I recently wrote a blog post about writing and mental health, and I mentioned my own struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.
My OCD manifests in the form of intrusive thoughts, a common form of the disorder which is rarely discussed. It receives very little attention, particularly in media like books and film, probably because it is less cinematic than, say, someone obsessively reorganizing a stack of papers.
Recently, John Green published a novel called “Turtles All the Way Down”, which I would say is amongst one of the best representations of OCD in media. It’s a very real way the disorder manifests, in little anxieties and unrealistic worries, and I was really impressed with the book as a whole. A definitely recommendation for YA-lovers and mental health enthusiasts alike!
Today, I’d like to talk about a popular treatment for OCD, called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT.
Before we start, I want to pop a disclaimer on here: literally everything I’m writing from this point onward is from MY EXPERIENCE ONLY. My CBT experience has nothing to do with anyone else’s, and what works for one person will not work for another. For me, I love reading about other OCD-heads’ experiences, and I find it empowering to watch others go through the same struggles I’ve faced. So there!
Now we can continue…
CBT is a popular treatment because it forces the patient to “face their fears”, as it were. It teaches the patient to create coping strategies for their intrusive thoughts an compulsions, giving them the tools to move forward with a healthier lifestyle.
It’s a way to accept your disorder and manage it, and I believe it’s a really valuable tool for those suffering.
And I totally failed at it.
I began a CBT course in January. I had signed up for CBT the previous March, after an OCD episode, and with no word about the wait list by November, decided to ask my family doctor if she knew another route. It turned out that another doctor at the same clinic practiced CBT as well, and I was in by January 2nd.
Amazing, right? Except…
…I wasn’t ready.
Let’s be clear that, at this point, my mental health was basically stable. I had received the most amazing emergency care after my episode, and anti-depressants had been incredibly helpful in managing my illness. I was good.
But when I found out all the different lifestyle changes I’d have to make, I was overwhelmed. I had to change my diet, come up with an exercise routine and do it EVERY DAY, quit drinking cold turkey, have a bedtime and wake-up time, and do a lot more journaling than I was accustomed to doing.
It was a lot, but I felt as though I’d be letting someone down if I didn’t commit right away, so I signed up.
I was an abject failure. While the reading and journaling came pretty easily to me, the lifestyle changes did not. I thought I had to do everything all at once, and whenever I met with my doctor, I totally cheated on my homework. I would claim workouts that never happened, and I was definitely still going out for drinks with my friends.
I was learning so much from those sessions, though. I found that I was really using the various coping strategies in my every day life, and I’m still using them now. CBT was teaching me to take a step back from my anxieties, and see them as the lies they were.
As far as the program went, I still sucked. I met the most amazing women who had graduated from it, and I was so impressed with their ability to commit.
A few months later, I rescheduled one too many appointments, and decided to fail out. I wanted to give up my spot to someone who would be just as committed as the graduates I met, and let them have a go.
And you know what? I don’t regret quitting. CBT is a fantastic, useful, important therapy, but I wasn’t in the right place in my life to commit to it. I work shifts, making the standard daily schedules basically impossible. Instead of thinking about journaling, my head was filled with dreams of my novel. I was just… not there.
I am mentally healthier than I’ve been in years, and I still failed CBT. And that’s okay, because I can try again. And maybe I’ll fail again, but that was always going to be part of my OCD journey.
To those of you who struggle with your mental health, hats off, because I know how hard it can be. I know how alone you can feel, and how difficult it is to get motivated.
But help is out there, and if you’re committed to getting healthy, I promise that you can.