Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Treatment, Part One

I started having symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression when I was a young girl, around 8 or 9, but I didn’t get treatment for the disorders until I was 27.
Why the delay?
One reason was because my parents apparently didn’t recognize that their daughter had some major problems.
My mother in particular thought I was being “contrary” and disobedient because I ran the water too long when I washed my hands, took too long in the bathroom, wouldn’t finish a book for a class assignment, did everything slowly, etc.
I never tried to explain myself to my parents, because I thought I must be crazy, and I couldn’t admit that.
Do I blame my parents? As an adult, I have definitely carried some resentment because they didn’t try (to my knowledge) to find out what was wrong with me, or get me some help. But that discussion is for another day.
When I was a teenager, I read a magazine article about OCD (I don’t remember which magazine—Teen? Good Housekeeping?). I was shocked that there were other people who did many of the same strange things I did.
That new knowledge made me feel less like a crazy person but no less isolated. I was so embarrassed and worried about reactions from others that I never told anyone, not even my doctor.
At the end of my first year of college, I got very down and homesick. After my parents visited me at school one weekend, my mother wrote me and said how sorry she was that I was so depressed. That was the first time I thought of myself as depressed.
No one suggested that I see a doctor or therapist about my depression. There was a great stigma around anything that smacked of mental illness in the community I grew up in.
So I plugged along, believing that I was just a miserable, unlucky person.
My OCD symptoms became almost unbearable when I was in graduate school. I was far from home and lived by myself. I suffered from obsessions and compulsions that made my hands bleed, took me away from my studies, and made me think death must be a relief.
I was also depressed, which I thought was situational. I finally discussed that with a friend, and she suggested that I see a therapist at the counseling center on campus.
Oh, I could never go see a therapist, I remember saying.
Well, I see one, my friend said.
That surprised me, because my friend seemed to be the personification of sane. But her honesty with me provided the impetus for me to make an appointment to see a counselor.
That counselor, who was a PhD in psychology, probably saved my life. I spent a year talking about my childhood, my relationships, my sense of self and my negative and unhelpful thought processes.
My first foray into talk therapy—any kind of therapy—helped me to change my perspective: on my background, my past experiences, and the subsequent negative ways I thought of myself.
I began to think less negatively, and I began to recognize that the way I thought about things had direct, real effects on how I lived my life.
But after a year, but I wasn’t feeling better. And my OCD symptoms marched on.
Because I never once mentioned my OCD to the therapist.
In my next post, I’ll write about my first encounter with a psychiatrist.


  1. I totally understand where you're coming from. I've had OCD symptoms for as long as I can remember, even way back when I was four. I didn't seek treatment until I was almost 33. I just "stuffed" everything and went about my life. I chugged along trying to "be normal". I kept this up until I just couldn't do it anymore. I "stuffed" until I couldn't "stuff" anymore. The depression set in deeper, the anxieties grew exponentially, and rituals increased. I, too, felt isolated, alone, broken, abnormal, just wrong.....

    Thank goodness for great therapists, great friends, and blog buddies. I'm not sure where I'd be without them.

  2. Kat, Amen! They've been helping hands along the way.

  3. What strikes me most about your story is the fact that your friend was open enough at the time to tell you that she was seeing a therapist, and that one little admission helped change your life. That's such a good example of why we it is so important to eradicate the stigma of mental illness.
    Hopefully all of our sharing about OCD will work toward this goal and also help people out there who, like you, have gone so long without help.

  4. I also began to experience very intense symptoms by around age 7. It was terrible and no one in my family understood. Some of them still don't.

    It took me until I was 32 to seek treatment and um.... I am now 33. I'm still quite new at all this therapy and medication but I do know one thing, I feel better and happier than I ever have.

    I wonder if we were all a bit more honest with each other (like your college friend was with you) if it would help with all the stigma and all the fear surrounding seeking treatment. Your friend gave you courage.

    Therese Borchard of the blog Beyond Blue helped give me courage and I've never even met her! I read her blog for a few years and let her message sink in before I finally got the courage to seek treatment.

  5. Elizabeth, I'm glad you did seek treatment. It's so amazing what or who will lead us to take a step like getting help.


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