CBT Helped My OCD, But It Hasn’t Cured It
Up until 4 months ago, I considered myself pretty “woke” when it came to my own mental health.
I started reading self-help books in my second year of university, and they definitely medicated some of the feelings that I was having towards myself.
It gave me an outlet for my emotions, as after being branded as “mental”, “psychotic” and “crazy” by various people at university, genuinely made me feel as though I was probably a bit unhinged.
I think we all (myself included) have thrown these phrases around in the past. They do unfortunately stick.
If we take the term “crazy”, you could argue, in a lighthearted way, that I was. I could out-drink you with my £4.99 bottle of wine and I was up for a night out, constantly.
I worked in a student bar, was a resident at the local kebab shop, and without sounding too self-indulgent, I’d say I was funny and had a lot of friends.
However, I failed to recognise that I had been deeply struggling with my mental health, and it was only in my final year of university that it started to come to the surface.
Panic attacks, obsessive behaviours that I still don’t feel comfortable discussing began to consume me.
However, 20 year old me self-diagnosed and just explained my behavior as general anxiety.
I put those feelings in a box and threw away the key. By the time I’d graduated I was fine. Whenever those feelings began to bubble to the surface I’d rinse and repeat: box, key, never talk about it again.
However, like some twisted ghoul from a Harry Potter book, that part of me that I didn’t want to confront followed me like a bad smell.
My saving grace was that I was constantly busy — my friends joked that I’d plan my itinerary at least three months in advance.
That’s right, every weekend — completely planned. I jam-packed it full: brunches, hair appointments, nail appointments, coffee, holidays. My old job was intense and 12 hour days were completely normal.
I confused the anxiety that was consistently there as “job stress” when unfortunately it was something a lot deeper.
Even when I packed up to go away travelling, I kept pushing it away because I was already completely aware that it was just anxiety. That’s how I’d brush it off. I think that’s how a lot of people brush their mental health off.
Also, as a female, it’s very common to have your mental health invalidated — but that’s a whole different article, so I won’t get into that just yet.
Without divulging the personal details of how my OCD manifested over the years, it felt like I’d been hit by a train when it was at its worst, and I knew that I had to address it instead of pretending that I was fine.
I started CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) in March and finished it at the end of July. It was just under six months and my first experience with any behavioural therapy.
It was really tough, to begin with, and the only way I can describe it was the feeling as though someone had started to pick away all the scabs on my body.
It felt draining and invasive and terrible at first, but after around 3 weeks I started to see some very small changes.
CBT is focused on looking at, in essence, reprogramming your thinking so you can manage your OCD better. It’s also used for anxiety, depression, and eating disorders such as Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa.
It required me to dive deep into my (very) painful thoughts and unpack how I’d been feeling for years, and my therapist and I actually discovered that I began my compulsive behaviours from the age of 7.
These findings validated a lot for me and made me feel less isolated about having OCD, which surprised me.
I’d always pinned the OCD onto particular events that happened when I was at university, but to know that I’d had it all my life helped me to understand how it progressed and worsened over the years, as well as what subconsciously triggers it.
Now, CBT definitely has helped me, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s changed my life (yet). I went into the therapy under the assumption that I would finish my final session and feel completely different, but in a lot of ways, I feel the same.
The positives that I’ve taken from the therapy, and an indication that it’s “worked” is the following:
- I can communicate with my friends and family about my OCD without feeling ashamed
- I can sense when I’m approaching a ‘bad patch’ and take the necessary self-care steps
- My sleeping is better
- I no longer have dark thoughts or a sense of impending doom
- I can recognise neutralising behaviours that I carry out
- I feel happier in myself
- I can write about it without a panic attack
The reason why I say this isn’t to be negative about CBT because I clearly have improved from the therapy judging from the bullet points above.
What I want to communicate to anyone reading this is that therapy doesn’t need to feel overwhelmingly positive for it to work.
It’s not like going into a spa where you come out feeling relaxed because you’ve had a massage (and for some reason, I thought it was going to be like that!)
It can be painful at times talking about your past to a complete stranger; but it’s also very cathartic and enables you to see your world differently — at least for me, that’s what it did.
I don’t like using the word ‘cured’ when it comes to my mental health as I do believe it will always be there, and who knows — maybe I’ll need therapy again.
For now, I think it’s important to instigate and continue the conversation around mental health — and unpack the slightly less commonly spoken about mental illnesses such as OCD.
I also am a strong believer that therapy shouldn’t be pushed to everybody, as there were certain points in my journey where it felt like I’d taken a thousand steps back.
If I look at where I am now in comparison to 6 months ago, though, the way that I’d currently describe how I’m feeling in myself and about my mental health is that I’m managing it.
I can recognise when I’m going through a bad patch, and prior to CBT that simply wasn’t possible.
I’m still learning more about my OCD and will continue to share it with the world.