How My New Puppy Helped Me Finally Get Help for My OCD

This morning, I sat in bed watching the snow fall outside my window with our puppy for nearly an hour. As the flurries danced across the rooftops and water towers of our Upper West Side neighborhood, I had a calming realization…

This is it. This, it turns out, is what it means to be here now.

Seeing the world through her tiny eyes is like experiencing everything for the very first time. Whether it’s new fallen snow or the sound of a firetruck whizzing by, everything is so fresh and amazing to her. Most of the time, this newness insights an energy, a sort of wonderment and playfulness in our rambunctious, 5-month old corgi. But this morning, it was as if time stopped so we could both admire one of our first New York snowfalls together.

I won’t lie and claim that these past few weeks with her haven’t been difficult because, well, they’ve been absolute hell at times. The constant worry, health scares, potty training, incessant chewing, and obedience training have been enough to drive me to near madness. And that’s not something I say lightly, trust me.

In the weeks following our pup’s arrival, the pain of the past year reached its peak. I stopped eating. I stopped sleeping. I stopped writing. I was crying every day. And old habits that I thought had been long buried deep in the back of my head resurfaced yet again.

Then, during a tearful phone call with my parents one evening, I realized one absolute, single truth:

I need help.

So, in typical New York fashion, off to the psychiatrist I went. And, for the first time in my entire life, I sat on a couch with my feet propped up and told an absolute stranger my deepest, darkest secret…

I count.

Not in a cute, Count Dracula sort of way. More like an annoying, life-consuming, creepy, Howard Hughes sort of way.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had this secret stress reliever. I spell out the words in the conversations I have, the shows I watch on TV, and even the songs I hear on the radio – one by one on each finger – until the letters reach a position on my hands that “feels right.” Most of the time, 10 feels best (i.e. all 10 fingers), but I’ll settle for 5 or 8 if I need to. If the words don’t make it to these sweet spots, then I keep going and going until they do. It’s so subtle, such a perfected science at this point, that you would never even know I’m doing it at all. I can have completely engaging dialogues with friends, coworkers, and family all while a little room in the back of my head keeps count. If I didn’t know better, it would be one of the most impressive examples of multitasking in the world.

I also have a secret habit of locking and unlocking my front door numerous times when I’m alone. If someone is around and I can’t check, then I wait for them to leave the room so I can delicately arrange and rearrange a coaster on the coffee table 8 times to satisfy my craving. I wash my hands multiple times per day and use Purell more than anyone should. I hold my breath when I walk past someone on the street that’s just sneezed or coughed. I’ve even been known to get off the subway and wait another 10 minutes for a new train just because someone coughed several seats away from me.

Turns out, this behavior isn’t the quirky secret shame I’ve thought it was all these years. It’s a little something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Receiving a formal diagnosis from a legitimate, Yale-educated doctor after all these years was tantamount to dropping a 40-pound bag of flour from my shoulders. I wasn’t a freak. There was a real name for the weird things I did and the thoughts I had on a daily basis, and it was all treatable with medication and therapy.

And I owe it all to a 10-pound fluff ball.

If I’m honest with myself, this is something that I should have confided in with one of my numerous therapists over the years some time ago. But I was scared. Ashamed. Embarrassed. I didn’t want to be labeled as the freak with the mental illness. I didn’t want to face the stigma of taking an anti-depressant. And, as time wore on, I didn’t know how to continue living my life as a zen yogi with this big secret.

But when we welcomed a new puppy into our lives, it was as if the Universe was saying, “Elizabeth, cut the bullshit.” I couldn’t hide my “weird ticks” anymore. I couldn’t pretend that everything was okay. Turns out that this little, innocent puppy was just the stressor I needed to finally admit to my family and, more importantly, to myself that I needed help.

This morning, as I was laying in bed with my pup, I began to cry. Not because of anxiety or intrusive thoughts, but out of gratitude. I leaned down and whispered in her soft little ear, “Thank you.” She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and nuzzled my chin almost to say, “You’re welcome.” Then we turned to the window, sighed a deep breath in unison, and watched the snow fall.

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