Chasing certainty about illness is a typical OCD symptom. But it’s possible to recover from OCD and put that behind you, so since you already know that’s something you’re struggling with, that’s an issue you can take steps to overcome.
Rather than focusing on what’s wrong or what could be wrong, it can be effective to focus on where you want to go. Pouring your energy into what you want to see instead of what you don’t want to see can be a much healthier and more positive experience. On the path to achieving your goals and going where you want to go, you’ll overcome challenges along the way, like OCD, but that’s just a challenge to overcome. It’s not something that defines you and it’s not your destination.
You’ll always have mental health, just like you’ll always have physical health. And depending on the context you live in and the decisions you make each day, your physical and mental health will vary along a spectrum. If you go to a doctor and insist on getting a diagnosis for some mental illness, they’ll give you a diagnosis—that’s what they do. But you’ll still just have mental health, like everybody else, and no diagnosis or any other label has to be a barrier to where you want to go in life unless you let it become one.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and recovering from an anxiety disorder is not so quick either.
If you’re building a city, you want to have a logical sense of direction and progression. You first make sure you have power and water. Then you decide where different types of buildings go. You build the foundations, the framework, and ultimately the building goes up. You repeat this multiple times and with great urban planning you can find that you’ve built a city that flows very nicely, that you can move around in easily, and one that is resilient in the face of storms and earthquakes, hopefully!
But the city didn’t start out that way, it took time. It took steps. Small steps at first, and then larger and larger steps when you had a nice foundation to work with.
Recovery from anxiety disorders works the same way. You can think of it as building up good habits and helpful behaviors that will ultimately allow you to weather whatever storms will pass through you. But a resilient you, just like a resilient city, happens in steps. You build upon these steps one at a time until you realize that you don’t need to rely on compulsive behaviors or excessive thinking to help you along anymore.
When I started recovery, I thought I had to just stop all my unhelpful behaviors that made me feel safe and in control all at once. What ended up happening is that without a sense of direction or recognizing exactly how intensive it is to cut out compulsive behaviors, I just found myself in a whirlpool of constant anxiety and heightened uncertainty. Constant. I felt way worse than before, and I even started developing NEW unhealthy behaviors because of this. I began to think something was wrong with my body and maybe I was deficient in some brain chemical that was preventing recovery from working and making me worse than before.
Months of feeling like this went by before it dawned on me that I might have bit off more than I could chew at once. Cutting out rumination and food avoidance, my two biggest compulsive behaviors, at once while also cutting out small compulsions was just way too difficult. The constant anxiety made it difficult to even properly break ONE compulsive habit. I made the decision to start small and work on one unhelpful compulsion at a time, which made recovery totally manageable and not overwhelming while still being challenging (which is a good sign!)
Doing so made me realize that I had not built any foundations. My city had no power or water. The buildings were being built on dirt. Some buildings were scattered in random locations, half-finished. This is what recovery felt like when I tried to do everything at once.
So now, I’m working on my foundations. The steps get bigger and bigger, but my ability to take the next step gets better and better. Build a city you would want to live in. Be the person that you know you want to take the time and patience to become.