You know those films where disaster befalls the entirety of civilisation? Does anyone else find it vaguely baffling that whoever’s survived seems to dust themselves off and sets about rebuilding their new life with a zeal that is frankly irritating?
I’ve been mulling over a lot lately the fall out from OCD. I think there can be a tendency when someone is recovered or recovering from OCD/anxiety to just be so glad to see them well that any acknowledgement of the impact of illness is glossed over. That British fondness for “looking forward”, moving “onwards and upwards” kicks in and no one really wants to talk about the uncomfortable truth that OCD has impacts on our lives that goes way beyond the immediate.
I have had OCD since I was a teenager. One of my intrusive thoughts since that time has centred on a close family member. That’s a long time to be excessively worrying about another person. Do I think that it’s impacted on my relationship with them? 100%. It’s probably the only thing in this crazy world that I can be sure of.
From the outside it may not appear like there is much of a problem with our relationship as we get on fine. Nor would this family member even know that the OCD has been the cause of us not being so close. However, over the years my compulsions have affected our relationship. I have found reasons not to spend much time with them. It has been extremely hard for me to be affectionate with this person and I tend to be more closed and guarded with them.
Although I am now doing well from an OCD point of view that relationship has suffered for such an extensive period of time that it is now difficult to change. It is only since I have become better that I can fully see the damage that OCD has wrought on my bond with this person and it is only now that I feel the grief. The grief for how different that relationship could have been and should be and without wanting to sound melodramatic I honestly feel that some days I mourn it.
The examples of ways in which OCD impacts on people’s lives are endless. The women who gave up having children, either as a result of having POCD or worrying that pregnancy may exacerbate a relapse. Or those who have ended wonderful relationships because they obsess that their partner isn’t the right one for them or worry that their OCD is too much for their partner to handle. People who have left beloved jobs because they can’t drive anymore or the student who can’t go to the university of their choice because OCD and anxiety followed them into their exams and affected their grades.
Recovery gets us to a wonderful place where we can see our compulsions for what they were but simultaneously it gifts us the painful awareness of realising just how much debris our OCD has left behind. For a lot of us there will have been effects that are irreversible now. Relationships that have been changed irreparably, friendships that are long lost, careers that may never be retrieved even if the person is able to work again.
Once CBT finishes people are keen to point out how happy you must be to feel better. And I am. Most of the time I am beyond excited and thrilled that I have managed to recover fairly successfully from my OCD. I am lucky and I know that I am, I have a good life but that doesn’t stop me struggling to process how it can have wrought such havoc.
I think sometimes maybe it’s necessary to pick through the debris, to sift through the broken pieces. Bounding away to a new life without a backwards glance is for superheros in Hollywood blockbusters. OCD isn’t just some inconvenient blip from which we just re-build our lives unscathed. There is often collateral damage and it has to be OK to acknowledge this.
So what’s the answer? I don’t really have one. I don’t think that CBT is designed to help people work through their feelings about OCD. It does a great job of getting people better but from my experience it ends at the point of improvement. There can be follow up if there is a relapse but otherwise you’re on your own to deal with the complicated emotions that arise as you try to process its’ impact. Psychotherapy is a possibility but in my experience it fed my OCD. Questions such as “why do you think you’ve had these thoughts about this person” and so on lead into compulsive soul searching that can be totally counter productive. I can’t talk to family about it (and many can’t) as that would involve having to explain my intrusive thoughts about this family member.
So what do I do? I have found mindfulness the most helpful technique to help me get through those moments of grief or where a pang of regret hits me. After all I can’t change any of it and wishing it to be different doesn’t make it so.
I would be fascinated to hear what other’s experience are of processing their experience once they are in recovery.
Wishing you all well