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Alison Dotson

We have recently started featuring guest posts on the IOCDF Blog from people in the OCD community willing to share their stories. Today’s post is from Alison Dotson, who you may remember from her recent Huffington Post blog about the depiction of OCD on the HBO show Girls.

Alison is also the author of the upcoming Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life. She was diagnosed with OCD at age 26, after suffering from “taboo” obsessions for more than a decade. Today, she still has occasional bad thoughts, but she now knows how to deal with them in healthy ways. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband and two rescue dogs.

I had a hard day last week. Since I was formally diagnosed with OCD nearly seven years ago, I have had more good days than bad, something I sometimes take for granted. I responded well to the first medication I tried, my psychiatrist was compassionate and informed, the self-help techniques I used really helped me, and every time I tell a friend or family member about my disorder I’m met with love and support.

So I guess you could say I’ve been lucky—maybe too lucky, because this past month I became too lax about taking care of myself. I forgot to be diligent about taking my medication and getting professional help.

I don’t like making excuses, but here’s one anyway: I loved my psychiatrist so much and trusted him so implicitly that when I found out last July that he’d accepted a job in another state I got a little stubborn. I knew logically that he hadn’t abandoned me; he’s a brilliant man who had taken on a new and well-deserved opportunity. But I was worried. He made me feel so normal and so accepted and gave me hope that I would get better that I felt unsure that anyone else could measure up. What if I made an appointment with a new doctor and she was mean? What if she had some sort of tough-love policy or just wasn’t very friendly? I like outwardly friendly people who smile and make eye contact and say nice things. I tend to feel bad if someone doesn’t seem to like me or is too business-like.

I gave these fears too much power and I made some mistakes. I put off making an appointment with a new psychiatrist. Weeks and then months passed and I hadn’t even begun looking for a replacement. I had enough medication refills to last a while, and then I called the clinic I had been going to for years and a nurse there agreed to give me another refill on the condition that I’d make an appointment with a doctor. This was my last chance, and I’d already waited too long—they were no longer taking any of my doctor’s former patients, so I’d have to go somewhere else. She sent me a list of referrals, which I skimmed and then tucked away somewhere and forgot about.

Suddenly—or, at least, it felt sudden—I was down to one bottle of pills. I still hadn’t called any of the doctors from the referral list. That sole bottle of antidepressants should have gotten the wheels turning, but instead, I ignored my better instincts and started to ration the pills instead.

Once I realized I would run out of pills before I’d get in to see someone, I began searching online for OCD psychiatrists in Minneapolis and found a few names in the IOCDF’s Treatment Provider Database. But I still couldn’t bring myself to call. I had plenty of “reasons”: I didn’t want my coworkers to overhear; I was too busy at work to bring my cell phone somewhere private and call from there; or, by the time I got home, the offices were closed.

Running dangerously low on medication and taking only partial doses—or none at all—each day, I finally called the clinic. Not surprisingly, it would be a few weeks until I could get in to see someone. Once I was completely out of medication I considered calling the doctor and explaining that I’d be in soon, and could she write a prescription for even a small amount until my appointment?

But that seemed to be too much trouble, too, so I kept rationing pills, knowing full well I would go through withdrawal symptoms and needed my medication sooner than later. It was finally the week of the appointment, and my body was starting to react to my poor decisions. I couldn’t concentrate at work; I felt jittery and like my brain was ticking on and off.

Just a couple more days, I told myself. Then, I just have to hold out until tomorrow.

I was so desperate the day before the appointment that I considered sending an email to several coworkers asking if any of them had anxiety, and if so, did they have any medication? Bad idea! I didn’t do it, thank goodness. That night I prepared for the appointment by writing down the directions, including the address.

The next morning I headed out for the appointment and found the general area pretty easily—but the night before, in my nervous and jittery state, I had written down the wrong address number. I kept driving past the same building, thinking, this can’t be right. It’s not what I wrote down. I finally pulled over in a parking lot, frustrated and in tears, and got in touch with the doctor.

“I’m lost,” I told her, crying. And the fear I’d had for so many months proved baseless right then and there. Her voice was very kind, and she wrote down my cell phone number in case we got disconnected while she transferred me to someone who was better with directions.

When I got to the front desk the doctor stopped by and said, “Is this Alison?” I’m a sucker for nice people, so I started to cry again. She led me back to her office, and we just chatted for about 45 minutes or so. She was friendly. She was compassionate. She was understanding. Why had I waited so long?

She sent a prescription to my pharmacy, so I left her office feeling more hopeful. The big, scary step was out of the way. I had found a great new doctor. Now I just needed to get some medication into my system so I could function at work. Unfortunately, the computers were down at the pharmacy, so they said they’d have to call later. That meant I’d have to go to work feeling agitated, having already cried that morning and still struggling with withdrawal symptoms. I went to work anyway, but instead of even trying to do my job I went straight to my boss and said, through tears, “I’d really like to go home. My medication still isn’t ready, and I just don’t think I can do it.”

Luckily I had already told her that I have OCD—she even knew I was running low on medication, so telling her now that I was going through withdrawal wasn’t as hard as it might have been otherwise.

I left my car in the parking lot, opting instead to take a refreshing walk to the bus stop and get a ride home. I felt sick. And kind of stupid. I’m an adult. I’ve been taking the same medication for seven years. I know what it does to me if I don’t take it regularly. Heck, I wrote a book for teens and young adults with OCD, and I stress the importance of staying on top of therapy, medication, self-help, the works. I hadn’t followed my own advice. I felt like a hypocrite, and I had missed an entire day of work because I couldn’t work up the courage to meet a new doctor.

It doesn’t matter that I’ve been doing this, taking care of myself, for seven years. I still have to be vigilant. I have to remember that I am where I am—happy and relatively obsession-free—because I found a doctor so many years ago, because I take the same prescribed dose of medication day in and day out, and because I address each obsession that pops up with positive self-talk. I can’t do this on my own, but I need to be my own best ally, not my own worst enemy. I must follow my own advice and take care of me above all else, not because I’m selfish but because I’m no good to myself or others if I fall apart.

OCD recovery is a journey, and I am still on it. I probably will be for the rest of my life, and I can’t become complacent. Where I am now is such an incredible improvement over where I was before my diagnosis seven years ago, and I want the rest of my life to be great.

-Alison Dotson

20 Comments

  • Mike

    The rest of your life will be great! So proud of you!

    Reply
  • Aimee

    Alison-thank you for this and for the blog in the Huffington Post…I’ve struggled with pure “O” OCD consisting of bad thoughts since the age of 9 but wasn’t formally diagnosed until many years later. It’s comforting to know that I am not alone in the struggle…as this type of OCD is much less covered and known about. Thank you for your courage to share…you’ve empowered me. God bless.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thank you for responding, Aimee! Sharing my story with so many people is a new experience for me, but I’m so glad I’ve done it. Everyone has responded with such kindness, and I wish I had read about someone like me when I was so miserable. You’re right–you’re not alone!

      Reply
  • Sandy

    I know exactly how you felt when looking for a new doctor to replace one that work so well with you. That happened to me about 8 years ago and it is happening again at the end of this month. For me it was and is my therapist, I learned 20 years ago when I was diagnosed and did the start the meds, don’t need them, start them, don’t need them, I learned that I need my medical doctor to take care of my meds and I need a good therapist to take care of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Proud of you for knowing what you needed to do and eventually doing it, but more importantly, you acknowledged what you did was the correct way to handle it and you learned from it. I hope to do the same.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      I know it’s scary to trust someone new–what I tried to tell myself was that even if this woman didn’t work out there were still others out there. I definitely shouldn’t have let it go on so long! I hope I’ve learned from my own mistakes and won’t do something like this again! Good luck! I hope you find someone you really mesh with.

      Reply
  • Lisa

    I really enjoyed your piece in the Huffington Post. The obsession part of OCD isn’t discussed enough. I suffered for almost 20 years before I finally was treated correctly with the right meds. I thank God for my doctors and for the medication that gave me back my life!

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      I agree, Lisa! I am so grateful that my medication worked for me–and even though it’s not perfect in every way it has given me a life I am happy to lead. There was a time I never thought that would happen! I’m glad you’re doing well.

      Reply
  • When I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are
    added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I get four emails with
    the exact same comment. There has to be an easy method you can remove me from
    that service? Thanks a lot.

    Reply
    • Hi Rebecca, at the bottom of one of those notification emails, there should be a link to update your preferences or notifications settings where you should be able to turn that off. Unfortunately, I cannot manage your account settings from this end, as the blog is administered by WordPress. Please let me know if that doesn’t work, and I can put you in touch with the WordPress Help team.

      Reply
  • Kay

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. It seems to me that everywhere you turn nowadays there are articles, blogs, websites, documentaries and books advising, lecturing and warning against antidepressant meds. Most use the phrase “handed out like candy.” But people like you speak to people like me, who found our lives changed dramatically by an SSRI.

    I lived with anxiety, recurrent depression and OCD until I was in my 30’s. Medication did what years of therapy, exercise, diet, self help books and prayer/meditation could not do.

    We are not weak; we have a condition that requires medication to allow us to live a life of quality. Hopefully more and more folks who have been helped, saved, rescued by taking medication along with their other therapies/life changes will speak out.

    And yes we have to stay on top of things and know ourselves. And (for me) to stop reading anti-med information written by anyone who has not lived with the reality of recurring clinical depression, breathless anxiety, terrifying phobias, or OCD.

    Anti-med folks get upset when SSRI’s are compared to insulin. But, sorry, the reality is that many of us have brain chemistry that require antidepressants in the way diabetics require insulin. We pay for prescriptions, live with side effects, and do so with glad hearts. We are not crippled by our minds, shut up away from the world as people used to be before medical science created antidepressants.

    We are alive and making a contribution to the world. And I thank God every day when I swallow my medication. It has been nothing short of a miracle.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Hi, Kay! Thanks for writing. I agree, some people tend to think we’re weak if we take antidepressants. But we’re strong to overcome criticism and stigma and take them anyway. I also compare taking antidepressants to a diabetic needing insulin–it’s nothing to be ashamed of! I know medication isn’t right for everyone, but it can definitely save lives, and I’ll never apologize for taking them. Stay tuned for a future post on a run-in I had with someone who doesn’t “believe” in medication. 🙂

      Reply
  • Angela Regan

    I’m enjoying your blogs, I started having OCD symptoms at about 20 years old during a stressful situation and had so many sad days because of almost constant obsessing about blasphemous and other unwanted thoughts. My mom found a brochure about OCD in a bathroom at the clinic where she worked and brought it home to me and after reading it I figured that was what was causing my thoughts and anxiety. I went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with OCD and started on Zoloft, it worked well at a really low dose. Then I went off meds to get pregnant and my Dr moved out of state. A few days after childbirth I had a terrible OCD flare and had to find a new Dr and go back on meds, but the dose was tripled to work well. Several years ago I was doing pretty well and tapered off meds, went well for about 6 months, then I changed jobs and got stressed and OCD flared up again, also was prescribed 10 days of Provera for missed periods, guess stress and hormone fluctuations caused the flare, barely slept for 6 months, generic Zoloft didn’t seem to work, got Dr to prescribe name brand which cost considerably more and even the name brand didn’t seem to work well for me anymore, Dr then prescribed Luvox, it worked well for a while, but lately I seem to worry a lot, may need to change meds or increase dose, I’m 44 now, 24 years of OCD has been really tough sometimes, glad to see you blogging about OCD and hope the IOCDF will continue annual fundraising walks

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Hi, Angela! I’m sorry, I’m just seeing your note now! Thanks so much for writing. I hope you’re doing okay–that must be so stressful to be switching medications all the time.

      Reply
  • […] said that, yes, most of my coworkers know, and it was especially helpful that my boss knew the day I was going through withdrawal symptoms because I hadn’t been keeping up with my medication. I also noted that since I’ve […]

    Reply
  • Gail

    What is the best medicine for OCD ? Zoloft hasn’t been working.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • You can find an article about medications for OCD on our website here: http://www.ocfoundation.org/MedSummary.aspx, but the best person to talk to about changing your medication is your psychiatrist or doctor. Printing out this article to take with you for your discussion may help.

      Reply
  • […] said that, yes, most of my coworkers know, and it was especially helpful that my boss knew the day I was going through withdrawal symptoms because I hadn’t been keeping up with my medication. I also noted that since I’ve […]

    Reply

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