Coping with grief and OCD

Warning: In this post I discuss a family bereavement and the resulting intrusive thoughts. Intrusive thoughts scare me because I find them to be ‘catching’ sometimes. I don’t want OCD sufferers who have recently experienced a bereavement to read this and then take on any of these intrusive thoughts. Read with caution. 

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a while now, because the idea of writing it literally scares me. I don’t want to weird out any of my readers, or over-share. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable… but then I think balls to it. Life can be uncomfortable. OCD is incredibly uncomfortable. And losing a loved one is absolutely f***ing uncomfortable.

My big sister Jess died a couple of years ago. She had cystic fibrosis and she died of a lung bleed. When I was about four years old, my neighbour heard me and Jess playing in the sandpit and I asked her if she was going to die. I’d grown up knowing that I would long outlive her. I just didn’t think she would only live to 28. 

Anyway, I’m not gonna delve into the primary emotions of grief. Those are things that I find private and personal, and they’re also kind of irrelevant to my blog. I’m gunna discuss the effects that my sister dying has had on the OCD.

To begin with, shock set in and overtook my brain, leaving no room for OCD whatsoever. My brain still didn’t belong to me, but whereas OCD had held it captive until that point, it was now imprisoned by vibrating numbness and cold shock. I didn’t over-wash my hands, I didn’t keep everything in order, and my brain didn’t even punish me for it. Not once.

This phase lasted for a couple of weeks, until the funeral. In the following two weeks, I drank until I fell willingly into oblivion and I fooled myself into thinking it was fun because I was at parties, with brand new people, listening to music I loved. In effect, I accidentally drank the OCD away as well as the fact that my sister was dead. I realise in hindsight that this was an unhealthy way of dealing with grief and OCD, but I was just going through the motions. It wasn’t a conscious decision. 

After the two weeks of numbness, followed by the two weeks of partying, I slowed down and returned to college. It was at this point that the obsessive side of OCD bit me in the neck, because I was spending twelve hour days in my own company, and my brain knew how important studying was to me, so it tried its best to sabotage my efforts. I had also stopped drinking due to said studying, so I wasn’t numbing my thoughts in any way.

For me personally, intrusive thoughts were the most difficult part of juggling grief and OCD. I had intrusive thoughts about the day of Jess’s funeral. I had intrusive thoughts about me swearing at her during an argument in June 2016. My brain kept flashing the image of her body in the undertaker’s office. The most difficult intrusive thought I’ve had was the image of my sister’s face being engulfed in flames (I assume this is due to the fact she was cremated). OCD placed this blunt thought onto the surface of my brain one day, and then hammered it further and further in. I thought I was going crazy. Every time I had sex with my then-boyfriend, I would suddenly see Jess going up in flames. It broke me each and every time, and made having a healthy relationship impossible. I didn’t share this with anyone at the time (not even him) because I thought people would assume I was crazy and I was ashamed that my grief was manifesting in this unfamiliar way. My company during these months was probably quite peculiar. I spent a lot of time abruptly walking out of rooms and hitting myself in the temples. 

As well as the images being played in my head, I began to hear the first three chords of the song played at Jess’s funeral in my head whenever I got into bed. Whenever I went to take a bite of food. Whenever I tried to concentrate on studying. Whenever I kissed the man I loved. It was extremely jarring, and would stop me in my tracks every time. 

Soon, the intrusive thoughts evolved from snippets of sounds or images, and became a running commentary in my head that my sister’s death was my fault. My brain picked apart the days preceding her death to try and blame me for what had happened. “You caused her stress when you rowed with her”…“You let brand new germs into the house that weekend”…“You’re a terrible sister”…“She’d still be alive if it wasn’t for you”…etc etc.

These images, sounds and accusations weren’t just fleeting thoughts that crossed my mind and then left. They were constant and torturing. They stabbed my brain every time I was thinking about something normal or when I was starting to feel even the slightest moment of peace in my head. The more traumatising I found an intrusive thought, the more my brain played it to me. OCD feels so spiteful.

Something that intrigues me greatly about OCD and my grief, is the fact that my compulsions became far less of a problem for a few months afterwards. The obsessions took over, but I didn’t feel the need to carry out behaviours or rituals to stop them. I think I felt invincible in a strange way. I felt like the absolute worst had happened, and if I was surviving after losing my big sister, then I could handle anything. I felt very capable because I was sat inside my head constantly – revising and studying – straight up challenging the OCD obsessions and thoughts that were playing constantly. I was sort of on a “F**K IT, BRING IT ON” vibe, so I managed to temporarily beat the compulsions. Weird. 

Words can’t describe how dark my head became in those months after Jess died. I’ve subconsciously blocked some of it out I think. It’s scary writing about it because I’m worried that if I acknowledge the existence of these thoughts, they’ll take over again. Various treatment methods have calmed them down over the last year or so, and they seldom happen now. I spoke to my family and my counsellor about the intrusive thoughts I was experiencing after a while, and just sharing them out loud with people gave me a certain level of control over them. I panic on the odd occasion when they do occur, because I’m actually incredibly scared that the OCD is pulling at me, and as soon as I let go, I’ll just fall right off again.

I’m sorry that this post has been heavy, but I made a promise to myself when I started this blog that I would share even the darkest moments I’ve spent in the company of OCD. I hope it allows at least one person to feel less alone about their own dark moments. We should all talk to each other more about our thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Coping with grief and OCD

  1. Another very well articulated, brave and insightful post. Thanks for making your posts so human -that must’ve been very difficult to write about. Stay strong and well done girl, I’m sure your big sister would be very proud of you. Kiki x

    Liked by 1 person

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