An OCD Christmas

The author on a history of depression and OCD that tends to come just in time for Christmas, why that is and how he’s mostly gained the upper hand.

Mood music:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety. — National Institute of Mental Health

With a condition like that, Christmastime was destined to be a pain in the ass for me. A big one at that.

Appropriately, it was this time of of year — in 2006 — when I was first diagnosed with it.

I always suspected something wasn’t right with me, but I always chalked it up to history. Rough things have happened during the holidays.

Right before Thanksgiving, in 1996, by best friend committed suicide, the victim of what I now understand to be a medical scourge that few understand.

Right after the holidays, on Jan. 7, 1984, my older brother died from asthma complications.

Then there were those November-December six-week stays in the hospital in 1978, 1979 and 1980, when I was first afflicted with a then-little-known scourge called Chron’s Disease.

In between, there was a lot of instability at home, as my parents’ marriage disintegrated into bitter divorce.

Most of us have similar memories that come home to roost during the holidays. After all, this IS supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Interesting side note: In his excellent book “The Heroin Diaries,” which covers the diary he kept for a year during the deepest depths of a heroin addiction, Nikki Sixx, bass player and songwriter for Motley Crue, scrawled his first entry on Dec. 25, 1986, a date I remember because I was at home, down for the count, following another flare up of the Chron’s Disease.

I also keep thinking about a former co-worker who just lost her daughter in a motorcycle crash, exactly one week before Thanksgiving.

Add it all up and the blue mood makes sense. But don’t feel sorry for me. In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing just fine. In fact, I can’t say I’d go back and change the past if given the chance. These experiences are part of who I am today. And the truth is, I like who I am today. There were a lot of years when I didn’t feel that way.

The turnaround began in 2004. The death of another close friend the previous May had sent me into a slow fall down the abyss and things started coming to a head at the start of the Christmas season.

I was living in fear of a cross-country business trip that was still at that point months away.

I was worried sick about my kids every time they came down with so much as a sniffle. Fear of loss. Irrational, but there.

I went batty one night because my wife wanted to go to a bar with one of her friends. I kept worrying that she might — just might — get into a car crash or something like that.

That, in fact, was the night I realized I needed help. I hooked up with a therapist and slowly began unraveling the insides of my soul, picking apart every bit of the past for clues on how I got this way.

Eventually the diagnosis came, and I started to get better. First I learned about all the coping tools. I started reading a lot about historical figures who overcame depression (a byproduct of OCD that goes hand in hand with anxiety and fear) to achieve big things.

After nearly two years of that, I started taking medication, which was like turning on a light I didn’t know existed.

Some people think they can go on medication and all will forever be right with the world. They are often wrong, though not always. For me, the mental inventory and developing of mental muscle had to happen before the drug could take care of the remaining problems.

It’s not perfect. As I said, I still go through black moods during the holidays. I still check my briefcase more than once to make sure my laptop is in there before leaving the office. When someone I know loses someone close, as happened recently with my former colleague, it hits me in the core. No matter that I barely knew her daughter. It just made my brain spin relentlessly about my own kids and the dangers that lurk around every corner.

At the same time, I have much, much more to be joyful for.

Most of the fear and anxiety I once felt is gone. Fear of travel has turned into a passion for getting on planes and finding stories wherever they may be.

The binge eating that was once a byproduct of the condition for me has been under control for more than a year. In fact, eliminating flour and sugar from my diet went a long way toward clearing further mental clutter.

Instead of obsessing about pleasing those I work for, I’m able to take joy in my work and everything else falls into place.

Life at the bottom of the well is not pretty. But there is always a way out.

119 thoughts on “An OCD Christmas

  1. Pingback: The Christmas Dispirit | THE OCD DIARIES

  2. Pingback: No Year’s Resolutions | THE OCD DIARIES

  3. Pingback: OCD Diaries 1-02: Prozac Winter | THE OCD DIARIES

  4. Pingback: Growing Pains | THE OCD DIARIES

  5. Pingback: How To Play Addiction Like A Piano | THE OCD DIARIES

  6. Pingback: OCD Diaries 1-7: Lost Brothers | THE OCD DIARIES

  7. Pingback: The Third Brother | THE OCD DIARIES

  8. Pingback: Things That Make Me Laugh | THE OCD DIARIES

  9. Pingback: The Mood Swing | THE OCD DIARIES

  10. Pingback: When Sick is Good | THE OCD DIARIES

  11. Pingback: The Politics of OCD Management | THE OCD DIARIES

  12. Pingback: Have Fun With Your Therapist (A.K.A.: The Shrink Stigma) | THE OCD DIARIES

  13. Pingback: The OCD Diaries: Lessons From Dad | THE OCD DIARIES

  14. Pingback: Regulating Addictive Food: A Lesson in Futility | THE OCD DIARIES

  15. Pingback: How I’m Feeling | THE OCD DIARIES

  16. Pingback: The Bad Pill Kept Me From The Good Pill | THE OCD DIARIES

  17. Pingback: The Freak and the Redhead: A Love Story | THE OCD DIARIES

  18. Pingback: Screw You, Cardinal Egan | THE OCD DIARIES

  19. Pingback: Humor Is The Best Consolation Prize | THE OCD DIARIES

  20. Pingback: The Crazy-Ass Guy in the Newsroom | THE OCD DIARIES

  21. Pingback: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Grinch | THE OCD DIARIES

  22. Pingback: To A Woman Under Attack From Crohn’s Disease | THE OCD DIARIES

  23. Pingback: THE OCD DIARIES, Two Years Later | THE OCD DIARIES

  24. Pingback: Take Your ‘War On Christmas’ Talk And Shove It | THE OCD DIARIES

  25. Pingback: A Word About Christmas Gifts | THE OCD DIARIES

  26. Pingback: Is It Bad That Two Family Members Are In Therapy? | THE OCD DIARIES

  27. Pingback: In Amityville, N.Y., A Sad Anniversary | THE OCD DIARIES

  28. Pingback: The Bridge Rats of Point of Pines, Revere | THE OCD DIARIES

  29. Pingback: OCD Diaries: Snowpocalypse and the Fear of Loss | THE OCD DIARIES

  30. Pingback: A Depressed Mind Is Rarely A Beaten Mind | THE OCD DIARIES

  31. Pingback: Judith Miller: The Liar’s Journalist | THE OCD DIARIES

  32. Pingback: 41 Years | THE OCD DIARIES

  33. Pingback: No Faith, No Recovery. Period | THE OCD DIARIES

  34. Pingback: An Expected Encounter With My Mother | THE OCD DIARIES

  35. Pingback: U.S. Loses, AAA Credit Rating. Mental Health Tested Next | THE OCD DIARIES

  36. Pingback: When Playing It Safe Makes Things Worse | THE OCD DIARIES

  37. Pingback: Debt Ceiling Debate Would’ve Killed Me A Few Years Ago | THE OCD DIARIES

  38. Pingback: The Problem With ‘One Day At A Time’ « THE OCD DIARIES

  39. Pingback: A Bad Memory « THE OCD DIARIES

  40. Pingback: Back Story Of THE OCD DIARIES « THE OCD DIARIES

  41. Pingback: Sean and Duncan Get A Lesson From The One-Armed Drummer « THE OCD DIARIES

  42. Pingback: TV News and Depression: How I Learned To Turn It Off « THE OCD DIARIES

  43. Pingback: ‘Binge Eating? Come On, Man’ « THE OCD DIARIES

  44. Pingback: To Sean on His 10th Birthday « THE OCD DIARIES

  45. Pingback: What’s This Freakin’ Blog Really About, Anyway? « THE OCD DIARIES

  46. Pingback: How Does He Work In Those Conditions? « THE OCD DIARIES

  47. Pingback: Sometimes, Un-Friending Is The Right Thing « THE OCD DIARIES

  48. Pingback: The Catholic In The Room « THE OCD DIARIES

  49. Pingback: Coffee With My Therapist, Part 2 « THE OCD DIARIES

  50. Pingback: Raising Sane Kids In An Insane World « THE OCD DIARIES

  51. Pingback: The Most Infuriating Journalist I Ever loved « THE OCD DIARIES

  52. Pingback: I Have A Bad Attitude « THE OCD DIARIES

  53. Pingback: The Love of My Life (A.K.A. Valentine’s Day Sucks) « THE OCD DIARIES

  54. Pingback: Depressed But OK With It « THE OCD DIARIES

  55. Pingback: Thinking is Not a Tool « THE OCD DIARIES

  56. Pingback: A Year in the Life « THE OCD DIARIES

  57. Pingback: The Diagnosis « THE OCD DIARIES

  58. Pingback: Christmas Doesn’t Suck Like It Used To « THE OCD DIARIES

  59. Pingback: Now For Something Completely Different « Paul Roberts on PR

  60. Pingback: Thinking in Absolutes: A Bad Idea « THE OCD DIARIES

  61. Pingback: How Marriage Saved Me « THE OCD DIARIES

  62. Pingback: A Love Affair With Fire « THE OCD DIARIES

  63. Pingback: The Joyless Happy Meal « THE OCD DIARIES

  64. Pingback: Little Things That Count « THE OCD DIARIES

  65. Pingback: Passing Insanity to Your Kids | THE OCD DIARIES

  66. Pingback: A Sunday Afternoon Meltdown | THE OCD DIARIES

  67. Pingback: Soundtrack of the Week: 10-30 | THE OCD DIARIES

  68. Pingback: Out of the Closet, Into the Light | THE OCD DIARIES

  69. Pingback: Soundtrack of the Week | THE OCD DIARIES

  70. Pingback: Broken Souls, Emotional Breakdowns | THE OCD DIARIES

  71. Pingback: The Star Trek Lie | THE OCD DIARIES

  72. Pingback: Love Hurts, Love Stings, Love Endures | THE OCD DIARIES

  73. Pingback: Gone Fishing (Sort Of) | THE OCD DIARIES

  74. Pingback: Debunking the Shrink Stigma | THE OCD DIARIES

  75. Pingback: The Amityville Obsession | THE OCD DIARIES

  76. Pingback: A Pastor Moves On | THE OCD DIARIES

  77. Pingback: The Happy Lamp | THE OCD DIARIES

  78. Pingback: ‘Mental Illness’ Must Die | THE OCD DIARIES

  79. Pingback: Happily Ever After is Bullshit & That’s OK | THE OCD DIARIES

  80. Pingback: Run Out of Town (Or Off Facebook, Twitter) | THE OCD DIARIES

  81. Pingback: Happy Birthday, Precious Boy | THE OCD DIARIES

  82. Pingback: Dreading the Darkness | THE OCD DIARIES

  83. Pingback: Wasted Worry | THE OCD DIARIES

  84. Pingback: Summer of 1990 | THE OCD DIARIES

  85. Pingback: 40: The New 20 | THE OCD DIARIES

  86. Pingback: The Exploding Toilet | THE OCD DIARIES

  87. Pingback: Things that DON’T Suck | THE OCD DIARIES

  88. Pingback: The Trouble With Wanting It All | THE OCD DIARIES

  89. Pingback: Facebook ‘Un-friend’ Syndrome | THE OCD DIARIES

  90. Pingback: How to Test Your Recovery, Secret Service Style | THE OCD DIARIES

  91. Pingback: A New Jersey State of Rage | THE OCD DIARIES

  92. Pingback: Riding The Blue Pill | THE OCD DIARIES

  93. Pingback: The Breaking Point | THE OCD DIARIES

  94. Pingback: Lessons of a Thirty-something | THE OCD DIARIES

  95. Pingback: The Love Story Continues (Happy Birthday, Erin) | THE OCD DIARIES

  96. Pingback: If it Breaks, Let Someone Else Fix It | THE OCD DIARIES

  97. Pingback: Others Who Fight the Stigma | THE OCD DIARIES

  98. Pingback: An OCD Incident | THE OCD DIARIES

  99. Pingback: The Mommy Problem | THE OCD DIARIES

  100. Pingback: Pills Can’t Kill Pain at the Source « THE OCD DIARIES

  101. Pingback: Home Sweet Home « THE OCD DIARIES

  102. Pingback: Granny « THE OCD DIARIES

  103. Pingback: Parental Overload: No Big Deal « THE OCD DIARIES

  104. Pingback: Meet My Demon « THE OCD DIARIES

  105. Pingback: The Priest Who Came Clean « THE OCD DIARIES

  106. Pingback: Things Don’t Go As Planned « THE OCD DIARIES

  107. Pingback: Control Freak-out « THE OCD DIARIES

  108. Pingback: The Ugly, Somewhat Humorous History of Bill Brenner « THE OCD DIARIES

  109. Pingback: The Long Road Through Self Hatred « THE OCD DIARIES

  110. Pingback: Post-Travel Blues (A.K.A. Pretty Vacant) « THE OCD DIARIES

  111. Pingback: The Lasting Impact of Crohn’s Disease « THE OCD DIARIES

  112. Pingback: Running from Sin, Running with Scissors « THE OCD DIARIES

  113. Pingback: OCD Diaries: The Office Mom « THE OCD DIARIES

  114. Pingback: OCD Diaries: Sobriety vs. Abstinence « THE OCD DIARIES

  115. Thanks for sharing all this, Bill. I’ve been through a few extremely difficult go-rounds with anxiety and depression, and I honestly feel I’ve got some OCD in the mix as well (which I think goes hand-in-hand with the other two, in my case). I always felt my irrational fears and some of the ridiculous rituals I would do (heck, I check my purse two or three times before I leave the house and I STILL forget things) somehow made me less of a person, so I used to try to look up stories of notable people who suffered too, to try to bolster my spirits. I’ve always considered myself a creative person and a big thinker, which lends itself to OCD (a disorder characterized by simply thinking too much), and based on your writing, I can tell that you are too. I’m glad you seem to be coming into a better period in your life, and thanks again for sharing. It takes a lot of courage to not only face down the demons, but to hang them up like big game trophies and say, “Hey y’all, here they are!”

  116. Wow. Bill, this is a really brave thing to do. So many people try to hide this from the world, when it’s really an inextricable part of who you are. Should it, and it alone, define you? No way. But it takes some guts to describe this, and you did a good job. I lost my best friend of 20 years to painkiller addiction and depression about 6 years ago, and he never shared a word of his issues with me or anyone else. If he had, who knows how different things could have been. Kudos to you.

    Hope your holidays are fantastic. Now if I could just get this *&$% tree decorated. 🙂

    • Thanks, man. I don’t let it define me in the end. Today, I’m a happy, Blessed guy. I have a precious family and get to write about one of my passions, IT security, for a living. Who can complain about that?

      The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have what I have today if not for my life experiences. The key is I got help and learned to evolve. My hope is that by sharing, folks who live in secret shame will come out into the sunlight. When you push the demons into the light, they turn to dust and you’re free.

  117. Bill, Thanks for taking a risk and sharing your story. The example you show of facing the issues, getting help, and not blaming the world is one I hope inspires others to either get help themselves or help someone they love to get help.

    Best wishes for a restful and pleasant holiday!

  118. Hey Bill – both heart wrenching and heart warming parts here. I admire you for coming to grips with all of it. Many people would use it as a crutch. My aunt well into her 40’s had a bout with depression leading to prescription drug issues. The good news is that ultimately in led her to therapy where she received help. I am always reminded of a sign she had in her kitchen “lets put the fun back in dysfunctional”. We all have our own dysfunctions and skeletons that we keep buried in the hidden places of our minds. At some point you can’t put stuff away there any more and it comes home to roost. Glad you are hitting it head on and winning the battle! Keep it up and happy holiday season!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s