Gifts OCD Has Given Me

This is the 100th post on my blog!  Celebration time!!!!!  🙂

Since it’s my hundredth post, and it’s coming up on the New Year, I thought it might be a nice opportunity for reflection.  So I went through some of the old posts I’d written.  WOW.  What a transformative few years it’s been since I started writing my blog in June 2008.

In some ways, it’s painful to read.  In other ways, it’s miraculous.  I read between the lines and remember what this journey has been.  In particular, it’s striking to revisit the agonizing confusion that came with my fight against OCD, especially before I knew I had OCD (I wasn’t diagnosed until December 2010, but I have been battling it my whole life).  I see it in every post, every question.  And yet, I would not change any of it. OCD has been my life’s greatest trial; but as is often the case with great trials, it has also provided many of my greatest gifts.

Today, I’d like to share some of the gifts OCD has given me — graces I would not have received were it not for my day-to-day struggle to live a rich, meaningful life despite my disorder.  I write this for the benefit of others struggling with difficult trials of every variety (including myself!), but with a special place in my heart for those facing mental illness.  I hope this will be a reminder that there is meaning in our battle, that God can create tremendous beauty from even the deepest despair, that there is hope for all of us.

1) Humility.  After a recent OCD incident (I have obsessive doubt about whether my close relationships are “real”), I expressed this in an email to my sisters: “I’ll tell you, girls.  If OCD is good for one thing, it’s keeping you humble. It’s hard to have much pride when every so often you have to get down on your hands and knees and ask the people you love for extra help or, in my case specifically, reassurance.”   This isn’t something I can do alone, which can be frustrating and embarrassing for an independent, otherwise pretty level-headed person like me.   I don’t want to have to ask for help.  I don’t want to have to rely on others, or even God.  But if I want to be healthy, I have no other choice.  What a gift!  What a blessing!  Given how prone I am to pride, this is a profoundly positive benefit in my life.

2) Compassion.  In one of my favorite books of all time, Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, Rev Saunders says:

 One learns of the pain of others by suffering one’s own pain. … And it is important to know of pain. It destroys our self-pride, our arrogance, our indifference toward others.

I have found this to be true.  The more I experience my own pain, the more open I am to the experiences of others.  In a post I wrote last year, I said this: “I wonder if pain isn’t like a chisel that carves a canyon within, and you can only be filled with love and joy as deep as that canyon goes.”  This was a pretty significant turning point for me, one that allowed me to find a new way of relating to my disorder.  I learned that compassion isn’t about taking the pain of others away, but being willing to accompany them in it — and you have to be familiar with your own pain if you want to be able to do that.

3) Self-Understanding.  A major aspect of my healing process has been coming to know myself — my strengths, weaknesses, triggers, and quirks.  I used to be a mystery to myself, which made it especially difficult to navigate OCD’s twisting corridors of confusion and fear.  Now I understand where I’ve been and why.  This enables me to forgive myself more easily.  I can now predict with some accuracy what will trigger a spike (and can generally react quickly enough to nip it in the bud).  More importantly, I know what helps me thrive, and am learning how to build a life that sets me up for the greatest possible success.  Many people, even those without mental illness, flounder because they have not taken the time to really get to know themselves.  This is a tremendous gift OCD has given me.

4) Self-Worth.  There was a time I derived all my self-worth from things I could do: getting lead roles, earning good grades, being funny, being “perfect.”  But the problem is that such self-worth is never satisfied.  You must constantly do, do, do, in order to feel as though you’re “earning” your right to breathe.  But when you face moments where you are so broken that it’s hard to function even marginally — let alone optimally, let alone PERFECTLY — you discover you must come up with deeper reasons you’re worth it.  Why am I valuable even when I struggle to get through a day?  Why am I valuable when I’m not the way I want to be, or contributing in the way I’d like to contribute? I discovered that I’m worth it because I am a daughter of God.  Because this life is precious in and of itself, and my existence is unique and worthwhile, not despite the trials I face, but in part because of them.  Without my trials, I could not be who I was made to be.  Thanks to OCD, I now have a sense of self-worth that is not contingent on my “doing,” but is satisfied with my “being.”  What a wonderful gift.

5) Closeness with Christ. The unsustainable perfectionism of scrupulosity (religious-based OCD) drove me to search out new ways of relating to God and Christ — something I probably never would have done without such a strong impetus.  I came to learn that God is not a stern accountant who keeps a running tally of my good and bad marks, but an unfailingly loyal and loving Friend.  He suffers not just for me, but with me, so that when I pass through my Refiner’s Fire, we become One.  Similarly, because sorrow increases my capacity for joy, as I rejoice more deeply, He rejoices with me…and again I know Him more intimately than I could have otherwise.

6) Rich, Genuine Relationships.  One of the loveliest gifts my OCD has bestowed me is rich, genuine relationships with my husband, family, and close friends.  For years, I kept back significant portions of myself from literally everyone I knew.  As I have focused on getting better, I have had to make myself vulnerable in surprising ways.  The result is that there are now people in this world who really know me.  They know what I struggle with.  They know what I’ve overcome.  Best of all, they are willing to help me through it.  It is perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world to be seen for who you really are, warts and all, and still loved.

7) Coping Skills.  My OCD journey has taught me lots about managing both OCD-related anxiety and day-to-day frustrations, problems, and disappointments.  Because much of my recovery has focused on the practice and cultivation of mindfulness skills (“a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is” [source]), I have learned better how to be at peace with things as they really are.  Plus, as less energy is expended on worry, I have  more to spend on solving what problems can be solved and accepting those that can’t.

8) A Chance to Pay it Forward.  Perhaps most significantly, this journey gives me a chance to pay forward the help and support that others have shown me — both in my personal life, and from people who have been courageous enough to write about their own experiences (for example, Jeff Bell is one whose work and advocacy have really touched me).  When I began blogging about OCD, I was hesitant; but I have received emails and private messages from people who have found some measure of hope from what I have shared — and that makes it all worth it.  Likewise, I hope that in my daily life with family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I am seen as someone who is willing to accept and love unconditionally.   There is nothing more satisfying than being able to use my experiences for the good of others.

What about you?  If you’re willing to share, what kinds of gifts have you received from difficult experiences?  Any words of wisdom to help others who might be facing hard times?

(If you are struggling with OCD, please see my books recommendations page for 5 books that helped transform my life and made a dramatic impact on my ability to successfully manage my OCD.  If you would like to reach out to me about OCD-related issues, you are welcome to email me at katie_in_logan [at] yahoo [dot] com.)

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About Katie L

Thirtysomething wife, mother, writer, runner, believer, and lover of good food and bad movies.

Posted on December 26, 2011, in Gratitude, Mental Health, Personal, Thoughts on God, Women and Happiness and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I sure love and admire you. I really wish we could chat in person.

  2. You are a courageous woman, Katie, and I’m so grateful that I get to be your friend. Thank you for helping me in my own struggles!

  3. So many of these are true for me as well. I have been thinking so much lately about how capable women are… how much they can and do get done by themselves… that if we weren’t “blessed” with some sort of longing, sadness or pain, we might forget Christ all together and really believe we could do it all by ourselves.

  4. Lil, that’s a beautiful thought. I agree — there is usually great spiritual benefit to be derived from our “blessings” of trial. Thank you for sharing it!!!

  5. You are truly one of my heroes, Katie. I love you so much!

  6. I loved this. I’m just starting out on my OCD “recovery” journey and scared to death. I’m not sure why. Well, that isn’t really true! But it’s nice to see / hear from someone on the other side. Gives me hope that I’ll soon be able to wash a load of laundry once. What relief!

    (and I saw you went to USU…does your email address imply you’re still in Logan? That’s where I am!)

  7. Well said, Katie. Thank you.

  8. Hi Tawnya, I’m glad this post resonated with you! I don’t blame you for feeling scared to death — it’s a scary journey! But I admire you so much for starting it. Yes, there is hope that you’ll be able to wash a load of laundry only once. Hooray! 🙂

    Best wishes on your road to recovery, and please keep me posted on how it goes.

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