This post follows on from: My experience with OCD so if you’ve not read it, get your booty over there otherwise this post will seem a wee bit random!
Going to the doctor was a momentous stepping stone in my recovery, it was terrifying but I knew that if anything was going to change that it would need to happen. Armed with a list of behaviours/rituals I took my paper with me and gave it to my doctor. This was such a good move that I’d recommend to everyone – whatever their problem because instead of getting flustered and feeling under pressure to remember everything, I found the process easy and my doctor could clearly see a list of symptoms (which also makes it easier for her to make a diagnosis I imagine). I breathed a sigh of relief when she diagnosed me with OCD, finally I had an explanation set in stone and all I had to do was focus on my recovery (or at least get it to a stage whereby it did not affect my daily life to the extent that it had been doing). My doctor actually told me that all of us have some level of OCD within us, but for some people the balance shifts to a level that affects their quality of life and overall well-being. Treatment is about regaining that balance and with that, rebuilds the confidence of and empowers the individual to regain control over their life.
I was prescribed with a low dosage of anti-depressant tablets – 50mg of Sertraline. Admittedly at first I was apprehensive of taking these – I felt that this was a big step and despite mental health illnesses gaining more recognition and acceptance within society, there is still a taboo vibe surrounding mental health and the medications prescribed to fight it. Honestly, despite the fact that I was training to be a social worker and I’d never think this of someone else, I couldn’t help but think I’d become ‘that girl who needs happy pills’ to be ‘normal’. As usual, my lovely partner was on hand to rationalise my perspective and kindly remind me that ultimately it boils down to nothing more than a chemical imbalance within the body and the medication helps to counteract this imbalance to reinstate equilibrium. I can’t deny it – the first few days were horrific. It was like a bad hangover x10, I felt sick day and night and was extremely fatigued. My appetite was gone and all I wanted to do was sleep. After a week things improved drastically, my moods began to stabilise and I felt like my usual self – no tiredness or sickness and my appetite returned. Despite a lot of people on forums claiming that their medication did not do anything for them, my experience has been fab and I could feel a positive improvement relatively quickly.
Soon after I started the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions with a psychologist that I’d been referred for. She was a kind women who listened to my experiences without judgement and responded with nothing but positive words of praise and encouragement. I was treated with respect and dignity throughout our sessions and this is something you really should know if you’re reading this and have suspected mental health issues – I’ve not encountered any medical professional who I feel has treated me with anything other than the respect and dignity I deserve as a patient. My psychologist educated me with facts and rational explanations for things related to OCD and other anxiety illnesses which I found super helpful – the more knowledge I had, the easier it was to understand my illness and the more in control of my recovery I felt.
Every week she’d ask me to focus on just one task and record how I was feeling and whether or not I felt the methods advised had any impact. One of the things that stuck out to me was that the human body’s adrenaline usually drops after 10-15 minutes which means anxieties should ease at this point too. Essentially, the longer you leave it, the better you feel. But because my anxiety levels were through the roof, my adrenaline would take around 45 minutes to drop. She encouraged me to do something that usually makes me feel anxious but to stick with it without checking for 45 minutes (I had to be local to the thing making me anxious to be able to check if I needed to), after this time, I was free to re-check if I wanted to. I would practice this for at least 3 times per day ready for the next session the following week. The goal here was to test my capacity to resist the rituals and allow time for the adrenaline to drop and rational thinking to kick in and that ‘need’ to check to weaken in order to signify to my brain that there was no cause for alarm. Each week she would have me drop this time limit down by 5 minutes until we reached 15 minutes and you know what? It worked! I’m not by any means saying that this method is perfect – sometimes the urge was too strong and I’d give in. But gradually I realised that she was right and my anxiety would reduce if I left it for a short period of time. I still use this method now if I find myself feeling anxious and have that urge to check things. Don’t get me wrong, some days are still rough and I’ll relapse but I’ll always use this thinking process and methodology to fall back on if I’m in need of reminding and reassurance.
The medication doesn’t make me feel like I’m walking on air, I don’t feel like I’m a happy unicorn, I just feel like me – me without the anxiety and low moods. I don’t know for sure if the medication works, maybe it’s just psychological – maybe I wanted it to work and that’s it did. I don’t know, but whatever the reason and as cheesy as it sounds, the medication saved me. It saved my sanity, it saved my character, it saved my life. I’ve been taking Sertraline now for a year and a half, I’m not sure what the future holds with regards to it but I’ve no intention of coming off it anytime soon. For now, I’m happy finally being me.
It’s not an easy thing to talk about, let alone share with strangers on the internet, but I found it so helpful when I discovered other people’s experiences so I’m hoping that mine can be the glimmer of hope that someone like me once needed.
If you’ve got experiences with mental health, I’d love to hear about your story and how you’ve coped…do you relate to anything I’ve said?