Exiting the Darkness

From September 2019 to November 2019, I had undergone very intense exposure therapy. If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you’d know that my OCD and anxiety stem from the fear of germs. I’m an emetophobe. This means that I have an irrational fear of nausea, vomit, and any germ that may cause either of the two. During my therapy, Jennifer required me to complete uncomfortable tasks that would normally send my body into fight or flight mode, most of which occurred in the bathroom. Some examples include touching the doorknob with my bare hands, touching the toilet seat, and even sitting on the bathroom floor. The catch, however, was that I could neither flee nor fight. I wasn’t allowed to wash my hands for at least 60 seconds, nor was I allowed to leave the bathroom afterwards. I had to sit in my discomfort and really recognize what it felt like. During the first few weeks of this treatment, I cried hysterically. There were even times when I hyperventilated.

Unbelievably, as time passed, my anxiety started to get less and less invasive. As crazy as it sounds, I didn’t have the immediate inclination to get off the floor and go cry in the car because I felt contaminated. Of course, I still felt uncomfortable, but I now knew that it was possible to sit with my anxiety and not carry out my compulsions.

During my very last session, Jennifer took me through a simulation. I was in paradise, in a canoe, floating on the river. However, I was surrounded by vicious monsters that were gnawing at me and taunting me. With every gnaw, I flinched. With every taunt, I reacted. Each time I gave into the monsters and their many provocations, they grew stronger and stronger.

As the simulation went on, I realized that my anxieties were so big because I was giving them the attention that they were pulling out of me. In doing so, they were draining me of my strength and happiness. When I said this to Jennifer, she immediately grew excited because she knew that the purpose of the treatment had finally clicked in my brain.

Jennifer then led me through another simulation that put me and my monsters in a tug-of-war match, them on one side and I on the other. In tug-of-war matches, when both teams are simultaneously pulling on each side of the rope with the same amount of strength, the rope is at a standstill. Nothing happens. Because I had been spending my time fighting my anxieties and reacting to my monsters just as much as they’d been taunting me, both my mental health and physical energy were about to run out.

But how do I win the match?

I drop the rope.

By dropping the rope, I not only won, but I caused my opponent to fall in on themselves. I’m no longer giving them a fight.

The same thing goes for your monsters.

When you don’t give your monsters the time of day, you strip them of their ability to affect you. Of course they’ll still be there in your peripheral vision, but they won’t be in your face taunting you, waiting for you to react. Once the rope is dropped, you have the freedom to enjoy paradise and peace while riding in your canoe.

I’m still learning how to coexist with my monsters. Yes, they’re still there, and yes they still try to influence my actions, but I’m learning to sit with them and accept them instead of fight them and give in to their provocative nature. For instance, if I touch a doorknob, I don’t let my monsters tell me to freak out and isolate myself. I’m learning to look my monsters in the eyes and carry on.

On March 12, 1996, I was brought into this world, and because of the skills that Jennifer introduced to me, I’m here to celebrate my 24th birthday today with no self-inflicted wounds and minimal compulsions.

I wrote this series to speak about my constant battle with OCD and anxiety. But I’m also writing this to encourage those who may be going through the same thing. Continue to fight the good fight so that on your birthday, you can look back on all the adversity you’ve overcome and smile.

If no one has told you yet today, you are cherished and loved. Every day is worth living, no matter the hardship. Whatever darkness you may have entered, just know that there’s an exit coming soon.

With love,

Khai