Graduate Story #6
From prisoner to gate keeper...A woman exposes her children to perceived risks so that she might liberate herself from the confines of OCD and pursue a career in psychology.
During my second pregnancy, at age 18, I experienced the onset of OCD. This 18 year time lapse is due to the following reasons. During this time period there was progressive expansion of peculiar feelings, fears and behaviors and I had no concept that these symptoms related to any disorder. I didn't even know there was such a disorder as OCD. I thought I was overprotective (giving away my children's puppy to keep them from harm), a worrier (spending fruitless hours problem solving what hazards threatened them), and a little off the wall (I wouldn't let them visit friend's houses who had pets).
Most of you know what these 18 years of my life were like, progressive expansion of rituals and instilling greater limitations on my husband and children. Their cooperation unknowingly produced a greater depth of pathology. My constantly seeking reassurances through the medical profession merely brought about feedback such as "Jesus Christ girl, you can't worry about everything." Ultimately my diagnosis came from my own investigations and similarity of symptoms to a relative who had been diagnosed with OCD. Thrilled that I could possibly put a name to my problem, that I was not alone and mostly that I could be freed from the torture that I lived with, I took my diagnosis and set out to find help.
Unfortunately my first stop was at a psychiatrist that wanted to "cure" me with drugs. Since part of my OCD was a fear of an allergic reaction to drugs, this was a problem. So this doctor showed me the door and told me when I was ready to take medication to give him a call. As you might guess...well, I must have misplaced his phone number.
My second effort was a therapist whose level of expertise entailed informing me that OCD was his "disorder of the month." It turns out his focus was more on my insurance coverage than on my well being.
Somehow I got my hands on an OCD newsletter. While reading through it I came across an article entitled Guilt Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, by Steven Phillipson, Ph.D. For the first time ever I heard my story represented in this article. To finally have my symptoms detailed was exciting although exciting is hardly the word to describe OCD symptoms.
The critical dilemma existed that Dr. Phillipson was in New York and I was located in another state. Somehow I did not think my insurance company would be pleased to cover weekly airline tickets. So I called Dr. Phillipson at the number listed in the article ((212)686-6886). After finding out the lengths that I had unsuccessfully gone to obtain a qualified therapist, he graciously accepted my proposal to work with him via telephone. Between sessions I was provided with numerous challenging homework assignments that involved exposing those people nearest and dearest to me to items my disorder considered hazardous.
Dr. Phillipson is a cognitive behavior therapist and consequently my OCD was treated through behavior therapy. To go through this therapy was without a doubt one of the most difficult tasks I have ever encountered. But after one year of many homework assignments (of which I am pleased to say that I completed most and haste to add this as critical for successful therapy), I was considered a graduate. With my greatest fear being that my children would contract worms from an animal and die, my homework assignments ranged from touching a blanket that my puppy had laid on to allowing my children to assist in the birth of kittens (which, due to my OCD, I thought automatically came with worms).
Prior to this therapy, to be "OC free" was something I had concluded would never happen. Through no choice of mine, this was how I would live the rest of my life. Not because of a lack of desire or determination on my part, rather because I had come to believe it was not possible: I would always struggle to get through each day because of my OCD. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, it is possible to be "OC free." Not only is this possible, but probable, with the right therapist, and dedication on the sufferer's part, it will happen.
In December of 1993 I completed my behavior therapy treatment with Dr. Phillipson. It was with his extraordinary understanding of OCD and his patience with this OCD client, that I was able to begin my life after OCD. I ended my marriage due to problems unrelated to my OCD and am a happy single parent. Knowing what it is like to live in OC hell, and knowing that you do not have to, I determined to do everything I am humanly capable of to help end OC suffering for others. I began college in 1994 and graduated in the spring of 1997 with a BA in psychology. I am currently a doctoral student pursuing my Ph.D. in clinical psychology. It is my desire to devote the rest of my "OC free" life in an attempt to contribute all I can to learning about this disorder.
The goal of my letter is to encourage others still suffering to seek qualified treatment, to complete agreed-upon homework assignments, to strive to conquer your OCD, and live your life to its fullest.