The other day I stumbled on this photo which I had not seen for a while and I started to reminisce about all the good our charity team have achieved in the 15 years since that photograph was taken. But it was also tinged with regret, of sorts, I later told a friend.
“15 years ago, I was a 32-year-old young professional, I still had my life ahead of me and I was more than happy to prioritise my work for the charity. But in the blink of an eye I am 47, still single and childless… what happened?!”
My friend asked me if I felt sad about that? To which I had no reply.
But the fact I still tell everyone I am 39 perhaps goes someway to answer that. At 39 I felt I still have a little time on my side to get those things, at 47 the chances of being a father at my age are now pretty unlikely.
My friend reminded me that my job is an important one, and more than a job, which is right and I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world, but as I told her…
“Along the way I’ve forgot to enjoy life or I’ve used work to avoid living life.”
At which point, like any good friend, she didn’t let me off the hook she asked me which was it? The honest answer is I am not entirely sure, although my colleague firmly believes it’s the latter. I think that’s right, but we need to go back to the beginning to understand why.
When I was younger OCD was the dominant feature of my late teens and all of my 20s, even some of my 30s. The truth is OCD prevented me enjoying life like I wanted because of the never-ending washing to ‘feel’ clean, I avoided life. Each day was strictly the ‘three W’s’, Wake > Work > Wash!
Because of this I rarely went out to socialise. As the years went on socialising, making small talk, being in social situations became more and more uncomfortable and so I avoided situations even more. I would throw myself into work to avoid having to be in those social situations, and of course my opportunity to meet anyone or date became limited.
When training therapists, Professor Salkovskis uses the term ‘collateral damage’ to remind them not to ignore the impact OCD can have on a person’s life. Because when OCD is successfully treated, it can leave a huge gaping hole for some.
I guess the collateral damage of my OCD was I remained isolated and lonely. Although, I tried to kid myself for decades that I wasn’t lonely, the truth was I have always been lonely. Perhaps this is why I enjoy cycling, it’s something I can do on my own without having to cycle with anybody else.
Back to the earlier question, I guess the truth is I used work to plug the big gaping hole caused by OCD. The socialising, dating and relationships that most people learn to do in their teens and 20s was an alien concept for me, despite some failed dabbling over the years. At my age people expect you to know how to do all of that with relative ease, but for me it still feels uncomfortable and embarrasing, even now at the age of 47.
So, in the blink of an eye I’m 47… what happened?!
OCD happened, but worse still I have let it happen (the collateral damage part).
I know admitting this this leaves me open and vulnerable to ridicule, but at my age 47 I have stopped caring if people judge me for my failings. (Did you hear that Zoë, I said I was 47!).
I hope by writing this, it may help others, perhaps whose life didn’t pan out how they had hoped to feel a little less isolated. I also hope this might remind others that once OCD is no longer stopping you living life, to make sure you actually do live your life! Go and have fun, make mistakes, but jolly well make sure you live your life.
Life may be different to our we envisioned it, but we owe it to ourselves after years of misery from OCD to make sure whatever life holds in the future, we make sure the future starts now.