How Early Trauma Caused Much of My Anxiety

I am inclined to believe that living in a stressful environment triggers OCD. As a new mother who suffered from depression and anxiety, the compounding factor of being in a dysfunctional relationship seemed to be the trigger in the development of my OCD.

My husband was an alcoholic and often abused me, verbally, physically, emotionally and financially. I became consumed with the compulsion to discard things in my home. I look back with regret when I realize the importance of things I threw or gave away. Sometimes, I even re-purchased similar items to replace things I threw out or donated.

The process of getting rid of purging became cyclic. I recall, getting rid of items I had stored in plastic boxes, then I got rid of the boxes. I would feel “better”, or just get a desire to purchase something. Then I had to move other things around to “purge” myself when I became overwhelmed by the ritual of shopping.

 

Other times, I got rid of “things” when I was overwhelmed with emotions and did not realize I was not finding a proper outlet for my emotions. My husband only made my condition worse by calling me “crazy” or “unstable.” Sometimes I purged items when I was experiencing symptoms of PMS. He called me “hormonal” when he discussed such issues to my in-laws (who also called me “crazy” and “unstable”).

I was diagnosed with OCD and GAD several years ago. At the time when I was diagnosed, the two disorders were listed in the same category in the DSM. In 2013, the fifth edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) remains under the section under anxiety disorders, OCD is under a section labeled as “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. Included under this category are hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), and body dysmorphic disorder. Though individuals suffering from GAD and OCD tend to spend much time worrying, the difference is that people with OCD rely on physical or mental rituals (compulsions) to relieve stress caused by an obsession. Those with GAD tend to worry about “real” problems, while those with OCD are plagued by intrusive thoughts that are somewhat illogical or unrealistic, such as unnecessary counting, or a preoccupation with symmetry.

Though my GAD may have progressed into OCD during my marriage, I recall other stages in my life where I have been afflicted by one or both of these disorders. In my twenties, I attended college despite my impairing social anxiety disorder. I rarely made any social connections during my academic pursuits. I managed to take several drawing classes as part of my graphic design course load. I became repulsed by using pencils in my drawing classes. I was unable to pick up the charcoal sticks to complete my work because I was focused on the trail of dust left behind from the materials. The dust was attached to my artist’s toolbox and my portfolio. I spent a great deal of effort obsessing about the dust and eraser crumbs in my tools and supplies. Years after I dropped out of my classes, I tried to save the pieces I had labored over, but like everything else that had some sentimental value, I discarded them too (OCD Almost Destroyed My Creativity!).

Exposed To Adult Life

As children, my sister and I became fixtures at the local bars. From ages 10 until about 12, we were dragged along to a number of bars near our house so my mom could drink and be with my dad. The bar was a dive and quite disgusting. My mom bought us pop and Slim Jims, and I sat at the booth with my sister. Sometimes we were allowed to pick songs on the jukebox (I played, “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac and “Rapture” by Blondie on a loop!).

At times, it felt glamorous to hang out in bars. Other times, it was unsettling to see adults become less inhibited, argumentative, and repulsive. I could get a sense when people were getting too “loose”…almost an innate vide to warn of impending danger (in my adult life, this “sense” was clouded by my own self-doubt and afflictions).

My mom got annoyed when I sat on the barstool next to her, spinning around, so she sent me off with a constant supply of quarters to play arcade games and the pinball machine. When I 12, I was old enough to not have to sit at the bar. At some point, it was decided that I was old enough to take care of everybody else.

I was appointed the neighborhood babysitter- my mom offered my babysitting services to her friend so they could go out drinking. I was given no instructions on how to feed, entertain, or comfort the kids. The house in which I cared for them didn’t appear to show signs of toys, books or anything that could help me occupy the kids while they left us for hours on end. We sat in front of the TV, bored, tired and hungry until they returned after the bars closed at 2:30 AM. Sadly, when I became a mother, I was haunted feelings of inadequacies due to these experiences.

Help! I’m Starving Myself (To Get Control And Acceptance!)

At age 14 I developed an eating disorder. When I stood in front of the mirror, I would section off the parts of my body I deemed too fat. Within six months I had dropped down to size 2 in jeans. I survived by drinking soda and eating just one item per day, usually a school lunch item, as to not draw too much attention to my disorder.

At dinner time, I covered food in napkins, moved food around on my plate, or I simply gave the food to the dog. Eventually, my mom realized my tactics and I had to eat more of my dinner. I still rationed my food, or only ate half servings. This went on for four years. When I overcame one element of my disorder, it manifested in some other way, as in discarding things. Sometimes I purged the food I ingested, but mostly I purged “things”.

My compulsion to discard things is more manageable now. I have limited contact with people that may provoke or trigger anxiety and OCD symptoms. I try to be more mindful by writing in a journal and meditating on my faith. I also keep a few empty boxes out of sight for those times when I feel compelled to purge. My rule is that I must wait a few days before deciding the permanent home for all the “things”. This time allows me to sort my thoughts, gain clarity and determine the reasons why I feel the intrusive thoughts.

 

References:

Glasofer, Deborah R., Ph.D., “What Is the Difference Between GAD and OCD?”

www.verywell.com, July 28, 2016, accessed August 21, 2016.

 

2 thoughts on “How Early Trauma Caused Much of My Anxiety

  1. I always get goosebumps when I read people’s background stories and then read about their struggle with eating disorders, anxiety, and so many other ‘conditions’. I think there is still so much to be done to let us all know how ‘small’ life events and situations shape the way we feel, think, and behave later in life. I also struggle with anxiety, eating disorders and a few other things that I choose not to list because the root of it all seems to always be a dysfunctional upbringing. I really want to thank you for sharing your story, because it also helped me to make sense of a couple of things.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you were able to gain some understanding about some of the contributing to your anxiety and other struggles. It’s taken me a long time to piece together the events in my life- hence, why I so often reference my childhood years and other life stages where I faced struggles and dysfunction. Just when I think I’ve closed a chapter on those years, I always seem to find some insight that can be applied to another part of my life.

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