I see everyone posting their 10 year challenge pictures.
Ten years ago my life was widely different to what it is now. Sure, everyone’s is – be a bit weird if it wasn’t, right? But ten years ago, I was preparing for my Junior Cert which was a catalyst for some of the major issues I faced in my late teenage years and early 20s.
Up until 2016, I categorised my life before and after 2009. My life was calm, smooth and pleasant before 2009 and after, it became a chaotic, anxious mess. Because 2009 was the year that I first experienced Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I’ve written about my OCD before. Numerous amounts of times. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re all sick of hearing about it because God knows I am. I can’t say I was an anxious child growing up – I don’t really remember – but if you had said I’d an underlying mental health issue, I don’t think I’d have believed you.
The Junior Cert was (thankfully) my first experience of extreme stress which in the end triggered the onset of OCD and anxiety and later, depression. It twisted my relationships, my friendships, my creativity, my ability to concentrate at school and my perception of myself. The only time I didn’t experience high levels of it was whenever I was doing something I enjoyed (like acting) or in the brief moments between compulsions – the latter obviously being the more dangerous.
The major effect that OCD has had on me is my memory. It feels as though all the worrying and anxiety over superfluous things – that I was convinced were going to change the world – almost overwrote the more peaceful and happier memories I had as a child. I don’t really remember what it was like to not have it. My attention span was hit – I found it very hard to concentrate in school, in exams. Even reading was incredibly difficult for a while after the first onset. School became harder and my grades got worse. I did a fantastic Leaving Cert but I remember being absolutely devastated on results day because I knew I let my OCD keep me from reaching my full potential.
OCD doesn’t affect my life much anymore – thanks mainly to medication and therapy. Whilst ten years ago, I could have four or five occurrences of obsessive thinking and compulsions a day, I could probably count the occurrences in the last year on one hand. I used to just treat the symptoms through compulsions, therapy, CBT and then just trying to ignore them – which is devastatingly difficult – but then I realised that I wasn’t really looking at why it was happening, only how to stop it.
What I think my OCD and anxiety stems from is to a lack of assurance. Growing up I always need to be reassured that I was good, right, beautiful, funny, kind because I didn’t think these things about myself. If someone said they liked me or complimented me, my first reaction is that they’re being cruel, not kind. Because I didn’t think I was worthy of the things other people were (and that, at the time, included happiness, love or acceptance). I was miserable for a long time – I had accepted whatever it was in me that made me this way and assumed I couldn’t ever be happy. Maybe the lack of siblings gave me an insecurity complex – I had no one close to compare myself with to make sure I was “normal” and I have since carried this right into adulthood.
I constantly seek reassurance. To make sure what I’m thinking isn’t abnormal, to make sure what’s going on is normal, to make sure I’m normal or worthy, that other people think, feel and act the same way as me. Is it a bad omen if I have a bad feeling about X or I’m not worried about Y, does that mean I should?
Since tackling this need for constant reassurance (and by extension my self esteem and self worth), I feel that my anxiety has lessened. I don’t feel as tired all the time, I don’t feel like I’m upsetting people or annoying anyone. I don’t feel the need to compete with myself or others. I’m learning to trust myself. I was so used to self sabotage that I felt that I couldn’t trust myself for years, that no matter how hard I tried, I’d fuck up a relationship or mess up a friendship or do something self inflicted that brought me short term satisfaction but long term grief.
Nowadays, it’s not so bad. I still suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, the usual shit that comes part and parcel of being alive but my OCD is virtually gone. In 2009, if I felt an obsessive thought pop into my head that I’d need to check (ie, do a compulsion), it would consume me for days. Now, I just turn my attention to something else. If I need reassurance, I give it to myself. Some days are more difficult than others, it’s like an old injury that keeps returning but less and less so as the years go on.
So in the ten years, I’ve changed a lot physically – I got braces, my hair is shorter, I’m taller, more mature and better equipped for whatever life throws at me. But the biggest changes have been mentally and emotionally. I’m not the same person I was in 2009, it took a lot of sleepless nights, hard decisions and therapy to change, but I am so grateful for that.
Am I glad I went through all that when I was 15? Yes and no. My doctor once said that this might be the most difficult thing I’ll ever have to deal with in my life and I am glad that I got it over with before it started to affect major decisions that I’d be now making in my life but I would have been interested to see what 15 year old me could have done had she not been so wrapped up in thoughts and feelings. I feel like I lost a part of my teenage years, and some of my college ones too, but I have come out with a real sense of empathy for those who also go through it, a better understanding of myself and my triggers, and probably a much more mature understanding of the world as a whole.