This past weekend I attended my very first OCD conference in my hometown of Atlanta. I was thrilled to be back among the tall buildings, the 74 different Peachtree-named streets, and my alma mater – The Georgia Institute of Technology. I love Atlanta and I probably always will. But this trip was a little different; I was coming back home a completely different person.
For 6 years, I lived in Midtown Atlanta, home of Coca-Cola, Turner Broadcasting and the GT Yellow Jackets. And those last 5 years, my OCD got worse and worse. It was 6 years ago last week when my grandfather died, which means 6 years ago this month that my OCD “exploded.” That was the catalyst that made my seemingly annoying quirks turn into full-blown mental breakdown. And this fall, 6 years ago, I made an appointment with the counseling center at Georgia Tech. The day before the appointment, I called and cancelled. See, I thought that if I performed my rituals and then my anxiety calmed down, well then obviously I had my life under control. Why bother a professional about something like this? But I was completely wrong. For the last 2 weeks, I’ve done nothing but wonder “what if…” Those are, hands down, the 2 most dangerous words in the English language. “What if” I had applied to Harvard? I had graduated on time? I wasn’t afraid of everything? I had gotten help 6 years ago? That last one is one that will send my brain into a days-long tailspin. And it has, for two.solid.weeks….and it’s exhausting.
Needless to say, I started the conference with an already heightened sense of anxiety, regardless of the fact that attending the conference with a thousand other strangers is stressful enough for me. And even in my heightened anxious state, I still had a wonderful time, met some wonderful people, learned an incredible amount, and overall, was thrilled that I had the opportunity to attend. I learned new skills for getting to sleep at night (something that I have struggled with for years), tips on understanding what is going on inside my brain, places for information and help when needed, as well as the newest in OCD research and treatment. Overall, it was a humbling experience that world-class researchers, doctors and clinicians spend their lives studying a disease that has no cure in hopes of helping people like me lead a fuller, more productive life. I was able to listen to some pretty incredible and inspiring people speak and met some people that struggle daily with the same things I do. All in all, it was so great to be back in the city I love, seeing how the landscape has changed in the last year and, my favorite part, trying a restaurant that I was terrified to even go into before. I experienced the city in a way that I never had before. I experienced it as a person without OCD. But that feeling was quickly replaced with guilt and regret. Guilt that I deprived my husband of so many fun experiences when we lived there, and regret that I’ll never get that opportunity again. The “what if’s” that had plagued me the last 2 weeks got even more intense and consumed me entirely on Monday. Thankfully, I had therapy Monday night and, after breaking down in her office, it took a few minutes for me to regain my composure. She gave me some tips and instructions on how to go forward from here, but with strict orders to rest my brain and let everything settle. It’s now Wednesday and I’m starting to feel a little better. I will tell you this: OCD is so much more manipulative than you can imagine. You think you’re arguing logic, but there’s always another question….always. It’s this never-ending cycle of what if’s and doubt. And my God…it is exhausting.
I left Atlanta on Sunday as a different person than I had arrived on Friday. I returned home with a sense of passion for sharing my story in hopes of helping someone else who might be suffering in silence. I have thought so much lately about “what if” and who I “should” have been without OCD, but now I have the opportunity to take the pen and write the rest of my life story for myself. And if I can help one person live a happier life, free of fear, doubt and anxiety, it will all be worth it.