My Life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

My Life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

This is a special feature on obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Nalini, who completed her one year program (Humaniversity Addiction Program Intensive) describes her healing process.

After reading this report, it must appear strange to the reader that Nalini was using medication for a while as a possible solution to her difficulties. She describes her need to develop her personality, come out of her timid world and live her life. Medication cannot teach anybody how to be authentic.

It is an intense and thorough process that she decided as her healing path: becoming herself. It takes quite some guts to make such a commitment, but that’s what works.

I wish this article to be an inspiration to people with similar problems. It can mirror a solution, which is authentic. Nalini had to take every step, decide to change her behaviour, look at her attitude and correct it, take risks, overcome difficulties and master challenges. And that’s what life is all about.


Before Humaniversity

I lived half of my life in secret! I had passing thoughts occasionally that what I was doing couldn't really be 'normal' but for many years didn't see it as an issue that I needed to deal with. I suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder resulting in a good deal of my time taken up, or wasted as I felt, with continual checking and making sure everything was okay or perfect. I grew up in a 'safe' house with parents who were, now looking back, really quite obsessed with safety.

At worst, I would be stuck in the house unable to leave unless I was escorted out and unable to use anything for fear of the many hours of checking. I would leave rooms untouched for fear of disturbing something which would make me feel compelled to check for another hour or more. Driving or even shopping would be an ordeal as my mind would go into creative overdrive with the stories and thoughts of how the consequences of my actions could affect, hurt or even kill someone.

My life was a constant stress- I was late for 95% of situations and for the other 5%, ridiculously early as I neurotically employed strategies to ensure I was not late. Leaving a place was my biggest issue and organising, packing and leaving for a holiday was a huge ordeal- everything had to be just so and "What if I forgot this?" and "I have to take this, this and 5 of these just in case" was my life.

I spent my life avoiding! Avoiding anything I was scared to do because I didn't trust myself to do it perfectly or because the anxiety created by the thought of doing it would just be too much. This became my life and I accepted that I wasn't able to go to the car to pick up something I had forgotten, I wasn't able to check on my mother's house plants when she was away on holiday, I wasn't able to go to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a glass of water and countless other everyday actions.

Everyday tasks could take me 10, 20 or 50 times longer or more than for anyone else and I would spend hours procrastinating as the anxiety became too big and I would do anything to escape from this feeling.

I had, over a period of about 15 years tried hypnotism, homeopathy, behavioural therapy and anti-depressants, none of which made any lasting changes to my behaviour.

Getting to know Humaniversity

Interview with Supriya Hartmann: October 2005
How and when did your journey with Humaniversity therapy begin?

In October 2005, my sister, who was a student at Humaniversity, introduced me to Sangitama and I started individual work with her. I had reached a point in my life where I was unable to leave the house in the morning without phoning my husband. My fear of leaving taps, irons, kettles or lights on or windows and doors open or unlocked was huge together with all the stories and fantasies of hurting others and I knew I had to change something. We worked with muscle testing (kinesiology) to explore the origins of my behaviour. We also looked at the foods that put my body under stress and I cut out dairy, wheat and sugar from my diet.

Following that first trip to Humaniversity, four years ago I was able to leave home independently!

I continued to do individual work with some group therapy sessions for the next year. Two years later in September 2007 with the end of my marriage looming I again felt the pull of Humaniversity. After two years of resisting Tourist Programs and weekend groups, I knew that it was the only place I really wanted to be and the only place I trusted to help me find out about myself and put me on the road to making the changes I felt I needed in my life. As I write these words, my eyes are filling up as I am so touched by the way this place makes me feel and the depth to which it reaches my feelings. As I walked in the door in September 2007 I felt safe and finally felt that maybe I could be okay.

How did the work here at Humaniversity support  you to deal with your obsessions?
Probably the most important element in the work I have done here is the fact that Humaniversity has helped me to believe that I have the power to be in charge of my own life:- I can make the choice to change. I believe I can do anything. I have also had the luxury of time and space to continually look at myself and my behaviour from every angle. I see living here as 24 hour therapy. Constant support from therapists and other students has helped me to see myself and increase my awareness. By supporting and picking up each other we pick ourselves up and by seeing and responding to behaviour in others makes me more aware of my own, particularly relating to the other people in the addiction program. When I started to live at Humaniversity and joined the HAPI (Humaniversity Addiction Program Intensive), 15 months ago, one of my first assignments was to confront situations that I had been avoiding for so long. I not only stopped avoiding but would also invent situations that would me myself to go to places and do things that ordinarily would have shot my anxiety levels through the roof. For example, returning items to the disco bar where I would have to unlock/ lock and turn lights on and off. I added to this assignment, the task of changing direction every time resistance came up: If I found myself not filling my water bottle and convincing myself that it wasn't necessary, to avoid using the tap, I stopped myself and forced myself to do it anyway.  I started to believe it was really up to me and began to take responsibility for my own behaviour.

I have been in a constant program of looking at myself, with others, without others, in all sorts of situations. Several weeks of tourist program where I have had no responsibility other than to look at myself and explore me and my behaviour. It has been a time of supporting others, being supported by others, exposing myself, taking risks and continually expressing myself. I have learnt to connect with my feelings and be real with daily dynamic meditations and many other emotional release techniques.
This has been a safe place to explore and making mistakes and becoming aware is all part of the process.

What strategies, assignments or techniques have helped you on your journey?
One of my first very fundamental assignments, when I came to live here was to stop walking around with a bag! I used to have a constant back up of 'just in case' things and the bag would get fuller and fuller as I carried it around till it finally got to breaking point and then I was forced to do something about it. This would in turn add to my hoarding problem as I would then simply transfer my accumulated belongings and store them in another place away out of sight and begin the collection all over again! In doing this assignment, once the feelings of anxiety had passed, I was left with a feeling of freedom and also realised how much time I had been putting into the maintenance of this bag!  One year on I look back in amusement at my dependency on the bag and how stressed I would get organising it or when I didn't have it.  Now I use a bag when it's necessary, maybe 5% of the time, and can actually enjoy the freedom I have from this habit.

Another exercise in letting go was cutting my hair. I was known for my long hair and was so attached to it thinking that I would never be like these other women who felt that when they got to a certain age they had to have short hair- the long hair WAS me. As part of my process I had started to give some thought to having it shorter, even very short and when it was suggested to me here it gave me the final seal of permission to go ahead and make the step. It was a relief after a lifetime of not being able to let go and also exciting - I didn't regret my decision for a second.

Veeresh gave me an assignment to be messy. This was the ultimate exercise in dropping all control of everything being just so. I also had to be late for everything and not stress about rushing to complete practicalities to get somewhere on time. I made a complete mess- over the top- I left my clothes all over the floor and didn't put anything away. On one occasion I felt I had really hurt a friend by being so late and disturbing all her plans. I felt very uncomfortable with this behaviour but found the anxiety I had of the consequences of my behaviour, was something  I could let go eventually and in the end found it liberating to not have the control I was used to having.

Time limits for doing things like time to get ready for bed helps me to focus and because I am not having to do any of this on my own, this is so much more achievable and proves to me that I can.

I was asked to dress and act as my sister for 3 days. Before, I had the tendency to make myself very small and unimportant, behaviour most noticeable to me when my sister would visit and I would revert back to being the little sister again.  The time in my big sister's shoes turned out to be a big learning and insightful into my own behaviour.

Assignments of taking care of people- my role as student mother and also my position as the most experienced in the HAPI program- caring for people and gearing my energy towards this, I feel has been a positive way of not allowing myself the space to get lost in my own obsessive behaviour.

Exposing and expressing myself through seminars and talking about myself, being open to people and not keeping a secret of my life that had been so secret for many years and showing myself vulnerable have all been valuable exercises along the way.

What would you say have been your major struggles?
My biggest struggle has been to relax and accept what is - I remember being given the assignment to simply sit down and watch an entire movie on my day off.  I would often find my day off one of the most stressful times of the week as I put myself under an enormous amount of pressure to do what I felt had to be done.

Speaking out and taking a position have been some of the hardest things I have had to do. I would give away my power in many situations and often not go for what I wanted. I am now far more able to say when I'm not happy with something or I feel things have to be changed instead of accepting everything as I did in the past. I feel that often I had buried my feelings so deep that I was unaware of how I really did feel about things and what I really wanted.
Also speaking to authority- The fear I had, to initiate any conversation would build as I delayed and delayed and if I could avoid without being noticed, I often would.

As time has gone on, more and more I am reminding myself how amazing life can be and how much more amazing life could be without the restrictions I have got used to over my life. This has helped to give me the determination to continue and work at these things I find so hard.

In what ways do you feel you have changed during your time here at Humaniversity?
Where shall I start?
The picture I have of me as I started on this journey is one of a busy and stressed woman, unable to relax, too scared to open my mouth to give an opinion for fear of looking stupid and not being loved by people. I would always be 'nice' so I didn't hurt anyone by my words or actions. I found exposing, taking risks and sometimes even just speaking to someone impossible as my stress levels escalated and I agonised that what I was going to do or say was not going to be perfect.  I still at occasional times find myself freezing and fighting with myself as words get stuck before they can come out of my mouth but for the most part I have a lot less stress in these situations. I am practising doing these things and it gets easier all the time. I have finally come to believe that it IS okay not to be perfect and people don't stop loving me when I make a mistake or even unintentionally hurt them.
I would avoid going to bed and busy myself with anything and nothing for maybe 2 hours after most people had gone to sleep. Before living here it would not be unusual to be going to bed at 4 am for no particular reason and although I am certainly not the quickest to bed yet I now find it a lot easier and quicker to get myself there.

My lateness was a real issue when I started here and I think back to my first tourist program when everyone would be continually waiting for me and even after I caught myself up with everyone, I would go back again and be even later. I see this so clearly in other people and appreciate how I have changed this behaviour. In the same way I see my organised chaos moving away from the chaos extreme.  I can now allow myself to be less busy, I don't run around like a headless chicken anymore and if I run out of time or see that to fit all my chores in I would drive myself crazy I can take a step back, see it and drop the need to do everything. My days off now are far more relaxed- I have slowed down- and I can even get myself into bed at a reasonable time before others have even finished their program for the day.
Following my 'sister' assignment , I am very aware when I am starting the 'small' behaviour and how as I walk around now I even feel taller, more confident and 'grown up'.
A huge difference I can see quite recently is the ability to see and accept a situation and the stress in this situation but still be able to relax with it and trust that it will be okay. I know that the energy I put into the stress, in the past was a huge waste and only made myself less productive and exhausted as well stressing others around me.

Now and the future

At this time I am into my 2nd year of The Therapist Training and have just completed the 1st year of the Encounter training. Awareness particularly, sensitivity and open heartedness have played a huge part in my learning, I can see these playing a big role in whatever path I take next on my journey. I have worked with people for the majority of my adult life but I feel I will be able to take this several levels higher and deeper now, following the work I am doing here. My more relaxed attitude and growing easiness and trust I have with myself will be a big factor in my going for what I want in a fulfilling life.
For now I continue to live here and work towards playing a bigger part in the house and community, with trust and confidence.

I know now that I cannot expect to go back to 'normal' life, hold down a job and relationship and juggle all the usual day to day chores, without giving myself the time and space to feed and nourish myself with what I need. I know now that I need friends- ones that are open, supportive and aware. I need their love, their care their physical presence and their hugs and these are the things that I am determined I will not drop to avoid dropping back into any of the holes I have experienced in my life.

I am also very excited and optimistic to go home at some point and deal with my accumulation of possessions- boxes and boxes of things I have been unable to relieve myself of in the past- just in case or because they remind me of something. I want to let go of the past to be able to live in the here and now, another important lesson I have learnt.