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Me and OCD Part 3: Psychotropics and Progress

In Part 1: Stigma and Silence and Part 2: Moving and Mayhem of this series, I talked about some of the stigma and misconceptions around OCD, and I also talked a bit about what my recent relapse with it has looked like. In this final part of the series, I will talk a bit about how I’m coping and managing now.

With all of the limitations in mental health services due to COVID-19, my revised treatment plan had limitations as well. For the time being, it meant introducing a new medication and focusing more on a cognitive behavioural therapy approach in my individual therapy sessions. It also meant that, outside of therapy, I was doing my own deep learning through reputable social media accounts, podcasts, and research articles. Thanks to this learning — both in and out of therapy — I’ve really taken a deep dive, for the first time, to better understand the different mechanisms (cognitive, emotional, physiological, and neurological) underlying the OCD ‘cycle’ and what it looks like for me. 

After better understanding this cycle, I’ve been able to start learning things I can do to help ‘break’ or ‘pause’ it, or strategies that help me cope — these are often thought challenges (i.e. challenging the thoughts I’m having with alternative possibilities, other information, or reassuring statements to try and remind myself that my thoughts aren’t facts), distraction activities or calming techniques (e.g. depending on the day that could range from going for a walk, colouring, watching a favourite show, doing a breathing exercise, reaching out to someone, or sometimes yoga). Using these strategies helps give me some space from the intrusive thoughts and gives me a better chance at fighting the compulsions, because I’m not in as much distress while trying to rationalize with myself. The key factor for me even being able to do these things seems to have been the medication. Prior to adjusting to this new medication, I would have an anxiety attack or emotional meltdown before I could even attempt any of the aforementioned strategies. Now, I feel more equipped to step away from the escalating OCD distress and engage in strategies to help prevent it from reaching that point.

I am so grateful that the medication has made such a big difference for this OCD relapse, because it gives me more of a fighting chance. That being said, I have many days where I’m too tired or too anxious to deal with tasks that I know will trigger my OCD, so on those days I avoid the tasks. While this isn’t ideal, it’s my form of harm reduction; it’s how I’m able to get through those days when I have more pressing difficulties to tackle with my other mental illnesses. Now that the OCD isn’t the most pressing issue again, it has taken a backseat in therapy. Perhaps one day I will be in a place where I can focus more on the OCD again and the role it plays in my life, so that I can really have a chance at remission instead of just ‘managing’. In the meantime, at least I’m managing! I’m no longer staying awake until 4am engaging in rituals or fixating on my worries, I’m able to resist some of my compulsions and challenge some of the obsessive thoughts. For right now, that’s enough.

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