t really helped anyone, least of all me. If you’re faking the person you are…it’s clearly not the person you are. On the other hand, faking it for that long leaves me just…adrift as to who I am. *sighs*

      I got nothin’ either. There doesn’t seem to be a right answer to: who am I if you took away all my scars and disorders? And, in the end, maybe none of us would like that person anyway. At the very least, they’d be less interesting, right? 😉

      Thanks for commenting. *hugs*

  4. Chelsea B. says:

    You’re strong for posting about your troubles. Don’t ever doubt that. I couldn’t talk about mine for so long. When I finally did, though, it was like– the problems were still there, but I didn’t have to carry the bourdon of them alone. I’ve been blessed with a completely understanding and loving family– due in no small part to the fact that each of my family members suffers from some sort of mental illness.

    My OCD is very contact, clean, and undermining myself-based. I wash my hands (4 times. Up my arm. Hands again) turn to leave the bathroom. I didn’t touch the light switch, but… Maybe you did, my mind whispers. No, I think back. I would have felt it. I would have immediately washed that part of my skin. I wouldn’t be thinking about it. But, my brain continues, your shirt might have brushed it. You might not have felt that. So I change shirts. Sometimes multiple times a day.

    My agoraphobia also stands by those standards. I am completely aware of everything I come in contact with throughout the day if I am forced to leave the house. And when I get home, I cannot touch anything without both washing my hands and showering. I fix my towels and clothes before I leave so I know they stayed clean.

    I take medicine. A low dosage that doesn’t take away my symptoms, but reduces the amount of stress I feel when I am eventually forced to oblige my OCD. Because I always have to oblige it.
    But it’s okay. You know why? Because the stress of avoiding it for hours on end is not worth the bother when I can simply wash my hands and be done with the feeling. My therapist taught me that. “So you change shirts. Once, twice… six times. Shirts can be washed.” Such a simply answer, and one I try to keep in mine when I get a rebellious hair that I know will never win out over my OCD.

    But the most important message I want to pass on to all who have OCD. You are NOT your OCD. Another message passed on by my wise therapist. Please, believe me, you’re not. You’re beautiful, and smart, and funny, and kind, and you are SO MUCH MORE than an illness. Just like someone wouldn’t define you by the shoes you wear, or the songs you like to listen to, you are not defined by your OCD.

    All my best in this crazy world,

    • Chelsea,
      You’re right…for most of the harmless behaviors–obliging it is a form of control too and it’s better than letting it inhale your hours like it can. Obsessing for hours over washing your hands is far worse than doing it and being done with it.

      Many of my issues involve avoidance…which contributes to my agoraphobia. Those are the ones I struggle with indulging versus defying. Sometimes, I let my husband call the shots on those. Does he think it’s worth me going out or participating in something?

      It’s a process…and knowing there is no quick fix sometimes helps and sometimes hinders. Tomorrow, I’ll still have OCD…so I have time to overcome what I can overcome. On the other hand, tomorrow, I’ll STILL have OCD and it’ll be another uphill battle. Anyway, I’m obviously very conflicted.

      Thank you for commenting.

  5. Oh my – so much about this rings so true for me. I didn’t even know my OCD WAS OCD. I thought I was quirky and high strung, anxious certainly but not OCD. Only I was – I am. My OCD manifests more in obsessive thoughts – specifically health related fears. I don’t worry about germs. I worry about rare brain eating diseases. I don’t worry about catching the flu (although I’d rather not) instead I obsessively worry that I will miss a breast lump and die of breast cancer. So I would perform self exams to the point where my tissue was bruised and still not be sure that I hadn’t missed something. I also worried about skin cancer (hello – pale skin, tons of moles – I could obsess for DAYS on that alone), strokes, heart attacks, brain aneurysms and a million and one other health issues that might or might not strike me down.

    Like Mad Eye Moody in Harry Potter I went through life with the motto “constant vigilance!” The flip side of those obsessive fears was a crippling fear of doctors. I worried that I was sick but I didn’t want to go to the doctor and have it confirmed because then what would I do? So I would worry and obsess – to the point where I emotionally lived and reacted as though I’d been handed a death sentence from the disease of the moment but I would never go to the doctor because I knew either he would confirm the disease and I’d have to really deal with it OR he’d know I was crazy. Eventually, when my brain tired of health issues, it would find other ways to occupy its nervous energy – hello humiliating moment from fifth grade, thanks for showing up and making me feel like crap at 3:00 am – you’re totally right, I’m a loser and should have never been allowed out in public. (Yes, I know, it’s nuts – what can I say?)

    Several years ago my anxiety pot boiled over in a grand way and I was having panic attacks that lasted sometimes days at a time with little to no relief. It was horrific and I eventually went to the doctor begging for help. Now, I’m medicated and the panic attacks have abated and the obsessive thoughts have calmed, but along the way I lost some of the personality that made me ‘me’. My great memory and ability to juggle a bazillion things at once? Gone. My need to have my house nice and clean is still there but the motivation to actually do the work? Left on the Paxil express. Those rare, but very happy, great, awesome days? Dulled.

    I no longer spend days enmeshed in a cocoon of abject terror of the nameless, faceless things that were waiting to attack me from the darkest corners of my mind. But then I wonder – who am I really? Who is this person who can go through October (otherwise known as “your lady bits are trying to kill you” month) without freaking out? Who is this person that can go through the month of December without someone wanting to kick my overly Holly Jolly butt into the middle of next year (I miss that over the top happy Christmas part of myself)? Who is this person who forgets things, loses her train of thought, can’t focus as well and who doesn’t have the energy to do all the things she used to do?

    Sometimes I miss her – she pushed through and got stuff done. No sitting around for her no matter how bad things got. She had to move, she had to get stuff done, She might have been completely terrified and freaking out on the inside but she had a never ending supply of nervous energy to use up. People needed her and she needed them to need her. Sure she was broken but so am I – just in a different way.

    But I don’t miss the middle of the night panic attacks. I don’t miss the mini-breakdowns she brought and the stress she put on my husband as he tried to convince me yet again that I wasn’t dying. I don’t miss how she would steal the fun times from me because she was too worried about the boogey man that *might* have been waiting in the closet.

    I guess it’s a trade off and while I know the medications have changed me I also know that my husband deserves to not have to live with the level of crazy that my unmedicated self put him through. 🙁

    • Chelsea B. says:

      First off, it’s not nuts. None of it is. If I’ve learned one thing it’s that OCD isn’t frivolous. It’s as serious as any other condition. And it’s not your fault you have it. It seems like you have a family that understands that, understands you, as do I, and I can’t even relate how important that is. Always surround yourself with people who are willing to understand. It’s better to have one great friend than twenty ‘friends’ who make you feel nothing but wrong. Trust me, I’ve been there. And after purging my life and keeping only the people who loved me enough to understand that I can’t do everything that at this age I should be able to do? I feel nothing but relief. If my sister comes in and goes to sit on my bed, I can give her a look and she understands. Not today, it says. Please don’t sit on my bed today. And I know deep inside that there is no judgement.

      I don’t want to over step, and please, completely ignore me if I do. I’ve had plenty of people (professional and otherwise) give me advice that did nothing but make me feel worse about myself. But, do you see someone? I was so reluctant at first. I didn’t think it would help me. But it does. Even if we talk about nothing more than the goings-on in my life, I walk about with a weight lifted off my shoulders. But be sure it’s someone you like. This coming from someone who’s first foray into the therapist world made me feel like a complete loser. But once you find the person who fits you, it will be worth it.

      I had the same worries when it came to taking medicine. How does a pill that controls your mental health *not* change your personality. But my panic attacks were so bad, after awhile, I was willing to lose myself if it meant I could sleep at night, as sad as that is. But I got so lucky. Instead of losing myself, it brought out the parts of me that I loved the most, that my anxiety had begun to dim: My good nature, my humor in all situations, my understanding of myself and others. And my panic attacks… I still get them, in random situations, but I can sleep at night. I can get though most days. And I am so grateful to a little white pill called Lexapro I can’t even relate it to you.

      Thank you for the chance to get to talk to someone first hand who understands what it’s like to live with OCD.

      • I think much of your comment was aimed at Rhonda, but I have to agree on the meds. As much as I complain, I’m so grateful to have meds that give me some relief…some time without the crowd of voices in my head. Even if they don’t take it all away like magic…they take enough away that I can function. They take the edge off. I’m very grateful for meds.

      • I have to admit that I have been extremely lucky that my friends and most of my family are extremely supportive and understanding of my little ‘quirks’. In a double edged sword this type of mental illness runs in my family – which means many of us suffer but many of us understand and that understanding can make all the difference.

        I have considered traditional ‘talk therapy’ but haven’t attempted it recently. I know my reluctance is mostly due to a very bad experience I had as a young teen when my mother was at the height of her mental illness and decided that *I* was her problem and needed to be fixed. Needless to say it wasn’t a great experience. If I’m completely honest I’m also reluctant because I know what’s rattling around in the closets of my brain and it’s not pretty. I had a pretty rough childhood and I’m afraid of what will happen if I start dragging all that stuff out and really looking at it.

        However, there was a time in my life when the thought of being on medication would have sent me running for the hills so I never say never. 😉

    • Exactly, Rhonda! Exactly. I feel that way so much about meds. Trying to maintain that balance between me and the meds is difficult, but my family deserves the effort I put toward that. I had to go through a lot of different meds before I found ones with effects and side effects I can live with. And then we’ve played with dosages and what I take when because some make me sleepy and some wake me up. Ugh.

      I’m sorry you’re going through this too, but I hope this helped you feel less alone. I have that exact same late night obsessive thought too! Where my brain dredges up humiliating times from when I was young. I hate that! I have several from junior high that come up at least once a week when I’m trying to go to sleep. Some of the others are less frequent, but they still show up.

      Anyway, I’m sorry…obviously I don’t have answers, but I’m always willing to listen and chat…and you know I’m on Twitter 24/7.


      • You honestly have no idea how much this helped me feel less alone! I knew that I was struggling to find my identity in the absence of my anxiety, quirks and anxious energy but had never considered what a ‘normal’ experience that must be for those of us who are struggling to balance medication and personality.

        Aren’t those late night obsessive thoughts the worst? It’s like my brain keeps a quick index of every humiliating and regrettable thing, no matter how minor, that I’ve ever experienced just so it can bring it out when I least expect it. Why don’t our brains ever say “hey, remember that really awesome day you had with your friends in sixth grade? Let’s dig that memory out”?

        I wouldn’t wish this on anyone but I’m glad there are people like you with whom I can connect, compare battle scars and feel more normal in the middle of a disorder that can feel very uncertain and scary at times.


  6. First of all, Wendy. NEVER doubt the good you do by posting. NEVER. Those of us who struggle on a differrent level find enormous comfort in you posts. I know I’m just inches away from being you on any day. And even though my eldest is merely “gifted,” I know she is only a few degrees off from other diagnoses. Uber-sensitivity is a family trait. We who fight the long war? We know the gift you give us. Kudos and blessings to you and yours.

  7. Megan says:

    This is a really interesting question, Wendy. You’ve had OCD for more than half your life. My OCD came only when I was 29, only 4 short years ago, so I know who I was before OCD and who I am now. For me, I’d love nothing more some days than to wake up and not have this shit anymore. But accepting my brain for all the brilliant things it can do AND the areas it struggles with is the only thing that brings me peace. Acceptance has helped much more than the meds, though the meds do turn my symptoms down.

    I think it’s great that you’re so honest with your OCD–it helps me to read about your journey and know I’m not alone. Most of my friends and family have no idea I have OCD. I have purely obsessional OCD w/ lots of weird harming fears, and I’m afraid if people knew about it, they’d stay away from me.

  8. I relate as well. I was on a cocktail of drugs for my Pure O but today I go unmedicated. It’s not easy. Some days I really want the medication.

    While on the drugs I suffered the bad side-effects… the auditory hallucinations, the hyper-mania, the suicidal thoughts… The meds made me a zombie. I could have cared less if the house was burning down with everyone in it! I felt like I was standing outside my body watching myself just not care about what was going on around me. Life was in slow motion. It was calling garbage cans “cream puffs” and scissors “cutty-things” and sun screen “anti-radiation glow lotion” just because my brain couldn’t make the right connections…

    It utterly killed my ability to write and I stopped doing so completely. I couldn’t have a spark of creativity. My spelling deteriorated and has never recovered.

    I was just the type to have bad reactions to alterations in my brain chemistry. So now I go unmedicated. For me I did a lot of CBT and, oddly, writing is what controls my Pure O the most. I truly helps to quiet my mind and give me some focus.

    Every day I am symptomatic but know I can’t go back on those drugs… I’ve been off of them totally for 2 years now. I too was diagnosed late in life. I was 40 when I found out. My way of thinking and doing things was just perfectly normal for me. Being told how I thought wasn’t normal… turned life on its ear. But looking back, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable not thinking like I do. If that make sense. I’m so used to it. When my mind goes totally silent, which it does at times, it doesn’t feel like me…

  9. Mia says:

    What an insightful post! And what insightful comments too!!

    I think you really hit the nail on the head. What am I without the parts that sum up the whole? It’s something I think (hope) everyone struggles with to some degree.

    Sometimes I worry that if you took the bad things out of me my ability to write would disappear. That’s a big fear for me. I know it’s not the same, really, but it does keep me up at night sometimes.

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