Dreaming Beyond My OCD

Dreaming Beyond My OCD

by Maria Scazzero

I couldn’t dream. Not in the sleeping sense but in the way that people around me or humans in general, particularly the young, dream about how their lives can be, will be, should be. Because of my mental health disorders, I was barely surviving and to me, dreaming was a luxury. For the longest time, I could not envision my life in any sort of positive, productive, happy or healthy way, much less dream about a future. I was being self-destructive and eventually hit rock bottom. Most days I was lucky to be alive. But a life – that was something I didn’t have until recently.  

I was diagnosed early with my first mental health disorder – ADHD – at the age of 12. Six years later I received a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. And at 34, OCD. The obsessive compulsive disorder was the most challenging. Both in terms of the symptoms and the treatment. It came on after a period of a few years in which things seemed to be going relatively well.  

Before the OCD reared its ugly head, my mental health actually felt manageable. By 2018, I was three years sober, in a support group and part of a DBT group. I was seeing a therapist who was a good fit and had a job I loved. I worked with at-risk youth, I rebuilt trust with my family, and moved into my own place. I was more independent than I’d ever been. I went through my support group steps and took responsibility for my life and my impact on others.  

But another challenge was lurking, one I never expected would turn my life upside down. It began with an intrusive thought. I was at a support group meeting and couldn’t concentrate. I left terrified and wanted to tell someone but was too scared of what their reaction might be. For a little while after that, the terrible thoughts subsided but when I started to address certain trauma in therapy, the intrusive thoughts returned with a vengeance - constantly, day and night, tormenting me. They wouldn’t stop.

The more I looked back on it, the more I realized similar thoughts had come up before. I just didn’t understand what was going on at the time. It was the most frightening thing I have ever endured. At first I didn’t know who to tell. When I finally spoke to a close family friend, she shared that at one point she had a similar experience. I told my therapist and psychiatrist and begged my parents to send me to the hospital because I felt it was unsafe for anyone to be around me. I felt powerless, afraid.

The OCD diagnosis flooded me with despair. I was angry that I had to fight again to get through this. Even when I knew and understood what I was suffering from, I found it difficult to accept myself, to love myself and allow myself to be loved and accepted. In fact, I was downright afraid of myself, afraid of my obsessive thoughts and afraid I would never be free of them or be able to live independently again or find another job.

My life was falling apart, again. The independent, curious person I fought so hard to become who was finally able to look at the world with a sense of excitement was now a scared individual who spent days rolled up on the floor in a ball. The only solace I found was being at my parents’ home and laying on a mattress on the hardwood floor in the midst of their house renovation. Oddly the loud construction noises and dust swirling around were somehow comforting. Perhaps because they helped drown out the thoughts for a brief period. But it was heart wrenching to be frightened of myself.

Despite my pain and fear, I had to empower myself to find answers if I was going to survive. I was doing ERP (exposure response prevention) therapy but I needed more. I started researching and came across others who struggled with the same type of OCD.  

I connected with a Peer Advocate who validated my experience and shared her struggles and how she overcame OCD through sticking with ERP. The therapy frightened me and I had been avoiding it, but she assured me that I would get through it and come out on the other side. I needed to hear that.

I found a new doctor and over the next year I breathed, ate, and practiced ERP like my life depended upon it. Actually, it did! It was one of the hardest but best things I have ever done to get better. I came face to face with my intrusive thoughts and learned they would not hurt me or others. I continued to receive support, worked with my DBT therapist, and became an advocate with The Stability Network, which partnered with ADAA and gave me the ability to share my story.

My OCD has not magically disappeared but I no longer go down a dark rabbit hole. I use my tools and techniques to let the thoughts pass so I can move forward with my life. I returned to my apartment, found a new job that I love, and discovered a renewed joy with my parents and three sisters. And I’m dreaming of bigger and better things to come! 

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