I apologize that it’s been this long since a blog post and it’s odd that I’m getting back into the swing of things with an OCD post, but…I had an unusual anniversary this last weekend. I owe you some posts, though–I’ve just had a very stressful 2014 thus far, so I’ve been drowning in things. I think I’m above water now.
I don’t know anyone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who isn’t plagued by two things: insomnia and the worry we’re going mad. It seems like many of the other symptoms are a grab bag, but those persist. And they persist because, as I’ve mentioned in previous OCD posts, we’re a crowded house of obsessive and often dark thoughts.
I can’t sleep at night because I’m bombarded with so many obsessive thoughts if not about what I need to do–they’re about what I’ve done, and those are worse. Give me two hours of worrying whether I’ll complete some project over the looped replay of everything I’ve ever done wrong. I’ve forgotten the names of 99.9% of the people I’ve met, but I still remember every humiliating moment and mistake of junior high…and I always will. I think they occupy a special shelf in my brain that I keep loading with more and more memories…honestly, it’s a wonder that shelf doesn’t break more often than it does.
As the insomnia extends and the thoughts scrape away at us, is it a surprise that madness is a concern?
The average person, if asked, likely wouldn’t consider OCD a mental illness. I think in most people’s minds we’re the sum of symptoms–symptoms only slightly more quirky than the average person. In fact, on the outside, I tend to think OCD can be charming. I know that my friends put up with some of my stranger issues with a smile and a head shake. I know I’m indulged and I’m grateful for it.
On the other hand, I know OCD is a mental illness because one time I went mad, and the fear that it’ll happen again haunts me around this time of year.
Just before I turned twenty-one, I hit the perfect storm of ugly one spring. I’d had my best friend/boyfriend of five years break it off with me. I was working full-time, and for the first time, I was living on my own–after having been kicked out of the house, deservedly, for breaking house rules. I started dating someone on the rebound and it was a poor decision.
I was raised and continue to practice Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) The church’s strictures on morality are firm and considered strict outside the church–probably even within the church. What is permissible in many other Christian religions is prohibited in mine. Unfortunately, even at my most pious and pure…I feel guilty. That’s how OCD works for some of us–this constant presence of guilt.
The guy I began dating didn’t have the same moral code as I did…which might have been fine because he’d respected when I said no, but the stress of everything caused a nasty bout of insomnia. The worst I’d ever gone through. I started unraveling. I was still hiding my OCD then and doing a really good job of it. People saw me as wound tight and type A, but they’d never have guessed how crucial control was to me. I’d slipped back into cutting to keep that control, but I was hiding that too.
And then Daylight Saving Time hit, and for someone already trying to function on a few hours of sleep a night, the shift hit hard. It always had. It generally took me about a month to adjust, but this time…it was ugly. I was a zombie…and not the good kind. So, someone recommended melatonin to help me sleep. Unfortunately, melatonin causes severe graphic nightmares in a small percentage of those who take it. I had no idea it was the melatonin, and I still wasn’t sleeping…and it was getting harder and harder to keep control in my relationship…so I took more melatonin and supplemented with various other over-the-counter remedies. And I was in so much emotional pain because I’d stored away pain and sadness for too long, and it swamped me when my guard was down. I was a mess. I was crying constantly.
The human body can only go without sleep for so long, and when I was sleeping, I was having horrific nightmares, so I was afraid to go to sleep. It was like a gear shifted out of rotation in my mind…and shortly before my twenty-first birthday…I lost it. I mean…seriously…I lost it. I’ve lost two months of my life to what I’d describe as a nervous breakdown. My memory of those two months are like a kaleidoscope of incomplete and strange images. I don’t know whether I forgot them while I was in them because of various meds and lack of sleep or I forgot afterwards because they’re too traumatic.
I remember odd things like cold showers fully-clothed and sitting in my closet in the corner in the dark for hours. I know I stacked coins frequently to calm myself because that wigs out my sister to this day. (Which is why I still do it when I go to her house sometimes.) (It’s hilarious to see your sibling freak out and point at stacked coins like you’ve just beheaded an animal.) (Yeah, I have a weird sense of humor.) I remember drawing on my hand just because I liked the feel of it. And then there were phone calls to the suicide hotline because I’d taken too many pills…of some kind of pill. I don’t remember. It might not have been anything. It might have been bad. It might have not happened.
I felt so out of control…and broken…and damaged. I took scalding hot showers while I sobbed because I knew I’d never be clean again. I hated myself for what was happening and then I’d cut and I’d hate that I was doing that…and I knew I was out of control…and I hated that most of all. It all feels like a film I once watched, though. And, hell, I’m not actually sure anything happened if other people won’t corroborate it. My brain filled in details and ditched the truth.
I managed to remain lucid at my job most days, though I remember my boyfriend (who I worked with) covering for me and sending me home but I don’t remember why, and I called in sick on days when I hadn’t actually slept at all. And the cutting got worse. I stopped hiding it. Or maybe I couldn’t. All my scars are from that time.
My family despised my boyfriend, thinking it was his fault, and certainly that relationship tipped things into madness, but he genuinely cared for me and took me to see a psychologist. I also can’t bring myself to vilify him because consent is a sketchy thing when someone can fake sanity and lucidity as well as I was at that point in my life–even if it was fleeting during those two months. Was I abused? Absolutely. There are awful, awful moments that come back to me in flashes that have too many details to be things my brain made up. Did I do it to myself? Yeah, I did. I had help, but I can’t shift the blame entirely to someone else when I was bent on self-destruction. There are times when you recognize that neither of you is a bad person, but you never should have been together.
Plus, I think, sadly, he loved me because he asked me to marry him. (It’s sad because when I said no…I wasn’t as kind as I should have been. This experience was still too fresh, and I was too young and foolish to recognize his feelings. It was stupid…and that I regret.) I know my cutting really upset him. I remember him holding up my hand and asking, “Why would you do this to yourself?” after seeing burns…and then he bandaged them up as he had been doing.
Honestly, my memories are transient enough that I’m not sure what happened. It’s hard to hand out blame when you don’t remember crimes. He might be guilty of all kinds of things. He might have been trying to help the girl he loved who was clearly insane and imagining nightmares. I’ll never know.
The psychologist put me on more meds–I’m not entirely sure what pills I was taking at that point. Too many. And not enough of the right kind. My experience with the psychologist was awful from what I remember. I remember her telling me to “just stop it” thinking that I was faking things. Then, she blamed my religion that I viewed things as so black and white, and my parents for my deeply instilled ability to feel guilty about everything. We had hour long sessions, and I remember those few things she said and then her writing out prescriptions. And that’s it. I was left with a feeling of violation that kept me from therapy for a long time. I knew there was something wrong with me and she ascribed fault and prescribed meds.
And then I was in a bad car accident…and it stopped the cycle and jarred me. My sister, who’d moved in with me, and boyfriend were so antagonistic that he stopped coming around as much. And I started sleeping again. And I stopped all the meds. I gained control–that damn, always-needed control, and my OCD quieted, and the gear slipped back into place, and I stepped out of Wonderland.
It was strange to have lost two months of my life. It wasn’t a gradual forgetting as I’ve forgotten so many things over the years. It was this stunned recognition of one day that I had no idea what had happened for the last two months other than what felt like dream memories. I was back, but I had no idea where I’d been or what I’d done there. Did I do that? Did I not? What drugs had I been taking? Where had I got them? And these awful, awful flashes of memory like a strobe hitting my brain. Had it happened? I know I hate the number five for something that may or may not have happened. It’s a weird take-away. “Don’t do drugs…unless you need them, and the number five is evil.”
I’d left the church, not because I didn’t believe, but because I did…and I felt wrong there–my over-developed sense of guilt again. I started going back to church and trying to repent of things I’d done during those two months. I went to see the bishop, and it was the first time someone mentioned that I was mentally ill. When I talked to him about repentance, he explained that mental illness could account for lapses, and it was difficult to repent of things I couldn’t remember doing. By then, weird flashes of memories had started and I thought, eventually, my memory would come back so I asked to go through the process of repentance as if I had given consent just so I’d never regret it. Despite the fact that my memory never really returned, I’m glad I insisted because it’s one less thing I lie awake thinking about.
Do you know what else I remember of those two months? I remember laughing. I remember having fun. In my handful of memories, I remember there were times when I laughed–and not like crazy-laughed, but laughed because life was funny. It also disproves my theory that my sense of humor will be the last thing to go. It’s a persistent little bugger. I’d lost my mind, but not my sense of humor.
Whenever the spring DST rolls around, it hits me again…partly because it sets off insomnia, but also I’ve connected this patch of memories–or a lack of memories really to this time of year. I was mad once, and I’ve brushed up against the edge of it a time or two since then, and it feels closer right now. The border is a bit thinner. I went back to sleep yesterday after the kids left for school, and I slept until noon. It felt like a victory. Another year I’ll survive DST.
I’m sure this post will upset my family if they read it, because those were dark times for them. I’d been effectively hiding my inner demons for so long, it blind-sided them when I lost it. But, in the end, we’re the sum total of our experiences, and even what I can’t remember has made me the person I am today. In fact, it might have influenced me more than any other way I could have spent those two months. Plus, all those things led to me meeting my husband later that year…and being on the path that intersected with his saved me.
If you’re reading this and don’t have OCD, please believe that it is indeed a mental illness and should be taken seriously when warranted. I joke about being crazy all the time, but I also take my meds religiously, and I have to modify and adapt so that I keep the demons at bay…and I get help with that. And there are times when I can’t, and my husband, family, or friends step in and intervene. The last couple months…have required intervention. And because of that I’m coming off a month-long insomnia jag that terrified me, especially being this close to DST. Everyone has been a little worried about me the last few months. I’m hoping for a nice quiet March.
If you’re reading this and you do have OCD, there were signs I ignored, and there are ways to cope that I didn’t use. This is why I referred to cutting as a piss-poor coping mechanism in my post on cutting because it bandaged things before it made them worse. Things escalated because pain doesn’t heal pain. It just requires you heal from something new. There are ways to cope with this. Above all, you are never alone. I think that’s what made it the worst. I stopped talking to people and tried to distance myself emotionally from everyone. I’ve never felt that alone before. I felt like I’d brought things on myself, and I deserved to be alone and crazy. No one deserves that. Human beings were not meant to be isolated…and I think when we are, whether by our own choosing or by life, we all go a little mad.
Actually, maybe we’re all a little mad anyway.
**Melatonin can be a very effective sleep remedy when used as directed. A small percentage of the population, including my kids and me, have severe nightmares, but, for most, it’s a natural remedy that you might want to mention to a doctor if you’re dealing with insomnia. Many parents of autistic kids have found it to be a miracle in helping their kids sleep. So, please don’t discount it entirely due to my experience.