My Story: Finding the Light
Having OCD has been the biggest challenge that I have faced in my life thus far. After over four years of really struggling, I am happy to say that I am on the road to recovery and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, my OCD has taken ahold of a few different obsessions but has primarily grasped onto contamination fears, most specifically the fear of contracting HIV.
The scariest obsessions for me are that I will somehow contract HIV through casual contact and then unknowingly pass it along to others. The feeling of guilt that comes from this thought is the hardest part. My obsessions caused me to compulsively wash. These compulsions include things such as hand washing, showering, cleaning our house and belongings, and laundering our clothes unnecessarily. The obsessions also lead me to ask for reassurance all the time.
For example, I would feel the need to ask my husband if I should be worried about what happened that day, or if he would be worried if that had happened to him. Although I knew that these obsessions were completely irrational, that it is not possible for HIV to be spread in the ways that I feared, my anxiety wouldn’t let go of its grasp on me.
Although I have a feeling that I struggled with it slightly throughout my life, OCD really hit me in college. It hit me like a load of bricks. I was fortunate enough to see a therapist that year in my hometown and I will forever be grateful for him and all of his help. He knew that I was struggling with OCD right away. Because of him I was spared time wondering what was wrong with me or what to do about it, something I know I am very lucky to have been spared.
A few months into treatment with him my husband and I had to move to Michigan, and during that time my OCD was much improved. I didn’t seek out further treatment in our new town right away because I was feeling so much better. However, about six months later it came back worse than before. I knew that I needed help again so I did a lot of research and was led to the Anxiety Resource Center of Grand Rapids. I attended a group session one Wednesday night and met Alan Carriero. I decided to seek out counseling with him, and almost one tough year later, I am feeling better than I have since before my OCD really hit me hard.
Throughout this past year I saw Alan weekly, sometimes three times per week, to do Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. At first I remember feeling like I would never feel better, or that I wasn’t sure how this would truly make my symptoms decrease. All I knew is that I was not okay with feeling the way I felt for the rest of my life. So, I stuck with it and worked hard every week in Alan’s office and on my own.
By late springtime, due to a variety of different things happening in my life, my OCD started to get even worse. This was a really hard time for me. I was struggling at my job and it was very hard on my husband and I. I started feeling depressed on top of it all too. I remember feeling like I was safer at home, away from other people. So, I started isolating myself from my family, my friends, and the things that I loved to do. I also found myself needing to call in absent to work because of the intense anxiety I was experiencing. This is when I had the feeling of hitting rock bottom.
With Alan’s help, we decided it was crucial to my treatment and recovery if I took a short leave of absence from work. That summer I took the leave, started on a very low dose of Prozac from my general practitioner, and spent those three months seeing Alan for intense therapy three times per week. It is hard to even write all this down because it was such a difficult time in my life. I remember feeling defeated, like I was not a good wife, employee, daughter, friend….any of the things that made me who I was. I honestly wasn’t sure I would be able to get myself back, but I knew something had to change and that somehow everything would get better.
I also remember thinking that I had to do this for my future family. My husband and I have always wanted to be parents, so I knew that I had to do this so that our children would never have to go through this with me. Even though I’ll always wish that we hadn’t had to go through OCD together, I thank God that OCD hit us before we started our family. I know we are very lucky.
Now, just about one year after I began seeking treatment with Alan, I know that I have put OCD behind me. It no longer controls my thoughts and actions every day, and it feels amazing. It has been an extremely long and challenging road, but I have come out stronger in the end. I cannot tell you that I never have obsessive thoughts come into my mind or that I never give in to a compulsion anymore, but I can tell you that I now have the tools to conquer this crippling disorder.
This summer, things just started to “click,” and every day since then has gotten better and better. I wake up excited for each new day, excited to go to work, and I am finally myself again. When obsessions and compulsions do come sneaking up on me sometimes, I have the confidence and skills to deal with them. Often times I’m even able to look at moments that used to cripple me and turn them into opportunities to further conquer my OCD!
I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support system that I am lucky enough to have around me. My husband has never left my side or let me forget what really matters in life. My hometown doctor gave my anxiety a name and helped me to understand that I had a treatable medical problem. Our parents have been with us every step of the way and have helped us in more ways than I can count. My family and friends have given me a safe place free of judgment or pressure to “just stop worrying.” And Alan, my therapist here in Michigan, absolutely helped me get my life back. I know that God led me to his office because He knew that Alan could teach me how to get myself out from the rock bottom that my OCD had brought me to. He is an incredible therapist, teacher, and person.
I have to say, one of the biggest things that really helped me conquer my OCD were the “Group Therapy” appointments that Alan organized. Being with others also struggling with OCD, others who truly understand what I’ve been going through, has been amazing. It’s incredible what groups like this and those at the Anxiety Resource Center can do.
Throughout my struggle I have always found great comfort in the stories of others with OCD. Knowing there are others out there who understand what I have been going through has helped me realize that I’m not alone. My hope is that my story can somehow be of help to you, as so many others’ stories have helped me. I want to tell you that you are not alone, you are strong, and you can do this! It may seem too big at times, but be brave, seek help, be persistent and disciplined through therapy, and know that you can beat this!