Monday, March 18, 2013

OCD and the loss of dreams


The building at Bowling Green State University where I took many classes and taught many classes.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder, a debilitating anxiety disorder, can take a lot away from us. It can take time, money, peace of mind, self-esteem. And dreams.

The dream
When I was a senior in college, I began to worry about what I would do once I graduated.
I wanted to be a writer or a social worker. Those were my two interests. The desire to write had been with me since I was a child. The desire to be a social worker was ignited during one of several sociology classes I took in college.
Basically, I wanted to write, and I wanted to save the world. With a degree in English.
During my last semester, one of my professors talked with me about my future and suggested that I go to graduate school. I could teach and become a professor and write important literary papers and books.
I liked the idea, and I liked the thought of having a definite place to go after graduation from college.
So I applied and got accepted into Bowling Green State University in Ohio. They gave me a graduate assistantship, which meant they paid my tuition and gave me a stipend in exchange for teaching while I worked on my master’s degree in English.
I took classes and taught classes for two years, writing a thesis during my last semester (which is a story in itself that I will have to tell you one day). And I finished. I got my M.A. in English.
The next step, if I hoped to become a college professor, was to get a Ph.D. I chose to stay at BGSU for my doctoral work.
For the next two or so years, I took classes, put together a doctoral committee, chose a genre and time period to focus on, created a reading list for my doctoral exams, studied for my exams, took my written and oral exams, chose a dissertation topic, did preliminary research, put together a proposal for my dissertation, and gave a public presentation of that proposal.
I passed everything and ended up being in ABD status: All But Dissertation.
In other words, all I had left to do before receiving my doctorate was to write my dissertation. As my dissertation chair told me, “All you have left to do is to write a very long paper.”
One more step. One more task.

The OCD
What I haven’t told you yet is how OCD was a part of those years that I worked so hard.
I had reading OCD, which grew worse as I moved into the doctoral program. There were many books on my reading list that I was never able to finish because of OCD.
I had OCD about my writing, which made me obsessed with the possibility of plagiarizing, making it difficult for me to research and to then write a coherent paper.
I had contamination OCD, which made me clean my bathroom for hours, vacuum my apartment repeatedly, wipe down my kitchen counters. I spent literally hours doing these compulsions.
I had checking OCD. For example, I could spend huge chunks of time checking the stove in my apartment, making sure it was off, even if I hadn’t used it.
I had hit-and-run OCD. I drove the streets of Bowling Green looking for bodies that I imagined could be there.

The loss
The OCD affected my performance in graduate school from the beginning, but it got worse as time went by. It became especially difficult to cope as I faced what seemed to be the monumental task of writing a dissertation in spite of not being able to properly read, research and write.
Even though I started medication treatment during my third year in my doctoral program, it didn’t help enough, or help in time, for me to finish the dissertation by the time my fellowship ran out.
I moved back to Virginia, with vague hopes of finishing my dissertation there. But the OCD, though drastically improved, still fed into my academic work.
I never finished my dissertation. I never finished my Ph.D.

The vow
It may sound strange, but I don’t wish I was a college professor. The writing I wanted to do had nothing to do with the study of contemporary fiction. I don’t miss teaching.
I don’t believe I wasted the time leading up to the dissertation because education is never wasted.
I don’t dwell on it like I used to. I don’t know that my life would have been better or more productive with a Ph.D.
What I do regret, though, is not finishing a goal after coming so close.
I regret the fact that OCD was so strong then that it affected me reaching my goal, my dream.
But with all my tools to fight OCD that I’ve gained through treatment, with all my intent to live a full life, I won’t let OCD take away any more dreams.

What ways have you protected your dreams and reached your goals?

35 comments:

  1. You accomplished a lot with OCD. All that schoolwork and papers and books. It is hard though when dreams start slipping away. I still struggle with the obstacles I have to my dreams.

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    1. Thank you, Kristina. I still have obstacles, too, but I hope I have more tools now to get through them. You will get through yours, too!

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  2. Like Kristina said, you have accomplished a lot Tina!! I think you should be proud of all you have overcome and concentrate on that rather than lost dreams. I know that's easier said than done, but you truly have accomplished a lot my friend.

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    1. Thank you, Keith. I have accomplished things that I wanted to accomplish, and I'm glad about that. I just wanted to give a sense of how OCD can thwart plans, dreams, even daily life when it's really bad.

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  3. Strangely, this post comforts me. I have been sad lately thinking of all the things OCD has gotten in the way of or taken from me.

    I'm glad you won't let OCD take your dreams away anymore.

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    1. Elizabeth, I'm glad this comforted you. OCD can take away, but we can take back! You have accomplished a lot, and I know you are going to do even more.

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  4. You did amazing things in spite of ocd obstacles. I'm so impressed. And you seem to have found a job that suits you well.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. I have found a job that suits me. I had to go through some bad jobs to get here, but it all worked out! I hope you are enjoying your new job. I know you're great at it!

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  5. Wow, Tina! I didn't know you had done doctoral work!! To be honest, I'm super impressed that you got as far as you did with all that you had going on. You're a champion in my book.

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    1. Jackie, thanks for your kind words! And right back at you--I'm very impressed at all that you accomplish with your writing. You are truly using your gifts.

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  6. You are such a strong person Tina!
    And helping a lot of people with everything you write on this blog.
    Reading about what you went through gives me courage to carry on fighting. Be determent like you are.
    Thank you for that, it means a lot!

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    1. Klaaske, thank you so much. You should know that you and other readers of this blog help me to be determined. I draw a lot of inspiration and strength from knowing that you and others are also going through tough times and coming out on the other end.

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    2. Tina I just want to add something I read on Facebook today and which I think is so true for people with OCD:
      "Worrying doesn't stop bad things from happening. It just stops you from enjoying the good."
      I thought this so true, I want to definitely remember this next time I have an OCD worry.

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    3. Klaaske, that is so true. That really gets at the heart of how worry doesn't accomplish anything good. Thank you for sharing it!

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  7. That last step is such a big one. I am sorry that OCD got in the way of your completing that goal. And yet you have accomplished so much. I had a professional goal once that seemed out of reach but I went for it anyway. Just before I might have gotten an interview, I lost my nerve and withdrew my application. I've always wondered....

    By the way, I just read your last post, too. We both posted photos of daffodils!

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    1. Galen, Thank you. I remember my dissertation chairman was so kind about my problems in finishing, and he did not want me to judge myself harshly if I didn't finish. Remembering things like that shows me that I did learn a lot of good things from the whole process. I guess we all have things that we wonder about . . . "what if."

      The photo on your post with the daffodil in the morning light was so pretty!

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  8. In my book, Tina, you have your PhD. Getting as far as you did with your OCD so rampant is an amazing accomplishment. And if you want to get philosophical about it, maybe having OCD rob you of getting that degree only helped in your resolve to not let OCD steal anything from you again...as you say, none of it was a waste. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you, Janet, for your kindness and insight. I had never thought about it that way, but I guess not finishing the degree did help instill some resolve in me to get other things done. And you know, I don't know what I'd do with the Ph.D. now. I don't need it for a job. Things work out.

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  9. So...you wanted to write, and you wanted to save the world. Sounds like what you're doing! Dreams, so often, can come true but in an unexpected form.

    Still, I get what you're saying. I can look back on my life and see the damage that GAD did, and I see how I messed up my education and career for years. Once I found treatment, I became "successful," but it was a long time coming. I didn't get my degree until I was 45 years old, and I finally got it because I could utilize online classes from an accredited school. Graduation Day was so precious, so special, so wonderful, because I knew what I had overcome to get there.

    These days I protect my dreams by making sure I have plenty of solitude and lots of self-care. I once bought a stuffed turtle to remind me to move slowly but consistently toward my dreams -- which, almost paradoxically, helps me reach them faster. I'm in a tricky place right now because I'm increasing my social involvement and need to be careful to keep plenty of alone time, but so far, so good.

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  10. Oops, Tina, I posted as Skyyogi, but it's me, Nadine. :)

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  11. Nadine/Skyyogi (:-)) Thank you for your beautiful words: "Dreams, so often, can come true but in an unexpected form." I appreciate that!

    Isn't it something how disorders like OCD and GAD can interfere so much with the things we're trying to accomplish in life? Your "success" may have been a long time coming, but I bet you were stronger and better at the work than you would have been. I think beating down obstacles can actually help make us stronger. And we really appreciate what we do accomplish.

    I hope your volunteer work at the theatre is going well and that you're finding a good balance.

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  12. Yes, it seems just incredible to me that you were able to accomplish what you did with OCD taking up so much of your time. I think you are super-awesome and so glad you share your writing about OCD with us.
    I think OCD probably affected my education as well, and even took me away from working at all for a time. But the worst is the fact that depression and OCD took me away from enjoying my husband and children for 4-5 years.
    The fact that OCD interferes in things we love makes me fight it all the harder.

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    1. Thank you, Krystal Lynn. I think the way OCD affected my relationships was the worst way it affected me, too. OCD really does seem to attack what is most important to us. I'm with you: it makes me want to fight harder, too. And you fight hard--you're one of my inspirations!

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  13. Hi Tina, what a great post. I echo ocdtalk's sentiments. You have accomplished much and nothing was wasted. Thank you so much for sharing; in my eyes you have done much! I am very proud of you.

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    1. Thank you, Linda, for your kind words. I don't think any experience any of us go through is wasted. We can learn something from it.

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  14. Well you are writing, a very important paper ;)))))

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    1. Debbie, the writing I'm doing on this blog is the most enjoyable I've ever done. And it has helped me to meet wonderful people like you!

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  15. I think my dreams swtich for lots of reasons and feel OK about this. Sometimes it is fear, and sometimes it is for love. But it is always a choice.

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    1. Jodi, you make a great point. Our dreams can change, and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes what we wanted years ago for a career, for example, just doesn't fit in with our lives today.

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  16. I have to add my voice - you are SO fulfilling your dream!

    At the same time, your story shows the same painful truth all over again- how OCD attacks the things most important to us, and how it gets in the way of the living a full life. Like Elizabeth, I take comfort from your words - OCD has definitely tried but failed to rob you of a full and meaningful life.

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    1. Thank you so much. You, too, are building a full and meaningful life in spite of OCD. I admire your talents and know you are going to continue to do wonderful things!

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  17. I truly do believe you are doing very well even though it may not have been your dream you are helping so many others telling your stories so others will not have to think something is wrong and wait to get the help the need so they may be able to complete the goal they are trying to get to. B

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    1. Buttons, thank you for your kindness. My career didn't take the turns I thought it would when I was young, but that's OK.

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  18. Tina you are such an amazing person. What you've accomplished academically just floors me. And to think you were dealing with all of these internal issues simultaneously. I can't imagine how difficult that time must have been for you.

    I'm glad you've made peace with the fact that you didn't get your Ph.D. I think your attitude is in the right place. You're facing the roadblock head on, not fretting about what might have been. It's a good lesson for us all. Deal with the cause, not the symptoms.

    I believe your words are helping many people which is much more valuable than adding three letters at the end of your name. Sending hugs.

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    1. Thank you, Grace. I appreciate your comment. I don't think the three letters after my name would make my life better, that's for sure. I'm better at accepting the past than I used to be.

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