The Gas-lighter In My Head: My Experience with OCD
For the most part, when people talk about gaslighting, they usually mean being gaslit by another person. Made to question their sanity and their reality by an external force, they live in a personal hell that is hard to escape from. Sadly, I can relate to this feeling of hopelessness experienced by these individuals, but in my unique way. The one who gaslights me isn’t an external force, but an internal one, my own mind.
My story with anxiety started when I was young. I was always irrationally worried about something. Death was a common fear, considering I had a sense of danger at the age of 3-4 years old, an age when most would not even understand the concept of death. My anxiety manifested itself as separation anxiety at first; I always worried that I was going to lose my parents in some way. After a few years of the gas-lighter not showing up, it reappeared. It strikingly reemerged again when I was twelve. One of the most vulnerable and volatile ages— the age of puberty. I could not sleep and my throat was tight as my jaw clenched. I could not eat and struggled to breathe. Nothing felt real and, worst of all, I felt like I was starting to forget. My parents, my personality, and even my name.
I convinced myself I was dying of a horrible disease. Was it brain cancer? Did I have a tumor in my throat? Was this why I could not swallow and barely held down anything I ate? My parents, seeing me in this miserable state, became concerned. It was my father who recognized the symptoms, as he also experienced similar emotional mental distress. One day, I was randomly taken into a therapist's office. My head was running wild and I was convinced that I was going to be institutionalized. I thought therapy could not be for me. Therapy was only for “crazy” people, as seen in the movies.
What ensued was a long cycle of going to therapy, then quitting therapy for a few years because my symptoms had subsided, to restarting therapy in early 2021 considering my brain had been frazzled due to the pandemic. Again, I suffered from constant panic attacks every day and nothing felt real. Depersonalization and derealization gaslighted me constantly, telling me that I was trapped in a fake reality and that nothing would be the same. My rational brain tried to fight for me, telling me that everything was going to be okay and shut down these unrealistic and irrational thoughts but that was unnecessary. Instead, it needed to let these crazy horror movie-like grotesque thoughts come in and then flow out, like water. It was when I began to learn how to practice this that I found some peace of mind, and I’m still practicing Exposure Response Therapy. What is meant to happen, will happen. Unfortunately, we cannot be in control of everything, even our thoughts. The brain is a wonderful organ, but when left with nothing to do, it runs wild by creating stories to occasionally torment and disturb its host. Even though we cannot control all our thoughts, we can try and think the ones that make us feel good and are useful at the moment.
As I’m writing this, I still personally struggle with anxiety-inducing thoughts; it can be anything ranging from being afraid to go back to college, or something completely irrational, such as going crazy and completely forgetting myself. Despite these thoughts, I continue to work on my goals and practice mindfulness.
Overall, throughout this experience, I have learned many tips for managing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and some are…
1. Cut down on the caffeine
Mind you, this is coming from a person who is obsessed with coffee. Decaf is a great option and tastes just the same. Once in a while, you can choose to treat yourself to some regular coffee, but every day and in excess will make your anxiety worse in the long run.
Now, I was not great at this one. But, it did help ground me at times when I needed the grounding and a coping mechanism to sort out my thoughts.
3. Try Therapy
While therapy is often stigmatized and made fun of, it is a good alternative for learning how to work around and managing your intrusive thoughts. Remember, OCD is there because, in its own messed up way, it wants to protect you. More often than not, you do not need this anxiety and protection.
4. Consider utilizing medication
While I have not gone down this route, anxiety meds are a helpful and often successful alternative to combat anxiety and OCD. When combined with therapy, it can help you lead a successful healthy life.
5. Get out there and get busy
Intrusive thoughts will not pop up as easily if you’re busy with something that you are genuinely interested in such as having fun with family/friends.
*Disclaimer: This information is based upon personal opinions and experiences and is NOT medical advice. If you think you or someone you know needs serious help managing OCD, contact a medical professional.
Featured Image via Meghan Hessler