Pure O - My Lived Experience - Part I
My Pure O - Unwanted and Out of Control – Part 1
Like many of us, I have always pictured people with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) as the ones who suffer from repetitive compulsions such as hand washing or turning lights on and off multiple times before entering or leaving a room. Therefore, when I was trying to self-diagnose my own anxiety, I skipped over the OCD section. I have since learned the hard way that there are different kinds of OCD and not all of them involve compulsions.
My type of OCD, which is commonly called ‘Pure O’ for ‘Pure Obsessional OCD’, consists mostly of unwanted, intrusive and repetitive thoughts that are extremely upsetting. As well, an individual with Pure O OCD finds it difficult to accept that thoughts might be random; therefore, we often erroneously believe our thoughts are connected to what we are and what we want.
I still remember my very first episode of acute OCD. Late one evening, I was reading a novel about a couple that decided to part ways because they had ‘fallen out of love’. I asked myself the question “do I still love my BF?” We had been dating for six months at that point. When I called him, he did not pick up his telephone and I automatically took this as a bad sign. I spent the rest of the night creating scenarios to self-assess my love for him. Would I love him if he gained 200 pounds? Would I be sad if he died in a car accident? Would I be faithful to him if Matthew McConaughey asked me on a date? During the rest of that week, I was physically present, but my head was somewhere else, still creating scenarios about my relationship.
That same Friday, while having dinner with BF, I asked aloud: “I wonder if this is how sad people feel when they are driven to commit suicide?” I started crying in the middle of a busy restaurant. I did not touch the rest of my meal and I cried all the way home. The next morning, I broke up with BF because I felt I was clearly not committed enough to our relationship.
Several weeks later, BF and I decided to go through with a Hawaiian vacation despite having split up. While shopping for a bathing suit, I suddently felt ‘normal’ again. All my unwanted and intrusive thoughts, questions, and crazy scenarios seemed to stop. I finally had some relief from weeks of mental torture.
Unfortunately, my ‘mental’ vacation was short-lived. The following seven years were filled with OCD-like thoughts and many episodes of anxiety.
During Winter and Spring of 2005, I saw a therapist who was unable to properly diagnose my condition and teach me the required skills to control my anxiety. I continued to suffer unwanted, intrusive and tortured thoughts on a regular basis. I will share with you a few of these anxiety driven thoughts and actions:
- After watching the movie Match Point during a flight to Switzerland, I spent the first three days of my trip questioning in which circumstances, if any, I would want and/or need to kill someone. I imagined an extremely violent scenario in which self-defense could lead to the death of my aggressor. In my mind, the only possible conclusion was that it was only a question of time before I would turn into a murderer.
- I once dreamt that I was in a relationship with one of my closest girl friends. I did not eat and barely slept for two days because I interpreted my dream as a signal that I had changed sexual orientation and I did not know how to handle the change.
- During the second half of my first pregnancy, I experienced false contractions that made me worry that the baby would be born prematurely. I started to look at the clock excessively and whenever all the numbers were the same (eg. 3:33pm), I closed my eyes and wished that my daughter would make it to 36 weeks. If I opened my eyes before the numbers had changed or if the numbers had changed by more than one minute, then I worried that my daughter would be born prematurely and it would be my fault. When I missed the proper sequence of numbers, I froze and waited until the next time when the numbers were the same (4:44pm in my example) to reverse ‘destiny’.
- During the labor of my first child, I thought, “This is too painful. It’s not worth it. I’ll give her away if the doctors stop the pain now”. I immediately told my sister and husband that I would have a C-section for my next child. I needed to quickly find an alternative to being ‘forced’ to give my baby away because the thought was too unbearable.
- I have once thrown away three pairs of perfectly fine shoes after I took the kids to a local petting farm. I did this for fear of contamination from goat feces. My usual ritual of changing outfits in the parking lot and sanitizing our hands was no longer sufficient to make me feel safe.
The above-mentioned examples were very distressing, however, every time my anxiety ran out of gas, I would resume my ‘normal’ life without having seek proper treatment.
In my next article, I will share the events that led me to drive myself to a local hospital in the middle of the night in April 2012.
*Emmy is a mother of two amazing children aged 4 and 6. She is a volunteer Board Member for Anxiety Canada and agreed to share her experience with OCD to increase awareness about this disorder and to encourage others who suffer in silence to seek help because they need and deserve to get treatment.