When I was a child I used to walk to and from school. I would always say that saying that goes like this: "Don't step on a crack or you'll break your mother's back." And then I would methodically make my way to school, making sure I didn't step on a single crack in the road. I also did this on all sidewalks and even on tiles inside buildings. I would count tiles on floors and ceilings. If I lost count, I would start over and get very upset if someone interrupted me. I bit my fingernails until they bled because I couldn't allow any white part of the nail to show or grow out. I memorized phone numbers and birthdays. I got to where I only had to dial a phone number one time and I could remember it from then on. My sisters always called me "The Walking Phone Book", even into adulthood. They would call me for a phone number rather than look it up in the phone book because that was faster. I had to get straight A's. If I got a 'B' I would cry for days and tell myself how stupid I was. I HAD to be perfect. No matter what. It was all about control.
I suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). My husband has really helped me to overcome many of those obsessive/compulsive tendencies. I honestly don't know what I would have done without him. He helped me to understand how to let go of those things.
I don't consciously memorize phone numbers anymore. I don't count tiles or avoid cracks. I have fingernails now. I don't bite them anymore. I have learned how to accept failure and not hate myself for it. I've learned to embrace my failures as successes. Even if I've failed at something, I've still succeeded in that I TRIED. That is a success in and of itself. I understand that now. The only time failure is a TRUE failure is when we never find the courage to try something in the first place.
You know, it's ironic. The less I try to control things, the more at peace I feel. I used to believe I had to control everything around me or else the whole world would fall apart. That is probably the MOST damaging aspect of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That is a lot of pressure for a person to put on themself. I can see that now that I look back. I have made so much progress that I would not even consider myself to be OCD anymore. I am proud of myself because I have come a long ways from that teenage girl from so long ago.
So how does one overcome OCD? Let me share with you some of the things I have done. I have learned these things by educating myself, through the help of my loving husband, and by having a sincere desire to change.
This is how you overcome it. It begins with the courage to recognize the negative behavior and to see yourself the way others see you. Enlist someone close to you who loves you and ask them to help you by telling you when you are doing one of your OCD behaviors. My husband would NOT let me bite my nails in front of him. I had braces on my teeth from the time I was 26 until 28 1/2 years old. I could not bite my nails with braces on, but then, even after I promised myself I wouldn't go back after I got them off, I did. It was so hard to break that nervous habit. But I really wanted to stop. I knew that if I could break that habit, I could conquer some of my other OCD habits. So I made a resolve within myself to change. I started carrying a small pair of infant fingernail clippers in my pants pocket. Every time I felt that desire to bite my nails, I would pull out my little clippers and clip them instead of biting them. It was still three years or so before I finally felt like I could handle having them grow out a little bit. I still don't like nail polish or long nails, but I can grow them out a centimeter or two and not feel like wanting to bite them all off. It has been about eight years now, but I can honestly say now that that habit is broken. So implement something... a kink, so to speak... to shake up your OCD routine. Force yourself to change your routine in a way that it will re-mold your behavior. I "weaned" myself by using clippers until I was strong enough to not even need to carry them around all the time anymore.
Focus on one behavior at a time. If you try to stop all of your OCD habits at once, it just feeds your OCD. Does that make sense? By trying to change everything at once, you are actually trying to control NOT being in control. So just focus on one or two things at a time. Give yourself time and compassion. Don't beat yourself up if you can't overcome a habit the first time you try or if it takes many days, weeks, months or even years to see improvement. It took me YEARS to finally stop biting my nails, but now it is finally done and I am SO proud of myself!
I have a firm faith in God so I believe in the power of prayer. When I am focusing on a behavior or habit I am trying to overcome, I ALWAYS pray for strength, help, and guidance to help me. I spend much time studying my scriptures to find answers to my prayers and to find comfort in my weaknesses. It helps. I have a very strong testimony in the help we can personally receive through prayer and in the scriptures.
Educate yourself. Read books. Look online for tips and helps. Don't be like an ostrich with your head in the sand. Find others who are also struggling along with you or people who have overcome it themselves. You can find some pretty great support networks out there if you just look around and find someone to talk to. Don't be embarrassed or afraid to share your worries or concerns with people who love you. Find someone you trust to help you.
Be aware and conscious of how your OCD behavior affects your family and friends. I finally realized how my controlling behaviors were hurting my children and husband and it gave me the courage to want to try to change for their sake. I wanted a happy family and I knew that in order to have a happy home I would need to learn how to let my children and husband have the freedom to be themselves and to make mistakes and not be reprimanded by me for petty things. I can honestly say now that the relationships with my children are so much better than they ever have been. So you have to put the well-being of your family (or those affected by your OCD - coworkers, friends, neighbors) ahead of your drive to be in control. You have to look at your OCD behavior as selfish, because in many ways, it is.
I learned that when I allowed others to make mistakes without judgment from me, I loved them more. My heart has grown softer and I am less critical -- not only of them, but also of myself. It taught me how to forgive myself and not hate myself when I made a mistake.
I have the power over my OCD now. It doesn't control me. I am in control of it by allowing myself to NOT be in control of every aspect of my life. It is a freeing experience. Truly. My house isn't always clean. I'm okay with that. My filing doesn't get done right away now. I'm okay with that. I let my kids watch TV a little louder now. I don't feel like my world is going to end if someone shows up at my front door and my front room isn't spotless. In fact, my front room is rarely spotless anymore. And I'm okay with that. It isn't the end of the world. My house isn't filthy, but it isn't spotless either. Five people live there and I want us to be comfortable. I don't want my visitors to feel like they have to take their shoes off before they come in my house or that their kids might break something. Come in and relax! Let's visit and have some pie and if the kids spill some on the carpet, it's okay! I have a shampooer and can clean it up! The world won't end!
I am so grateful to have overcome this part of my life where I had to always be in control. It is exhausting to have to control everything and everyone around you. It isn't healthy -- physically, mentally, or emotionally. I am still a perfectionist. That is just my personality, but I don't have to be in control and I'm good with that. My life is so much more enjoyable now. I have discovered the joy and happiness that comes with change.
People always want to know the answer to this question: "What is my purpose in life?" And you know what I believe it is now? To constantly improve ourselves each day. To overcome the weaknesses we were born with as well as the ones we acquire. To break those chains of behavior, addiction, or circumstance that hold us hostage. It is to find ourselves - our TRUE selves. It is to be better at the end of this life than we were when we came in. It is to find our Savior and to allow ourselves to be molded and shaped by Him by allowing the healing powers of the Atonement to improve our lives through the process of forgiveness and repentance. It is to learn that, "I can do HARD things!" Because when we overcome those hard things, we grow. And when we grow, we are then in a position to help others grow. And when we do that??? Life is sweet and life is good.