Let this sink in: Recovery from OCD is a journey, not a destination.
Since I’ve written a book about “how I learned to obsess less and live my life,” people sometimes ask me if I have overcome OCD or if I still obsess. The answer is that I don’t obsess like I used to, which sometimes feels like a miracle. But what makes life easier, and this long, winding road of recovery less treacherous, is that I realized years ago that there’s no such thing as perfection. If my goal were to be obsession-free, or to never, ever let a bad thought enter my mind again, life would be torture.
Living with OCD–and not constantly battling against it–means accepting that I will have doubts. I will have bad thoughts. I will, from time to time, feel panic surge through my body because an old obsession has been triggered. It’s frustrating to have to continue to deal with this disorder, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I do have OCD. I just do. Nothing will change that basic fact, but I can work to give my thoughts less power and to simply react to them rather than overreact to them.
I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel discouraged. Quite the opposite! I want you to know you are a human being. You are imperfect. You will fail. (You must be thinking, “Wait, I thought she said she wasn’t trying to discourage me.”) We are all imperfect, whether we have OCD or not. Lay down the burden of trying to rid yourself of every intrusive thought you’ve ever had, or of never performing a compulsion again. Success does not equal perfection. Success means you’ve improved. Success means you’ve tried, and you’ll try again tomorrow.
So, yes, I still obsess, often in different ways than I did before I was diagnosed with OCD and got help. Take this, for example: Last week at work I was about to walk by the men’s room and I sensed that someone was about to come out, so I stopped short of the door. My boss walked out and seemed startled to see me standing there, and for the rest of the day all I could think was “Should I email him and explain myself? Should I tell him he doesn’t need to report me to HR and I wasn’t lurking outside the men’s room, I was just stopping so we didn’t bump into each other?” I passed my boss in the hall later and he smiled and said, “We meet again!” Of course he did, because that’s normal. Not agonizing over the initial run-in and wondering whether I should actually make things worse by trying to explain something so small—and thankfully I didn’t email him.
There you have it: A slice of life with OCD. I’m not depressed or obsessing every single day, and my obsessions aren’t dark like they once were. But I do feel anxious sometimes. I do jump to the most illogical conclusions. I do toss and turn some nights worrying about something I said, or didn’t say, and how I could make up for it. And this is all okay, because I’m me, Alison Dotson, and I have OCD–as well as a life to live.
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