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Alison Dotson’s new book, Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life,  is now available in paperback!  To celebrate, we are excited to be able to share another excerpt from the book on the blog. Check it out, and then feel free to ask Alison questions in the comments below. One lucky commenter will win a free paperback copy of Being Me with OCD. Just comment below to be entered into the drawing. We will pick a winner at 5pm on Friday, 3/14/14!—Carly

I grew up in a safe and loving home with trusting, understanding, and warm parents, two older brothers, and a West Highland white terrier named McDuff—or, less formally, Duffer. Mine was a comfortable existence, maybe even sheltered. I realized early on that not everyone’s life was as carefree as mine, and it didn’t sit well with me. How could I be so lucky while others suffered? It seemed to be only a matter of time before my luck ran out, that my life would take a turn for the worse. Irrational fears began to take over.

When I read Deenie, a Judy Blume novel about a teenage girl with scoliosis, I lay awake for several nights, convinced I had scoliosis, too, and would have to wear a cumbersome back brace, just as Deenie had. I pressed my back into the floor to see how straight my spine felt, and I tried to examine my back in my vanity mirror.

When I saw The Ann Jillian Story, a TV movie about an actress who survived breast cancer, I believed I must also have a cancerous tumor. Over and over I imagined myself poking a dinner fork through my flesh and pulling the growth out. I would lie in my bed and cry, asking God why I had to have breast cancer, why I had to die. One day, worried about me locked away in my bedroom at the end of the hall, my mom knocked on my door. Not wanting to devastate her with my “news,” I pulled myself together and opened the door a crack. “Are you okay?” she asked. I nodded numbly and told her it was my stomach—again.

After she left, I stood at my bedroom window, watching my brothers, dad, and dog play in the front yard. Duffer was running around in joyful circles, over and over again, and I choked up, thinking, “He’s so full of life.” I felt incredibly jealous.

And, perhaps most terrifying, when I watched a TV movie about a boy whose father had set him on fire during a custody dispute, I believed I was destined to be horribly marred in a fire. I would sob in bed at night, begging God to reconsider. Before bed I’d inspect my heating vents, making sure there weren’t pieces of paper or T-shirts covering them.

Every time I thought I was over one fear, a new fear managed to weasel its way into my psyche, making it nearly impossible to sleep or concentrate.

Despite all of these horrifying images and irrational destinies I imagined for myself, I never told a soul. I never let anyone see me cry, and if they happened to, I lied about why I was crying. If only I had told my mom something, anything. She would have pulled me onto her lap and held me close, telling me not to be afraid. Maybe she would have helped me see that the things I feared were baseless. Maybe she would have helped me work through my fears—my obsessions—so they didn’t have so much control over me.

But I kept it all inside. Every panic-inducing fear I faced for nearly 20 years, I faced alone. Not because I had to. But, rather, because I somehow understood that as terrifying as these persistent and intrusive fears were, they weren’t normal. They were so heavy. They felt insurmountable. What could anyone do to help me? What was the point in sharing my fears?

I was like a typical teenager in most other aspects of my life, talking with my best friend about how scared I was to be kissed for the first time, and how scared I was to not be kissed for the first time. I worried aloud about tests and homework and boys and girls and clothes, but I kept the dark stuff hidden where I thought it belonged—deep inside me until I could manage my own way out of the abyss. Years passed and obsessions intensified. The nature of the obsessions changed, but they never really went away. There were obsessive peaks and valleys, good days and bad days, even good months and bad months.

By the time I was 26 years old I was utterly exhausted. I had been fighting a particular type of obsession—my fear that I would harm a child—off and on for about five years. It intensified when I was in serious relationships, because marriage and family felt like logical next steps. That fear remained in tucked-away corners of my brain even when I was single. It was becoming as stubborn as I was—it wasn’t willing to leave, and I wasn’t planning to tell anyone what was going on.

A mental showdown.

I won that showdown. But not before I hit rock bottom, a few months after I met and started dating the man who would become my husband. So I guess you could say I fell from cloud nine and slammed into rock bottom, an even more devastating experience than I could ever have anticipated.

Excerpted from Being Me with OCD: How I Learned to Obsess Less and Live My Life by Alison Dotson, copyright © 2014. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.

41 Comments

  • Sharon Bacon

    Admire the courage so much for perseverance through such tough symptoms, then Alison’s ability to seek help, and then her amazing ability and courage to share her story and educate the public. We need to normalize sharing of mental health symptoms so people in general will seek professional help and support from friends who have learned mental health symptoms are part of many people’s life’s. Thankyou Alison

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thank you so much, Sharon! I never thought I would share so much about myself–it’s hard to believe I’m a Norwegian Lutheran.

      Reply
  • Hi Alison, I can very much relate to your early fears. I recall seeing a film, as a youngster, about someone with a tumour in their neck and became convinced that a muscle in my neck was also a tumour. Unlike you, I did go to my mum, crying in fear, and she calmed me down, but I realise now that this incident was one of the early signs of the severe anxiety and obsessions I was to develop later in life. I hope the book sells well! Helen

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks, Helen! I’m so glad I started sharing my story because others seem to come out of the woodwork. Over time maybe we’ll be able to (more) easily recognized symptoms and get the right help early on.

      Reply
  • I love that more people are sharing their stories, and I hope I can be one of them someday!!! This is excellent !!

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thank you! It does seem like there’s been more awareness recently, which is great!

      Reply
  • Very nice post. I never hit rock-bottom — it was all ups and downs everyday. But I completely relate to the nights laying in bed, crying, asking God, “Why?” If in my early 20s, someone had told me that there would be single way out of all those fears and sadnesses, I would never have believed them. But like a brilliant mathematical solution, learning about anxiety and understanding OCD explained EVERYTHING that had ever been a problem in my life — and why the specific things I always wanted (to be at peace, to not NEED to do certain things to be happy, to not feel like a leaf floating through the air with my emotions completely dictated by things happening around me) were so hard to achieve. I am eternally grateful for that knowledge and wish I could miraculously communicate it to everyone going through similar situations. But I can’t, so I recommend books and articles instead. And I look forward to reading and sharing yours.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks, Monica! I’ve said before that just learning I had OCD was like 75 percent of my recovery process. It was such an incredible relief to know I had a treatable disorder that overcoming the obsessions almost felt easy in some ways.

      Reply
  • gpp

    I too hope that one day I will be able to share my story… and i am glad I am starting to see more awareness.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks for your comment! I am so grateful that I’ve gotten to a place where I feel more comfortable talking about my disorder. For a long time it felt like a private matter, but since I’m doing so well I don’t see any point in keeping it to myself. I hope it helps! And of course I’m grateful for outlets like this blog.

      Reply
  • nancy

    It’s been 25 yrs for me w OCD. It started when i was aprox. 32 yrs old. My story is one of it coming on very gradually for yrs. A couple thoughts previously but never gave them much attention. I stared at the unpluged coffee pot plug & pushed on the chain link fence gate many times. Went on for years. I have always been one to figure out issues & fix them. Not this time. I also hit bottom. The strain was overwhelming. I also started on paxil. The next yrs i was never good enough. I saw psychiatric nurses for yrs. They gave up on me. Off to a psychiatrist. Due to that change i am the best i have been for yrs. On 3 meds( 1 still paxil). BUT i have obsessions- violent category. Mainly fear of hurting my dogs or others. So i tell myself STOP IT.
    My sense of well being is high so i am able to help myself.
    Alison have you had cognitive therapy? Me no.
    For anyone else to understand OCDis difficult. Explain sence of well being. I now know because i lost it. I am glad it’s a time of openness. Plus insurance covering costs.

    My sense of
    Now my sense of well being is high. I was told i am also able to help myself. So no need for cognitive therapy.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      I’m so glad you’re feeling better! I have not had cognitive therapy. I know ERP is the gold standard for treating OCD, but it’s just not something I did. I’ve been taking medication since shortly before I was diagnosed (I went on it for the depression caused by OCD), and it works well for me. Once I found out I had OCD I bought a few books and worked through the tips. I found a few that really worked for me, and I still use them now. For example, if a bad thought pops up I take a moment to remind myself that it’s just a thought and that it doesn’t mean anything. I tell myself everyone has weird thoughts but the difference is that they just brush it off. I’ve learned over time to put less importance on a thought–it can be hard at times, but I don’t overanalyze it. Finally!

      Reply
  • nancy

    The sentence at the bottom of the comment is a misprint- my tablets fault!

    Reply
  • Ilaria

    I’ve dealt with obsessions and compulsions since I was 12, but my OCD became full-blown at age 17. I have the primarily obsessional variety, and I find it hard to talk about some obsessions with other people, so sometimes when they ask me if there’s anything wrong, I’d just tell them “It’s my anxiety disorder…”

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      I still find it hard to tell people about some obsessions. I know it’s OCD that causes them, but I still worry that someone else might not understand. I’m working on that!

      Reply
  • barb derick

    I have been struggling with anxiety depression and obsessions it great to meet others who i can get insight from
    i would love to get this book

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks for commenting, Barb! There are lots of great resources out there for people like us. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Alyssa Lamoureux

    That is true courage and bravery. It makes me so happy that you were able to fight through it. I was just diagnosed with OCD, I was fighting the battle for a few years before actually coming out and telling anyone about my fears. I was afraid of how people might look at me different. One night I stayed up until 4 AM and basically had a mental shutdown and convinced myself I had to tell someone, which I did that next morning and I was able to find the help I need. I’m so relived I told someone, it’s easier to be able to talk to someone about it rather than bottling it all up and fighting this inside battle with your mind. Hopefully one day they will find a cure for this illness and we can all escape it.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thank you, Alyssa! I’m glad you were diagnosed with OCD, because that means now you know how to deal with what you’ve been going through. I’ve been so amazed by the OCD community. Good luck on your journey!

      Reply
  • Cindy Fenn

    Refreshing to see someone’s struggles with OCD that doesn’t have to do with the stereotypical washing/cleaning/turning on & off the light switches. The excerpt is very well done, not only because it sheds a light on what OCD is, but how sneaky it can be, twisting & turning in your mind until one feels as if they don’t know the difference between what’s real & what isn’t. OCD can make you fall on your knees in despair, but when you decide that you want to continue standing & fighting this disease, it makes you that much stronger of a person for it.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks, Cindy! You’re so right–OCD does terrible things to its sufferers. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and yet I’m so much happier today knowing how much I have to be grateful for.

      Reply
  • Alison, your writing is excellent….I’m hooked! Yes, the more we all share, the more we discover we are not alone. I wish you all the best with your paperback book.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Aww, thanks, Janet! There are people who have contacted me after reading a certain piece I’ve written and said, “So that’s what I’ve been going through” or “That’s how I felt in high school.” Thank you for the work you do, Janet!

      Reply
  • Katie

    thanks for sharing. I remember talking a bath and during that social/medical period of time they were trying to teach people about the warning signs of cancer, I looked my stomach convinced I had one the signs and I would kill myself rather than live with cancer. I didn’t have a specific plan, but I thught at east say goodbye to my mom. she looked at what I was conserned about and she told me that they strech marks because I was fat. instead of relief I worried all my life about horrendous vthings that would befall me or those I cared for.either personally or professionally over 1200 folks. well many of my fears occurred..cancer for me.clients who got sick and died, but the most devastating were the illnesses and deaths of those I loved the most. so in the end what did the 20 years of pain bring me….20 miserable years of worrying about the circle of life that was not mine to control. I have tried every med, therapy, EMDR, minfullness..every self book. I now find that all the ssri and mao may be causing rare Neuro problem in me so we are back to the start . This week I have given in to accepting that I have a very painful disorder that only those of us with it understand that it stinks but life is joyful so.I am going to treat myself wth kindness and awareness that each of us have a disorder and stop adding to our pain.we can’t control those things that scare us..but we can have even while “it’s happening. Laugh or cry..it doesn’t change the painbut it reminds us that we are fabulous humans.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Life is joyful! I’ve come to realize that there’s no sense in worrying about things I can’t control, and to try to take things one day at a time (sometimes one hour at a time). Of course, this was after years of anxiety! Good luck with everything.

      Reply
      • healthier me

        Lol, truly years wasted worrying, but I am so thankful we can overcome and learn from our time of silent suffering and become more compassionate and able to love, accept, and help ourselves and others. I’m so glad to have found an abundance of blogs and people willing to share their OCD struggles and victories. Helps me to not feel like I’m weird or alone.

        I’m still getting used to the idea of “me with OCD” instead of me with just generalized anxiety. I just recently diagnosed myself and feel slightly ashamed of having a mental illness. Please don’t hold it against me!! I’m sorry! 😀 I’ll work it out in time because I’m not going to let ego keep me from living life to the fullest and from accepting and building up others as they are. Having a name to put on my struggle really is a huge blessing because now I can start learning from others like the people here.

        On my own, I’ve made myself face specific fears by focusing on them (akin to exposure response therapy) because I realized they were standing in my way, and I’ve done a lot of journaling trying to get to the heart of my issues, but it sure does help to be able to open up to a community of understanding people. Thank you all for being willing to share.

        Reply
        • Hi Healthier Me,

          I think it’s awesome you’re facing this head-on. I totally relate. Regarding the idea of switching over from thinking of your issue as generalized anxiety to OCD, I think it’s all about finding the framework that works for you — it’s all the part of the same problem, but it’s about finding that way of looking at it that makes it all click for you.

          The explanation that worked for me: my body is neurologically wired to take in more information than usual, so it’s always in a slightly on alert (read: always a little nervous, or always a little “anxious”) and because my body is “nervous” my amazing, poor little brain tries to explain it. All the time. But then all the (circular, OCD, what if?, stuck) thinking just increases the anxiety.

          And when it gets really bad, you have spikes. What I found, though, was that as you work through individual things that give you spikes, you stop getting them and the overall nervous/on alert feeling lessens, and for the most part goes away. The key is stopping the instant response of your brain to the nervous feeling — to make that separation between your body’s physical symptoms of anxiety and your brain’s almost instantaneous reaction of trying to explain why you feel nervous.

          “Hey Brain, I just feel nervous because that’s how my body works. Nothing is actually wrong. You don’t need to protect me by trying to explain it. But I love you for trying” 🙂

          🙂

          Reply
      • Alison Dotson

        For some reason I can’t reply directly to you, healthier me, so I’m writing here. Hope you get it!

        I agree–I think I’m more compassionate now, and I’m more forgiving of my own mistakes. I figure nothing matters quite as much as what I’ve already been through, and if I can let go of my obsessions I can let go of pretty much anything!

        Also, yes! You will work it out in time, and you’ll realize it’s okay to have a mental illness. Seems like you’ve already come a long way in accepting that! It certainly doesn’t have to define us. Over time it’s just a small part of who we are, even though at times it can be terrible and it also has the power to transform us in healthy, positive ways.

        I also faced fears on my own. One of my greatest fears was that I’d accidentally hurt a kid, so it was really, really hard for me when my first nephew was born. But I just had to push through, and surprise, surprise–all of those obsessions were just that. They were just fears, and pushing past them helped me realize how “silly” they’d been. They didn’t feel silly at the time, but they were definitely unsubstantiated.

        Keep it up! Take care!

        Reply
  • Becky

    Thank you for this portion of your book. I have 2 children with ocd and one that has generalized anxiety. I am learning as much as I can about ocd. My daughter couldn’t take the obsessive thoughts anymore and attempted suicide in a cry for help. Had I known about the thoughts she was having I would have done what your mother would have done and helped her but she kept them to herself and put up a great front to hide what was going on inside of her. I hope your book helps many people who suffer from ocd and their families. Thank you

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks for commenting, Becky! I’m so sorry your daughter attempted suicide, but what a relief to know she didn’t succeed. It’s so hard for us to tell people what’s going on–your kids are lucky to have a mom like you who really wants to understand.

      Reply
  • What wonderful timing! I just had a meeting with a parent whose son’s OCD symptoms were manifesting in academic-related behaviors. I realized how much more I needed to learn beyond the clinical definitions.

    Reply
    • healthier me

      Hi! If you do not mind, can you relay some examples of “academic-related behaviors” related to OCD? I am new to learning about OCD, although I had a major episode several years back between the ages of 18 to 24. I overcame that, thankfully, and I thought I was good to go, but lately I’ve realized how much obsessional thinking plays a factor in my daily life and keeps me from really living out loud, you know? Thankfully, it’s much milder than before.

      I’m curious about the academic examples because I used to be a perfectionistic, straight-A student in school. I didn’t have to be the best exactly, but I had to be among the top students and would have cried myself to sleep and had major anxiety if I wasn’t a valedictorian. I wanted people to respect me and approve of me so badly. I had no idea I had a big problem until I became a Christian in college and OCD-religion kicked in hard. So I’m trying to identify how OCD may or may not have played a role before that time. Just curious. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Gregg Stageman

    Your book sounds inspiring! I suffer with OCD myself and have just started regularly seeing a psychoanalyst to discuss what I’m going through. Will have to pick myself up a copy of Being With OCD. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      Thanks, Gregg! The book is for teens and young adults–I’m not sure how old you are, but I’ve read a couple reviews from readers who have said the book was helpful even though they weren’t in the target age range. (I agree that it could appeal to all ages, but of course I’m a little biased!) Good luck on your journey!

      Reply
  • Hi Alison. My son is 11 and has been dealing with OCD for a few years now. His obsessive thoughts involve him wanting to confess any and everything. Although the confessing ritual deals with very insignificant things, they are huge for him. For the past year or so, things have been pretty good. But about 6 weeks ago he had a big relapse and now will not go to school, has hardly anything to do with his friends and will not participate in therapy which we though was helping for the past 2 years. He feels hopeless. He thinks the therapy didn’t help and things are deteriorating fast. He just started on medication a couple weeks ago and we’re hoping that will lower his anxiety enough so that he will agree to therapy again. I’m trying to find a good book that will help him. Do you think your book is appropriate for an 11 year old? Do you have any advice for us? Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Alison Dotson

      I think your son might be a little too young for my book. Of course, you could read it and see what you think, and see if there are any tips or sections you’d want to share. I’ve heard good things about Talking Back to OCD by John March. It’s for kids and their parents. Good luck! I’m sure it’s terrible to watch your son go through this.

      Reply

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