Hello! My name is M.C. Haile, and I am both excited and terrified to share this blog with you. This project is an experiment and an opportunity to share my experiences overcoming fear, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I hope that by writing I may come to know myself better and help others facing similar challenges. In this first entry, I will share how four core values have helped me to loosen OCD’s grip on me.
I have experienced intense fear, anxiety and depression since I was young – however, in my early twenties (about ten years ago), these spectres weaved themselves together into the dark fabric of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Almost overnight, my mind was consumed by obsessions of all forms, and my days were taken over by hours of rituals I felt compelled to perform. I gave in to this behavior out of sheer desperation, convinced that if I had not, I would have gone insane or been exposed as a hideous person. For the first year or two of this experience, I did not know what OCD was, and I believed my obsessions were quite real. I also kept them completely secret.
I will dedicate time in the months to come towards examining my obsessions. Today, I simply want to share one exercise that has helped me in my continuous recovery – the exercise of naming my values. For me, one of the great gifts of OCD has been the absolute necessity of becoming familiar with my core values and learning to work towards them through purposeful action. I have given these values the acronym of A.R.C.H.
A – for Art / Artist
When I imagine living freely and independently from OCD, I always picture having a vibrant creative practice – even if that practice is simply writing. While I am not talented at drawing painting, or sculpting, I enjoy these activities and I love discovering art made by others. I aspire to the creative life, and ultimately I know it is this constructive power that will help me transform my dark experiences into something radiant.
R – for Writing / Writer
I have always identified as a writer, even in the times I was least sure of my identity. Writing brings me joy and a sense of accomplishment. In putting down words, I am able to unravel the most tangled of thoughts. One of the first skills I learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy was to write down fears; this restores mastery over wild thoughts and increases independence. Imagining my future accomplishments in fiction or poetry-writing is a frequent motivation to overcome the OCD that prevents my progress.
C – for Connecting / Connector
OCD brings fear and isolation – so naturally, seeking and forming genuine relationships has been a major source of growth and progress for me. Having OCD can sometimes feel like being stuck in a funhouse hall of mirrors, where I am surrounded by a thousand distorted reflections of myself. My family, friends, colleagues and my partner help bring those mirrors crashing down, dispelling the illusion of isolation that OCD conjures. Attending the IOCDF Conference this year in Washington, DC was a major step forward on this front – as I met hundreds of other people navigating this disorder while seeking kinship.
H – for Healing / Healer
This is perhaps the most spiritual value that I have arrived at. I realized in the thick of my struggles that I was unable to heal myself – instead I needed to ask for, to receive, and to give thanks to those who bring real healing into my life, most especially God. My favorite name or expression for God is that of the Divine Physician. In the Catholic and Christian faith, we believe that Jesus Christ was a powerful healer, so much so that he raised the dead on multiple occasions. Illness and death, for whatever reason, are realities of this world. Yet OCD distorts these realities into horror, instead of allowing me to view them as natural seasons and passages of this life. By God’s grace I can learn to accept the truth of my mortality while diminishing OCD’s lies – namely that both living and dying are things to be dreaded and ashamed of. As I go through this healing process, I humbly ask God for the ability to be a healer myself someday.
Together these four values form the A.R.C.H. of my recovery. This also serves as a visual exercise; when I am anxious or fearful I imagine a great stone arch somewhere before me, perhaps above an old city or far down in a canyon. I imagine myself as a frightened bird – trapped in a high nest by my fear of flying. The distance to the ground below could shatter my bones. Just as the fear closes in and my horizon darkens, I spread my wings and begin to fall. The wind rushes by me and then, somehow, I realize I am flying. I aim my whole self for the passageway below – my portal to the world beyond fear.