Complete and utter freedom is the destiny of all

21 March 2014

Our guest blogger David talks about his experiences of living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

I’m 26 now, close to 27. When I was just about to turn 15, my father left the family rather unexpectedly. I’m an only child, so it was just my mother and I left. It was just as well that he left, really, as he had been abusing me for as long as I could remember. His abuse covered the full spectrum. When he left, his hold over me weakened and I was able to appreciate my childhood from a new angle. I knew that the best thing I could do was detach myself from him. About two months after his departure - around my 15th birthday - I told him, after maintaining contact for two months that I no longer wanted to see him. I haven’t seen him since.

After that, things were going well for a while. However, some time later – some months, maybe more, somewhere between late 15 to early 16 – I started to find myself checking things a lot: the windows before I went to bed; around the bed for spiders; things I may have dropped and some other things. I could be checking over and over again.

As time went by, I fell deeper and deeper into a depression, too. I found myself struck with an unbelievable exhaustion that I had never felt before. When I woke in the morning, I often found it difficult to open my eyes. I often missed school because I just couldn’t get out of bed. I became a risk to my health eventually, contemplating suicide often. Sometime when I was 16 – some months into 2003 – I started to see a psychiatrist. I was put onto medication and saw a psychiatric nurse every week, too.

The psychiatrist taught me a little about OCD and that this was what I no doubt had. As the weeks and months went by, I fell deeper and deeper into my depression and OCD. By the time I had finished my GCSEs, I was so deep into depression that I just couldn’t start my A-Levels, despite my attempts to do so. The OCD, too, was, by then, becoming somewhat debilitating, stopping me from leading a smooth life, you know.

In October 2003, my doctor suggested I stay on a psychiatric ward, since he believed it would be the best place for me. Some time later, I agreed. In the middle of October 2003, I became an inpatient at the Bethlem Royal Hospital.

The OCD subsided somewhat at first, probably because of the novelty of being there. It did, however, rear its nasty head and, as the months went by, I got worse and worse, falling ever deeper into the OCD and into depression. I was put onto a cocktail of drugs. Life was a nightmare. By around March 2004, they decided I needed specialist help and so I was referred to a clinic in London for treatment.

By then, my hands were ‘falling apart’, red raw, and most of my day was dedicated to OCD. They officially diagnosed me, saying it was severe, but not the worst that they had seen. They educated me on it more and so my treatment began.

It’s difficult to say exactly what my OCD entailed back then. There was just so much. To mention but a few things:

  • I was washing my hands often, rubbing them raw with soap and water
  • I had to check under toilets for ‘transmitters’ that would ‘hear my bad thoughts’
  • I became house or ward-bound, unable to leave a place, since being outside would trigger countless compulsions, mostly to do with checking.
  • A simple walk of 2 minutes could take me 45 minutes. I avoided going out. But there were just so many obsessions and related compulsions.

    So, then, each week, to the best of my ability, I travelled, with the help of a taxi, from the Bethlem ward to the clinic in London. I saw a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist at first and then just the psychologist. The medication I was then taking was reduced and I was put onto another – Clomipramine Hydrochloride, a tricyclic compound. The mixture of therapy and medication helped – or so I believed. Maybe it did a little.

    My treatment with the psychologist in London continued, even beyond my discharge from the Bethlem ward in July 2004.

    Any way, as time went by, I found myself developing feelings for my psychologist. She was young herself. It’s a complicated, multifaceted story, so I won’t go into it so much. She did nothing wrong, but I was young, naïve and troubled. By August 2004, a month after my official discharge from the ward, I decided I needed to tell my doctor what I felt. I wrote her, requesting to see her alone at our next meet. On 1 September 2004, I saw her as planned, but it didn’t go well, in that, from the letter I had sent, my psychologist intuited what it was I was going to confess, which prompted her to bring another member of staff with her for our appointment. I didn’t know at the time, but this was for safe-guarding purposes.

    After the session, I left….and I never went back. I couldn’t. I was too hurt. I was still on the medication, but I went at life alone.

    I hope you can understand, but I didn’t go back because the place would have reminded me of, I suppose, for lack of a better way to put it, unrequited love. It would have been too painful to bear.

    I was 17 at this point. I had weak GCSE grades, no real friends and nothing of a life. I had lost most of my abilities to socialise and relating to others of my age had become nearly impossible for me. However, I wanted to build for myself a life that was worth living, so I pursued my dream of being a clinical psychologist. I believed, with my experience, I had something to offer.

    Later in September 2004, I went to college and started a course in science. Alas, as time went by, my OCD got a lot worse, as did my depression. I was in a real dark place. Six months into the course, I had to drop out, because my OCD was just so bad. It was interfering far too much with pretty much every aspect of my life. I was still so tired, so I spent most of my days in bed.

    So I dropped out around March 2005. As the months rolled on, I found that I was so depressed that I stopped taking my medication. I suffered some horrible withdrawal symptoms, like eyes that watered for no apparent reason, often to the extent where they burned so much that they closed of themselves, against my volition. I found myself ejaculating in my sleep, too, which played havoc with my OCD, as I’m sure you can imagine.

    The OCD was pretty awful then. I had powerful fears around the contraction of HIV. I feared spreading anything of my body any where. My cleaning was extensive. I cleaned so much that I had piles of wipes around my bin, but could not clean them up for fear of contamination. How ironic!

    Come September 2005, I re-enrolled on to the same course. I did a bit better the second time around. It was some time in early 2006 that I wondered about these symptoms with which I was suffering. I concluded that it may have had something to do with the fact that I was no longer taking the medication, so I started taking them again. Pretty much over night, all the symptoms went away, and, much to my surprise, the OCD also started to subside, at least to the point where I was able to manage it and it was not disturbing my life.

    So from 2006 through to late 2008, I fought depression and quite easily managed my OCD and completed my college course. The time was riddled with problems with my Mother and loneliness, but I got to Uni, nonetheless. That was the goal. I finished my college course with top marks and got into Goldsmiths to do a degree in psychology. I was pretty thrilled!

    Sadly, as much as my time at Uni was eventful and full of new experiences, the course itself didn’t strike me very well. I lost interest in it from half way through the second year onwards.

    I did, however, start to study the end parts of the Hindu Vedas – the Upanishads, or Vedanta – close to my third and final year of Uni. It was sort of an unofficial studying. My interest in that grew and grew. I even met a monk to teach me the texts. The story behind this is complicated, but I mention this part now because it played and plays a vital part in my recovery. A friend recommended I say something about the Upanishads here….but I cannot, really, for it is not the right place. All I can say is that they’ve changed my life. My whole life, from morning through to the evening, is about them now. That’s all I can say.

    By the end of 2011, after my graduation, I decided that it was necessary for me to come off the medication that I had then been taking for some years. I felt that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be on it for the rest of my life. I devised a reduction plan and sought approval from a GP. Once I was told my plan was fine, I started to reduce the dose. I started at 150mg. My reduction was planned over a nine-ten month period.

    For the first few months, all was well. However, by around February-April 2012, I started to notice that some more intrusive thoughts were coming back, more than I had become accustomed to. I started to suffer great doubt with a lot of what I did which, inevitably, led to compulsive checking of all sorts. I knew I was relapsing.

    By then, I had already developed IBS (early 2011) and the anxiety that was developing in me aggravated it, such that there were times, as the weeks and months progressed, I needed to go to the toilet around four or more times a day. The developing anxiety was often so bad, aggravating the IBS so much, that, to be honest, I often felt great pressure on my anus, as if evacuation was imminent. It was quite unpleasant.

    As time went by, I also started to develop what I suppose were withdrawal symptoms. A lot of them seemed to be of the nature of urogenital tract problems. For example, I noticed that my penis felt very cold, very often and that I often felt an intense pressure within it, almost like ejaculation – or urination – was imminent. It was really distressing. My penis also became really very sensitive. Although I was not in a relationship, nor have I ever been, I was in touch with my sexual feelings, nonetheless. I found that I started to suffer premature ejaculation, which itself was awful. I found, too, that every time I got sexually aroused, it felt as though my whole nervous system was disintegrating. It’s hard to explain. It just felt awful. My bladder also became weaker, in that I often felt the need to urinate every 15 or so minutes for hours at a time. Once again, as in 2005, I started to ejaculate in my sleep, which was a nightmare for my growing OCD. This rarely happened in previous years, as normal as it is for a male. But in 2012, every time it did happen, I’d have to clear up using aseptic techniques. I also found that my response to the cold was different, in that I shivered as usual, but had an additional spasm with it that was rather uncomfortable, almost painful.

    All the while, my OCD was growing, new obsessions were developing and rituals were starting to set in. I did often think about restarting the medication (or increasing the dose), but I knew that was an easy way out, a simple solution, a short-term solution, a solution that I would one day have to undo again. I therefore continued the reduction.

    Before long, certainly by around September-October 2012, the OCD had completely returned and was once again quite severe. I became robotic in my movements, unwilling and as if unable to touch anything through fear of contamination. When I awoke in the morning, it was there; when I went to bed at night, it was there. Constant anxiety. My hands became raw and cracked through washing. I checked and checked and checked things, always suffering doubt as to whether things were ‘OK’. I couldn’t even get out of bed some mornings without having a ‘positive’ thought before hand. I can’t go into it all. Let’s just say that most of my day was dedicated to OCD, if not to compulsions, then certainly to endless obsessions and worries. It was crippling. Odd as it may sound – or not – I felt like a prisoner in my own life, you know.

    I could see just how much the medication had suppressed the anxiety through the years. Though I knew what was happening to me, where I was heading, I refused to seek psychotherapy. I sort of felt that CBT would not work for me, however helpful others may find it. Besides, I didn’t want therapy again. After all, I had had some years of it already. I even had it through some of my Uni life to help manage my depression. I vowed to beat OCD alone, though I knew it wouldn’t happen over night. Foolish? Perhaps. I had just had enough of therapy.

    I saw doctors a lot back then, not for the OCD, but because I found my physical symptoms intolerable and also very weird. Alas, no one could help me.

    Shortly after I took my last pill – July 2012 – I noticed that my posture was not right and that it hadn’t actually been right for many years. I saw a chiropractor and was diagnosed with an ‘exhausted posture.’ This is when back pain also started, first in my neck as an excruciating burning, then to my lower back.

    Probably on account of my constant bending over sinks to wash my hands, my lower back became weaker and weaker. By November-December 2012, I started to present with symptoms of sciatica.

    So by the end of 2012, my OCD had solidified and I was living with all the other aforementioned conditions. This continued into the new year. In around February 2013, while in bed I sneezed and my sciatica became a whole lot worse from then on, such that I was pretty much always in pain and walking with a limp.

    By this time I had hit rock bottom. I was crying often because things were too much to bear. I felt overwhelmed because so much had happened so quickly. The OCD was torture and the physical pain I was in was just eye-watering. I didn’t have emotional support from family. Friends couldn’t really help. I have very good friends and it was not that my friends were unwilling to help; it was more that I didn’t divulge so much, as there was nothing they could have done. I know I spoke to some of them about it occasionally but, as I’m sure you can understand, a mere conversation does not alleviate severe OCD. Some of my friends could easily relate and they empathized with me, but still this was not enough. Besides this, they all lived and live too far away and, that being so, I didn’t see them often enough – nor could I and nor do I even now – so I was essentially alone.

    Maybe I could have prevented all these withdrawal symptoms by extending the duration of reduction, perhaps to, say, eighteen months, rather than nine-ten months, not that it really matters any more. Having said that, I did follow the guidelines given in the British National Formulary, so I wasn’t being foolish. Any way, who knows.

    Inwardly, as I knew all along, I felt that my life should be for, well, better things and not for this. I resolved to start fighting OCD properly, not that I wasn’t trying by then any way – I was.

    I did and for weeks I was losing against the OCD. I prayed three times a day, studied the Vedantic scriptures and did all I could. I started seeing a chiropractor again by around March 2013 and, over a period of about two months, the sciatica started to resolve.

    By around April 2013, I was starting to see some minor improvements in my OCD. It no longer took up most of my day. I had good days and bad days. I sacrificed a lot and sometimes gave into the OCD. My reasoning for this was that, because I was attempting a recovery alone, I couldn’t risk myself becoming too anxious and falling right back into it, since there would be no one to stay my fall. As such, I gave in to it sometimes for the sake of easing anxiety. It worked over time, as mad as it sounds. It was necessary in my case. With a therapist, it would have been different. I know that. Quite so, too, since giving in to it, as you know, strengthens it. One thing leads to another.

    I’ve continued like this for about a year now. I’ve exposed myself to some of my fears, built confidence, prayed all the time, studied the scriptures and now the OCD probably isn’t even diagnosable as OCD any more, in that it only takes up about 5-10 minutes of my day now. For the most part, it doesn’t even manifest outwardly any more (compulsions). A lot of the time, to be honest, I’m not even aware I have it. I have some ideas left to challenge, some deep-rooted fears to overcome, but I will do it.

    What helped me was praying thrice daily, meditation, study of the scriptures, with constant reflection on their deeper meaning, being constantly vigilant over the mind and some exposure to fears, gradually, bit by bit. It’s not that every one should do these things (the former things mentioned); I mention these things simply because it seems important to explain how the OCD has eased so much. Make no mistake – it has been a daily thing. I’ve had to face it head on every day for a whole year. The exposure I think all will need to do.

    Unfortunately, just recently, as my back problems continued last year, I have been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a form of inflammatory arthritis of the spine. However, the good news is that the other physical problems have, for the most part, resolved. I still have IBS and I can now see how that interacts with my bladder and even sensations within and around my penis. But otherwise, I’m not having the other unpleasant symptoms I once had. As for depression, well, that is long gone. I am no longer depressed. I now remain quite cheerful for the most part, even in the face of my physical pain.

    It is true that I am not over OCD yet. I have some way to go. I am, though, in my opinion, probably even better now than I was when I was on the medication. It’s taken a long time to get to this point and it’s been an immense struggle, but I feel freer now than I ever did. As I’ve said, I’ve got some way to go. Since I haven’t quite beaten it, some may thus believe that what I say below becomes invalidated. Just because there are traces of it left in me does not invalidate what I say below, because I will beat it, as will you.

    Before I wrap this rather long report up, I just want to explain a few more things that I’ve hinted at above. I hope they help.

    For a long time, I believed that OCD was not something from which you can ever really recover. I believed that once the OCD mind developed, it would be a matter of treating it to the point where it was no longer bothersome, where OCD hardly manifested in the form of thought or deed, where anxiety was minimal, barely noticeable and that this was as far as one could take it. I believed this.

    However, some time ago, my mind changed. Something grew in me, a thorough determination to be completely and utterly free of this menace, such that even the seed of it in the unconscious is totally annihilated, making me free of even the risk of it returning. I’ve set my mind on that now. I will do it. I will. And if I can end up doing something like that, why should you be any different? I believe that recovery can be total.

    So, to bring this to a slow conclusion, I’m not entirely sure what the purpose behind this was, or what I feel this will do for a reader with OCD. It’s just that for some time I have felt that I should say something, or help others with OCD in some way. That was the original plan, any way, hence Uni. As I mentioned, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. Unfortunately, I fell out of love with the course and also felt that I was too sensitive to be a psychologist any way, and that I would end up taking my client’s problems home with me, so to speak. I guess I just hoped that by reading this, a sufferer of OCD will see that OCD can be overcome, even in quite adverse circumstances, without medication, without a therapist, and even without any kind of emotional support from any quarter. It’s not that you should try it that way – please don’t if you can help it – but I guess I just wanted you to know that it can be done. I want you to see that OCD can be beaten, no matter what – that’s the message! If OCD had a beginning, OCD can and will have an end.

    As much as OCD is a monster and there are countless out there who have had it and have it now worse than I can ever imagine, it can be overcome. No matter who you are, what you’ve been through, however severe your OCD is, you can beat it. It doesn’t have to be something that rules your life. You can beat it. Of course, you needn’t attempt it the way I did. If anything, I would advise you not to try it like that. I did it that way because I didn’t feel I wanted therapy. But you can beat it - completely. I believe it can be done. If you don’t or can’t necessarily believe that it can be overcome completely – such that there’s not even a trace if it in the mind stream – then at least believe that I believe.

    I speak like this now about recovery because I do wonder whether some people out there do think as I used to – that one can only beat OCD so far and that life thereafter would be about management of that level of progress. Well, I’m trying to challenge that, as I’m sure many have before me. I believe that one can not only recover from it, but also go beyond even the need to manage it. 'Complete and utter freedom is the destiny of all. Others have done it.

    But to beat it, you need an undying determination to win. And when you come close to beating it and then eventually beat it – and you will, for it is not the goal of human kind to live helplessly with such an affliction – you may believe that you are stronger for it. With all due respect to others and their views when I say this, I would say – no. You would not be stronger for it, because that strength is very much yours already! Beating the OCD would only reveal that strength to you, the strength you already had and do have now. You are strong already, far more than you maybe realise. There is an inexhaustible source of strength, courage and love within the hearts of all beings; use it wisely, beat OCD, and go beyond even managing it.

    Thank you for reading this. I hope more than anything that it has helped. I have gone on somewhat, but I hope you’ve made it this far without feeling sleepy.

    I wish you all the very best of luck.