For those of you that don't know me personally, you might not know that I have an (often) debilitating anxiety disorder called OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. About a year and a half ago, my OCD was the worst it had ever been. I was bed-ridden, vomiting constantly and had daily panic attacks. It was the last term of my undergrad and it was almost impossible to leave my house. When I did make it to school, I would cry in between classes.
So, what is OCD, anyways? It starts with a single thought. You know when you have a weird, random thought that just flies into your mind out of nowhere? You're waiting for the train and wonder, "what if I jumped onto those tracks?" "What if I drove my car into that wall?" "What if I accidentally hurt someone while I was asleep?" "What if my relationship is all wrong?" We all have them. We think, "that was weird" and get on with our lives. Except, those of us with OCD don't get on with our lives. The thoughts stick in our minds like barbed wire and we can't let them go. They consume us. We think they mean something imperative about our character. They play on repeat in our minds. Over and over. We can't tell the difference between who we are and what the thoughts are telling us we are. Reality becomes incredibly skewed.
I know now that my brain is just trying to protect me. It's like a protective best friend on the front porch on steroids with a gun, while I'm saying, "thanks for looking out for me, but I'm good." That danger signal and our emotional responses are simply on overdrive, while those without OCD's signals are not.
Through therapy, I have learned and will continue to learn (shout out to relapses!) to sit with the anxiety and allow these distressing thoughts to be there without engaging with them. Disregard. It's an incredibly hard thing to do when everything in your body is screaming, "Run! Bail! Get out!" And the best defence, I've found, is to accept the anxiety and have a go-to activity to lean on to re-focus my mind. For me, that activity is writing. I'm a natural pessimist, so it's easy to think of all the things OCD has taken from me – threatening my relationship, loss of identity, freedom. But, it has given me more – choice, freedom and a charged creative practice I've never experienced before. Notice how it simultaneously robs and gives me freedom.
When the thoughts infiltrate my mind, when they're screaming in my ears, it drives me to write. "I hear you, but I'm writing right now." This last year has been the hardest and most productive of my life. Not to say, I only write when my OCD hits, but it has showed me that I get to write regardless of feeling. When I was bed-ridden, I thought I didn't deserve to write, because it brought me joy and purpose. I thought I didn't deserve anything good. But, I do deserve it. I more than deserve it.
I see now that what was keeping from creating was a lack of choice. I always felt slave to my feelings and thoughts, that I had to do what they said. So, when I didn't feel like writing, I didn't. When I thought, I sucked at writing, I wouldn't write. OCD taught me that I have choice. I can choose what thoughts and feelings are worth listening to and disregard the rest, while getting back to work!
People with OCD are some of the most creative people I know. We can come up with a myriad of scenarios for any given situation, imagining all the ways we could die, be bad people, lose our identities, hurt people, get ill, etc. Our imaginations are incredibly vast. I don't think I even realized the extent of my own creative potential until I was diagnosed.
So, thank you, OCD. For reminding me I'm creative, I'm an artist, I have choice. For pushing me towards this boundless creative life I always wanted to live.
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