Today I’m honored to have Ruth Hartman as my guest blogger as part of her WOW Women on Writing blog tour. Ruth is the author of My Life in Mental Chains, a book she wrote about her struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). For a chance to win a signed copy of her book, stop by The Muffin, the WOW Women on Writing blog.
I asked Ruth to write about how you can recognize OCD in yourself or others and how you can seek help.
What’s Wrong With Me?
By Ruth J. Hartman
I was 27 the first time I knew I had OCD. It hit me like a lightening bolt. I was cleaning my treatment room after seeing one of my patients; I’m a dental hygienist. Suddenly, I couldn’t seem to stop cleaning the equipment. Over and over. Why couldn’t I stop?
At the same time, I had a loop of terrifying thoughts circling my brain: What if I didn’t get the room clean enough? What if my next patient got some disease from the previous patient? And…what if I got some disease from one of my patients?
Never before had I experienced those fears. I’d been a dental hygienist for six years. Where had those crazy thoughts come from? Because of my science and psychology classes in college, I had a pretty good idea what was going on. No one had to tell me.
But I wasn’t ready to tell anyone else. It was a dead giveaway to my boss that something was wrong, however, when I fell farther and farther behind in the schedule. The more obsessed I became, the more I cleaned. The more I cleaned, the longer it took between patients. By the end of every day, I was way behind. Add to that a militant dentist employer, who hated being even one minute off schedule. Now you have the makings for an extremely panic-filled situation.
Dealing with this at work was exhausting. First I tried to cover it up. After he figured out what was wrong, it was embarrassing. The way I was treated was mortifying. But it also spilled over into my home life. I became afraid of germs and contamination. My hands were so raw from washing, they resembled lobsters.
Thankfully, my husband and family were very supportive. They patiently tried to help me understand that my fears were unfounded. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. I began to see a psychiatrist. His therapy began my slow road to recovery. But that wasn’t enough either. Although I resisted at first, anti-OCD drugs were introduced. I realized what everyone else had known from the start: Without medication, I’d never be able to cope.
When I started seeing my psychiatrist, it was three times a week. Now, it’s just once a year. The first medication I tried, Anafranil, didn’t work very well. And it had unappealing side-effects: weight gain and sleepiness. But the second drug we tried worked wonders. Prozac became my new best friend. To this day, I take 40mg every morning. I will never stop taking it. Not unless I want to revert back to how I was before.
If you or someone you know exhibits obsessions, compulsions, excessive worry, or depression, there is help. Lots of people experience brief, mild spells of all of these, but I’m talking about debilitating, can’t-live-your-life-normally symptoms.
Talk to someone, a friend, a family member, someone you trust. Ask them if they’ve noticed strange behavior in you. Or if it’s someone you care about who exhibits these symptoms, kindly and lovingly tell them. It won’t be easy. But believe me, putting it off will only make things worse. I was fortunate to recognize what was happening to me fairly quickly. However, many people will either deny its existence or refuse treatment.
If you care about someone who needs this kind of help, love them enough to tell them.
Ruth J. Hartman was once "normal." She perceived the world around her as any other person would-until she turned 27. That's when Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) dug in its claws and refused to let her go. Her world (and her family's) was turned inside out.
Working as a dental hygienist was difficult enough, but trying to balance her work life with the challenges of OCD was overwhelming. Ruth's family, friends, and co-workers didn't understand why she suddenly acted so bizarre. She wanted to help them understand, but she couldn't. She didn't understand it herself.
My Life in Mental Chains is moving and tragic, yet in the end, it's an uplifting story of personal faith and inner strength. Ruth's insight will be a great comfort to OCD sufferers, their families, and their friends.
Ruth graduated from the Indiana University School of Dentistry with a degree in Science/Dental Hygiene. Her interest in writing, which began in high school, led her to earn her diploma from the Institute of Children's Literature in "Writing for Children and Teenagers." She lives in rural Indiana with her husband and two cats.