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.