OCD feels different depending on the situation. Some people I’ve spoken to refer to it as the itch that can’t be scratched and the voice inside your head that gets louder the harder you try to ignore it. What does it feel like when you’re in a social situation? The explanation usually renders the person asking the question looking a bit awkward and leaving them a little lost for words; it feels like you are drowning.
It feels as though everyone around you floats and swims and splashes in the water but your ankles are tethered to the sea bed by rusted bolts. Your mind is clouded by panic and over thinking. You drown in front of people with a smile and pretend that you can swim, that you can breathe. The internal overthinking drowns you, whilst you look for something or someone that can help to keep you afloat.
What a strange feeling it is to drown in a living room. How debilitating it is to lose your voice to your anxiety in front of people. How weird you look; how huffy you appear and how rude you seem. Clearly there’s something the matter but how do you tell people you’re drowning in the living room?
The anxiety caused by the OCD can strike whenever the mood takes it and when I say that the anxiety clutches at you and consumes you, I mean it. The anxiety and overthinking creeps up behind you and covers your mouth, you analyse everything around you until it paralyses you. It ruins the party, it destroys your Saturday afternoon and obliterates your happiness. I have lost count of the times holidays and nights with friends have been wrecked by this vile little friend that pushes me into the water, shackles my feet and holds my head underneath the surface.
The OCD doesn’t go away. There isn’t a cure. So, we learn to swim a little stronger and breathe a little better when the water envelopes us. We learn to breathe in the living rooms and kitchens at parties and we work on the things which help us to keep our heads above the water.
The work it takes to commit to managing your condition is relentless and tiring. Constant running of therapy scripts, emotional freedom techniques and continual awareness of your thoughts leaves you exhausted with the swim and leaves you with a horrifying feeling that it will never end. Sometimes you want to take a breath of water and sink far below with the weird fish with lightbulbs on their heads.
Sinking to the depths is eternally quiet and dark and you do not need to exist on the shore any longer. Sinking forever sometimes feels like the only option however, when you manage to reach the surface and catch your breath, think how sad it would be to never make it to land and feel the warm sand in between your toes. How sad it would be to never close your eyes and feel the sun on your face, freckling your cheeks, how unfortunate you would be to never kneel by the tide and build sand castles again. There are always reasons to keep swimming.
The anxiety tries to pull you down with the ships and treasure chests imbedded in the sand deep down below. It makes you believe that you are done for and unable to survive. This is a lie. It is a false message in a bottle floating on the waves. It is a message which you should never believe.
Because of this, we keep swimming and look for the people around us who can help us when we are in trouble. You can’t always reach the shore on your own and that’s ok. Reach out.
These life guards see you when you shout, they reach out and they help to save you; they swim out in the choppiest of waters, remove the shackles and pull you from the sea foam. My life guards do not wear Baywatch red and run in slow motion, they use those candles and torches we spoke of last time like a lighthouse beam. They spot me in the darkest of waters and pull me from the scary depths.
So, try and swim to the beach or reach out to the life guards waiting in the water for you, build your sandcastles and close your eyes to the sun when you can until you need to swim again.