Earlier this week I found the journal in which I’d recorded the particulars of my OCD meltdown from April 2012. The first entry, dated April 27 and signed, somewhat puzzlingly, with “City of Blinding Lights” (I suspect it was what I was listening to at the time) was written during a flight from Washington Reagan to Montréal-Trudeau and still makes for painful reading. It’s like revisiting a nightmare, except this one actually happened.
Why is this happening to me? I don’t want this to be happening. […] Make it stop…please.
I wrote for several pages. At the time I felt terrified, but more than that I felt totally and utterly alone. Writing was the only way to put my mind at ease – yet the relief was only temporary, like slapping aloe on a third-degree burn. Much of what I churned out remains too deeply personal to share. I contextualized the meltdown, attempting to delineate just what it was that set me off (I came up with six points, any one of which could’ve reasonably been the culprit. At the end I wrote RECIPE FOR DISASTER.) I listed some of the physical symptoms, at one point describing a “sweaty lip, clenched hands, wanted to scream (and then later did, silently).” I mused about possible fixes. New medications? Books? Yoga? Meditation? Other relaxation techniques? I didn’t have the foggiest. At the time I was somewhat familiar with exposure therapy, yet the work I’d done with my former psychologist had really only scraped the surface.
Still, writing felt like a good place to start. And somehow, in spite of the mental anguish, I was able to come up with a list that I entitled “My Commitment.” Two years later it’s still remarkably prescient:
To fix this
To do the work
To be honest with myself, Dr. MacLean [the psychologist who preceded Dr. No], and (if necessary) Running Girl
To break down
To overcome OCD. I’m ready now. It’s time.
In retrospect it seems nothing short of miraculous that this list could coexist with all the ranting and raving, let alone that it came from the same hour-and-a-half-long outburst. Yet it’s clear I understood, at least on some level, the magnitude of what lay before me. Of course I couldn’t have known exactly how difficult it’d be: ERP would prove to be the most challenging thing I’ve undertaken. But on April 27, 2012, in the throes of my worst OCD meltdown in five-and-a-half years, I experienced a brief moment of clarity, like a ray of sunlight poking through a thunderstorm. It suggests that our minds are capable of working even when it feels as though they’re irretrievably broken and that the greatest insights sometimes occur when we least expect.