Throughout OCD Awareness Week, we will be sharing different stories and voices and here about different experiences during treatment and recovery from OCD and related disorders. Today’s story comes from Wendy Mueller, the recipient of the 2014 IOCDF Patricia Perkins Service Award and moderator of OCD-Support, an online OCD support group for OCD. Wendy originally posted this message to that support group, after she was inspired to share her story for OCD Awareness Week. Thank you to Wendy for allowing us to share your story on the blog today!
I used to have very severe, disabling OCD. I developed it upon the birth of my first child when I was 32 years old. It came over me virtually overnight. The day after my daughter was born, I found myself thinking strange thoughts and doing odd rituals, and I felt my mood sinking rapidly into a dark state. I didn’t know what OCD was for the first 1-1/2 years that I had it. I thought I had lost my mind. I had no idea why every waking moment of my day was consumed with obsessive thoughts and nonstop rituals, which included checking locks and stove knobs, lining everything up symmetrically in my cupboards, arranging things in “perfect” order, repeating things a certain number of times so that it would “feel right,” re-reading everything over and over many times, and obsessing about everything I did all day long, wondering if I had done something wrong that might have harmed my baby in some way.
I hid my OCD symptoms from everyone for those first 1-1/2 years, because I really thought I’d gone insane, and I didn’t want to be put in a psychiatric hospital. I was being treated for my severe depression by a psychiatrist, but I never told the doctor about my OCD symptoms. It was just too weird to share with anyone, so I suffered in silence.
In early 1989, I read an article in Newsweek Magazine about OCD and [what was then called] the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation [now the IOCDF]. I immediately knew that’s what I had. The same day I read that article, I called the OC Foundation and found out there was an OCD support group that met about a mile from my house in Orange County, California. I was astounded the first time I attended the support group. There were about 15 people with OCD there, and – for the first time – I met and talked to people who knew exactly what was going on with me. Such a HUGE weight was lifted off of me when I realized what was wrong, that others understood, and that there was a national organization to help people with OCD.
Twenty years ago, I got on the right medication (Prozac worked best for me) and learned how to do exposure and response prevention techniques to resist my compulsions. The results were nothing short of miraculous. I went from being disabled by OCD, unable to do so many things I wanted to do, to recovering and going back to a “normal” life, free of the grip of OCD. During those dark years of severe OCD and depression, I never would have believed I’d ever be happy and peaceful again. I’ve been recovered for 20 years, and I never take my recovery for granted. I’m still grateful every day that I recovered from that horrible existence I endured for years, controlled by my OCD thoughts and having no idea how to stop them.
When I recovered, I made up my mind to spend the rest of my life helping others who are struggling/suffering from OCD. That’s why I lead an online support group. I want everyone to know that there is absolutely hope that you can recover and take back your life from OCD. I had very severe, disabling OCD for years, but with medication and learning ERP, I fought back, and I got my life back. ERP REALLY WORKS!!!
I still get OCD urges each day to re-do something, re-check something, re-read something, etc., but I know that the minor anxiety involved in using ERP is NOTHING compared to the horrible, disabling anxiety of being controlled by OCD. And so I lock the door, but don’t re-lock it. I read a paragraph, but don’t go back and re-read it. Each time I don’t give in to an OCD compulsion, I’m making my OCD weaker.
So for those of you who are really suffering from how your OCD is affecting your life, I am living proof that you can go from having really severe OCD to completely recovering. Learning exposure and response prevention therapy is the key; it really works. In my case, medication has helped a lot too. (I still take Prozac after 20 years.)
Don’t ever give up! Become a member of the International OCD Foundation and read their website and their newsletters. Get some of the good self-help books on OCD. Listen to Dr. Jim Claiborn’s advice here in this group. Attend the IOCDF’s Annual OCD Conference. There is so much help out there to get better. There is ALWAYS hope!
List Leader, OCD-Support