OCD and relapses; Why this one was so hard.

Hello sweet earthlings. I’ve been MIA again haven’t I. It’s been a month filled with illness (fun), followed by some time away (in Wales – not prison), followed by a fresh course of intensive CBT, all sprinkled with clinic appointments and a welcome resuscitation of my social life.

(My patchy posts since the relapse got the old cogs turning in my obsessive but distinctly logical head – I’m usually busy on weekends, and so publishing posts sometimes falls by the wayside. I decided that I’m not gunna promise to post every weekend. I’m gunna post WHENEVER THE BLOODY FUCK I WANT. FREEDOM IS SWEET. This may also be accidentally good for the OCD because it feels so so wrong and unstructured. And everybody knows that lack of structure is a SIN.)

Today, I’m gunna talk about the reasons why my relapse this summer was so hard. It most likely won’t be a cheery/good/coherent post as I have a sinus infection which is making me feel like I wanna chop my face off. Also I’ve been putting off this post all bleeding day because I know it might make me sniffle. The word ‘sniffle’ actually sounds way too cute for what would happen (if you’ve ever had a sinus infection then you can attest to this). 

After the 2016 diagnosis, I was relieved to have a logical reason as to why I was behaving and thinking the way I was. It quashed my worry that I was ‘losing my mind’, and it meant a road to recovery. Then there was the recovery itself, which stretched from autumn 2016 through to summer 2017 and consisted of intensive CBT, followed by SSRIs. I’ve discussed each of these in previous blog posts so I won’t go into detail about them now.

The diagnosis and the recovery were all-consuming at the time, and so I hadn’t considered the next part…the inevitable relapse. It’s not as though I believed I was free from OCD forever – because I’d always had it. I guess I just assumed subconsciously that the meltdown in was 2016 was an anomaly and that I’d go back to the low-level hum of OCD I’d had for years before that. I thought that perhaps 2016 just consisted of a number of situations and events that worked synergistically to FUCK ME THE FUCK UP and then I re-calibrated the malfunctioning parts of my brain and carried on.

ENTER 2019.

The SSRIs I started in 2017 stopped working. To be fair, I don’t wanna play the blame game with the SSRI – this year was also scattered gently with a bunch of shituations that may have also created the perfect environment for OCD to breed. Maybe 2016 and 2019 were just particularly OCD-inducing years…? Maybe this won’t happen again for a while……..? (I’m scared I’ve jinxed it. I take it back. Denial is the antichrist.) The fact of the matter is, it did happen this year, and it was my first relapse since diagnosis/recovery. 

The usual obsessions and compulsions were obviously the primary thing that made this summer difficult. I obsessed that I had contracted an STI when I hadn’t even had sex. I obsessed that I’m a bad person and that I’m a burden on my family and friends. I obsessed about my hands being too warm and allowing germs to breed. I became paranoid that people I love might be mad at me. Just the usual stuff. Interestingly, these obsessions seldom manifested as compulsions compared to 2016 and the years preceding. When compulsions did rear their ugly heads, they were mostly checking behaviours. Checking the skin on my limbs for any foreign objects, checking my food for bugs and potential parasites, checking my teeth for damage etc. There was a little bit of an exacerbation in hand-washing behaviours as well, but I always feel like I can pull that one back on my own.

These primary symptoms of the OCD weren’t the only thing that upset me though. In the same way that 2016 was scary because it was the first time I’d assumed I was losing my mind, this year was scary because it followed immediately after the relief of recovery. Experienced OG OCDers might say that an 18 month calm phase is actually pretty normal idk, but I was so so scared that it was happening so soon. What if I build up tolerance to other OCD drugs after 18 months? What if I slowly work my way through all of them and become un-treatable?? There were so many what-ifs lobbing themselves against my skull, and I couldn’t rationalise them because, y’know, I’ve got fucking OCD. “There’s no point in worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet.” My Mama said this to me once as a child and I remember really digesting it and finding it helpful. I’ve used it through my whole life and I’M REALLY TRYING HARD TO USE IT NOW but OCD stomps allover this logic and it becomes less effective in calming the ‘worry’ section of my brain. (Scientists call it the worry section ‘n’ all, incase you’re wondering.)

I think the main trigger for the relapse this year was the fact that my SSRI stopped working. I trusted this SSRI. I’d been on it in the past for depression and it had worked so well for so long. My GP once tried to switch me to another (I can’t remember why) and I’d had an adverse reaction. Until this year, that had been my only experience of trying to switch SSRIs. Not much scares me, but I was bloody bricking it about the switch. Luckily, I haven’t had an adverse reaction from the new drug, but the switch itself was difficult because I had to wean off of the original SSRI for a week, and then begin the new SSRI. The dose was then increased very slowly. The following couple of months sucked an absolute BAG. Partly because the OCD was basically unmedicated for a while, and partly because I had a bunch of shitty symptoms (not literally shitty dw), including depression, notable hair-loss, insomnia and random crying-spells to name a few. It was hard for me to pinpoint whether it was stopping the old drug that caused them or starting the new one. 

THE CRYING DESERVES ITS OWN FUCKING PARAGRAPH OKAY CUS DAMN. Never have I ever cried as much as I did this summer. As a rule, I do have little cries every so often but then I feel better and I don’t need to cry again for a while. These little cries are mostly hormonal and they tend to happen around tiny animals, miniature bottles of shampoo in Boots, and when I think about the fact I’ll probably (gotta keep that hope) never go to space. This summer though, my brain threw a lil curveball and I cried every day for weeks on end. Literally every day. Sometimes it didn’t even need a trigger. It became quite funny for me and my sister (who I can always laugh with even in the most fucked up situations), because I was soooo bloody boooored of ugly crying on the sofa and then seeing my sister’s reaction as she emerged from her room to see a small, reddened piglet perched on the sofa wearing a t-shirt soaked in tears. It just got annoying. The depression and the OCD symptoms were problematic, but the CRYING dude. It was completely out of my control and embarrassing. It was also infuriating because it wasn’t relieving or productive in any way whatsoever – all I got out of it were migraines and swollen eyes. Shit deal if you ask me. I’m not sure if it was the OCD, the depression, a side-effect in itself, or the serotonin changes going on in my brain but I thank the Gods every single day that it’s stopped.

Some of the other side-effects are still lingering but I think it takes a long time (for me personally) to settle into new medications and patterns. I’ve just started another course of intensive CBT, which has left my head feeling all scribbly and confused again as I try to make sense of my faulty thought patterns and their origins. Luckily I was prepared for this confusion because it happened before. I’m really hoping I have that moment of clarity and relief (aka a braingasm) that I’ve achieved during CBT in the past. I feel that I’m at least over the hump of the relapse, and that I can start 2020 in a better headspace than 2019. I really really really didn’t want to write this post but writing it has been cathartic and logic-inducing (soz if it wasn’t very clear or coherent). I think that perhaps the next relapse won’t be as daunting because I don’t have high expectations this time in terms of staying in my current headspace. Relapse is a thing that’s present in the back of my mind now, and it won’t scare me so much next time.

Until then… “There’s no point in worrying about something that hasn’t even happened yet.”

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