Growing Younger with Age
Updated: May 13
You may be thinking ‘Hang on a minute, what’s up with this title? That’s not the way it works.’ And you’d be right, but please allow me to explain.
You know every now and again you get those quizzes that come up on social media? The ones where you can work out your intellectual age, the age you act, your ‘real’ age, or your mental age (whatever that means)? Well, that’s kind of what I mean here. We all appear to have different ages – depending on what’s being focused on at the time - and for this post I want to talk about my ‘world weariness’ or ‘battle weariness’ age (it’s a positive post I promise!). I’ll be referring to my experiences with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and more importantly, describing how little steps along the road to recovery are helping this age to drop significantly... and, in all honesty, it couldn’t have come soon enough!
So here we go…
A little OCD history
Since I was very little, probably about four or five, I’ve carried what’s often felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders and as I mentioned a minute ago this weight came in the form of OCD. I’ll briefly describe my earlier years, so you can see what I mean:
At six I spent hours at the window checking for my parents to come home. At the time I believed this silent vigil helped encourage their safe return.
At 8 I tried not to touch anything because I believed that whenever I touched something, I left the imprint of my loved one’s wellbeing behind which left them vulnerable.
At ten I spent hours roaming the house in the dark at night checking switches, window latches, hobs, and locks to make sure my family were safe from disaster whilst asleep.
At fifteen I stopped watching the news. Whatever I saw would play again, and again and I was terrified those awful things would happen to my family. I used compulsions as a way of dealing with these feelings.
Are you noticing a theme to my obsessions? Yep, I’ve always been totally, totally preoccupied with keeping my loved ones safe and most important - alive. Yep, alive is how I prefer my family!
Growing up, people often described me as an old head on young shoulders or very mature for my age. I was wise, thoughtful and cautious. These are usually pretty admiral qualities in a person, but for me, these characteristics were a by-product of having spent my life in my mind – a place filled with nightmares and worse case scenarios.
Fast-forwarding quite dramatically, at 31 I had a baby and at a time when I should have been feeling naturally ‘grown up’, my condition managed once again to take this feeling a few steps too far. My maternal instinct went into hyper-drive and I became convinced that someone – possibly even me – was going to hurt my son. I’d been well and truly introduced to the world of Perinatal OCD.
By 35, thanks to two long stints of cognitive behavioural therapy with exposure response prevention and medication, I was no longer dealing with the more crippling effects of postnatal OCD, but I had begun to worry about germs and contamination.
Losing the years – in a good way!
By 35 I was so, so tired and had very little left to offer anyone. I knew it was important to start getting that ‘world weariness’ age down a few notches and so I started working towards recovery - first by taking baby-steps, and then gaining momentum until I was making big strides.
*** I’m just going to quickly stick in here that I know there are huge debates around OCD and its treatment: Is full recovery possible? Do certain things work and not others? Should you only use evidence based treatments? Is mindfulness effective? Do you need a formal diagnosis? The only thing I can say here, is that none of those debates mattered to me personally while entering recovery. Not because they weren’t important, but because I was beyond being able to comprehend any of that, I needed action, quickly. If I thought it might help I tried it, some of it worked – some of it didn’t. ***
So, what did I do?
I started by learning everything I could about the way OCD works, and specifically the way it seemed to work for me. This meant that I had far less surprise attacks which took a lot of the sting out of the condition.
Despite grim side effects at first, medication helped me. It took the all-encompassing nature of OCD away for a while, long enough for me to function and access the things that did help me. I still take it now.
Exercise made me feel stronger both mentally and physically. I found that running didn’t really work for me, so I joined a Zumba class. These classes were small, fun and were full of nice people, so it gave me an all-round boost.
I learnt a bit about healthy eating and tried to implement it and, as a busy vegetarian, I also started taking supplements to help me get the nutrients I needed. I tried to cut my junk food and caffeine intake down. I was by no means an angel, I just tried to be a little more sensible and mindful of how they effected my mood and symptoms.
I tried to stay hydrated. I’ve always been dreadful at remembering to drink enough water, so I made a chart which I stuck up on my kitchen cabinet to remind me to stay hydrated. Drinking more water made both my body and mind feel less foggy and sluggish.
I worked hard on trying to accept the parts of my condition that made me feel especially down and frightened – for me that was harm based intrusive thoughts and urges. The thinking here, was that if I stopped fighting them, they would take up less of my energy. Thankfully that was the case.
I created Olivia, and the resulting tamingolivia.com, and found that the idea behind her and the work on the website, gave me direction and kept my mind occupied.
I made more of an effort to go out and see friends.
I tried different things.
Mindfulness helped me. I started to practise meditation and staying in the present. I’d say that out of all the things I’ve mentioned here, mindfulness had been one of the most beneficial to me. Learning to stay in the present, and to observe my thoughts and emotions without judgement, has given me a break, and peace of mind, like nothing else.
I DO recovery work. I fell into a habit of just reading and writing about it. I’d collect ideas and add to them to a never-ending pot of awesome ideas that never got implemented. I implement them now.
I slept, boy did I sleep! Even now, I make sure I go to bed on time. If life gets in the way and I don’t, I try to nap whenever I can. Sleep is the foundation to my well-being and I know things can go south quickly when I’m short on it.
I started to say ‘no’.
Phew, I’m sure I’ve missed some bits, but I’ll stop there. Over the past couple of years, I’ve done everything I could to hit recovery head on and to get that ‘old soul’ a few decades younger. Has it helped? It really has. I’ve just turned 37 and I feel ‘younger’ and lighter than I did when I turned 35 – and I hope this continues.
The elixir of youth?
Walking the road of recovery has far more positives than negatives. I now feel a sense of wonder and excitement about things that I can’t remember feeling since childhood. I’m far freer to be inquisitive and adventurous and find that anxiety doesn’t stop me in my tracks anywhere near as much as it used to. I no longer have to plan my life solely on what I think I can manage, or what my condition will allow me to do. I can play with my son without it being a painful experience that brings on distressing obsessions. I can lie in bed before sleeping, and take walks in nature, without finding it too uncomfortable to be without a multitude of distractions. At the grand age of 37, I’m only just learning how to have relaxing baths – again, previously they felt like traps.
The obsession and compulsion cloud has lifted enough to give me the space to come up with ideas and to use my imagination on positive things. I’ve always had a good imagination, and I’ve always been creative (I’d put money on the fact that goes for lots of us with OCD) but instead of those things terrifying me in the form of obsessions and fears, I can now use them for good. There’s no way Taming Olivia would have started without this recovery work.
I think it’s important to point out here that, in the same way recovery isn’t linear in an upward trajectory, decreasing our ‘world weariness’ age doesn’t happen in a linear downward trajectory. No matter how much self-care I put into practice, I find that my OCD symptoms, and all the emotions and thoughts that go with those, peak and trough. There are still days in which I feel totally exhausted and battle weary, but they are fewer and farther between now that I am taking an active part in my recovery.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. The lifting of the OCD cloud has bought showers as well as blue skies. I’ve experienced intense feelings of grief and loss as I’ve realised the extend of what I’ve missed out on in the past because of the condition. Thankfully I can use my new-found CBT skills to help me deal with those feelings too.
Walking the road of recovery has far more positives than negatives. Because of my condition I’ve learnt lessons that I doubt I’d have learnt otherwise. I’ve got a thankfulness and appreciation for the smaller things in life that I don’t think I’d have had without my experiences with OCD. And most of all, I’ve got this absolute dedication to my own well-being and to stepping out into the sunlight after so many years of hiding in the shadows.
I hope this outlook on life continues - let me rephrase that - I’m going to work hard to make sure it continues. I know that the skills learned in recovery are like a muscle – that they must be exercised or they begin to lose their strength. I know many adults wish they could go back to their care-free days, whatever that means for them. I know that as someone who carried way too much responsibility in the lead up to this point of my life, I will be putting my energies into being ‘younger’ and lighter from now on. Maybe this lesson isn’t learnt by everyone. Maybe we must suffer, and have felt that loss, to be able to properly appreciate what we have now. Who knows? But it’s a nice positive to have come out of such tough times… Until next time, take care everyone. And good luck with the anti-aging hunt!