Happy New Year you beautiful beans! Welcome back to Digging the Dirt. I took a break from writing last year because I was nervous about how OCD was gonna react to the pandemic. I wanted to remove myself from thinking deeply about my mental health and just go with the flow if that makes sense? I didn’t want to completely ignore my brain, but I didn’t want to linger within it for too long.
The bad news is, OCD has not only made the comeback of the century, but it can’t seem to make up its mind about what the FRIGGITY DICK it’s doing. The GOOD news is that this means I’m back to writing and blogging again (small mercies and that!)
At the beginning of 2020 (shudder) I’d just finished a CBT course for the OCD, but I was referred back to the mental health team straight away by my CBT therapist because of an unrelated symptom I was experiencing; derealisation. I’d heard of dissociation before but derealisation was a brand new term to me. I’ll tackle derealisation properly in my next post, because it’s a hard experience to explain and I want to give it my all. Today, I’m mostly gunna talk about how my OCD reacted to 2020 as a whole.
Nobody knew how their mental health would handle the Covid-19 crisis- myself included. I sort of felt like I was treading on eggshells, waiting for the relapse. I struggled at first with intrusive mental images of the virus living on human skin as well as trying not to let the OCD snatch hold of the hand-washing (for a second there I was singing Amazing Grace twice through rather than Happy Birthday) but strangely after a month or so my brain fell quiet.
The OCD didn’t disappear completely, but it became waaaay more manageable. The physical checking behaviours halted, the mental checking ceased, and the preoccupation with pathogens retreated. I stopped asking loved ones for reassurance, and the false memories disappeared entirely. I’d like to say it was like being able to see clearly, but I don’t think anybody felt they could see clearly last year. I was so relieved, however, that the OCD hadn’t spiralled downwards like it did for so many people last year (sending all the hugs and cheese your way OCD fam!)
So why the frack did the OCD retreat so dramatically during a period when it could have surely wiped me out like never before? It’s like giving a serial killer a bunch of weapons and said serial killer turning on her heels and walking away. I’ve pondered this a lot. I joked that I’d been practising for the pandemic my whole life, but perhaps this could have actually been the case. I wondered if the sudden worldwide awareness of germs made the world feel more clean somehow. Maybe it was feeling as though non-OCDers suddenly thought in a similar way as I did- like we were all in the same boat and I wasn’t constantly on a backfoot. I also wondered whether the derealisation was a coping mechanism that my brain employed and that the complete lack of emotion shielded me from OCD symptoms.
In reality, I’ve come to the conclusion that anticipation was probably the reason I coped so well when it came to it. For me, anticipating an event is far worse than the event itself. I’ve found that during exposure therapy, there is always a sharp drop in my anxiety levels once I place myself in the feared situation. Once an event happens, I have the power to fight (and I’ve always swayed more towards fight than flight), whereas when I’m anticipating the event, I’m completely powerless. This time last year, a viral pandemic would have been right at the top of my exposure hierarchy. In a weird way, I think 2020 was the ultimate exposure therapy for me. I proved to the OCD that I can retain my sanity throughout my most feared situation, so I think it diluted it’s potency.
BUT *dun dun dunnn* in the space that the OCD had once occupied fully, derealisation now crouched too. Derealisation was OCD’s protege and she was teaching him how to fuck me the fuck up (it worked). Like I said, I’ll explain my experience of derealisation in another post, but in short, whenever it happened I felt extremely surreal and detached. I couldn’t feel any emotions and it felt as though my personality disappeared.
Despite this shift in my mental state and the surreal numbness I found myself suspended in so often, I met the love of my life and decided to move home, I tackled unresolved past traumas, and I managed to get to grips with my newfound floaty symptom. 2020 was the EPITOME of oxymoronic. The whole world was hurting, but during such a bleak time the tiny, wonderful, glittery parts of being a human shone through. I think I’m generally a positive and grateful person, but 2020 taught me more than ever to appreciate golden human emotions such as love, and even the negative emotions too because they promote healing. You don’t realise how wonderful emotions are until you lose them haha.
Anyway less of the mush. Skip to October 2020, and the derealisation started to retreat. And guess the fuck what – the OCD saw the newly vacated space and rushed into it because OBVIOUSLY that space can’t just be mentally healthy. Relapse has most definitely smacked me in the chops, but it’s less scary this time because the more I relapse, the more familiar the fight feels. Also I’m extremely relieved that the derealisation seems to have dissapeared for now. The constant tug-of-war between OCD and derealisation makes me feel like I’m living inside a soap opera, except there are less infidelities (thank god) and waaay more babybells.
So yeah, here I am! I’ll be posting regularly now that the OCD is back in full force. Sorry if this post has been flighty and confusing to read – I’m a little out of practise and summing up a year briefly (let alone 20-fucking-20) is quite difficult.
Sending peaceful vibes your way for the New Year and don’t forget to follow the @diggingthedirtonocd instagram for blog post updates 🙂