About to be eight, if we’re really keeping count, but at this point, what’s the difference? Why haven’t I posted in half a year’s time?
Let’s throw out some guesses.
- working on new projects
- crappy mental health
- crappy health in general
That last one. What the hell is that? is something I asked roughly two months ago. What are you talking about? There’s a long list of abbreviations in my medical file, but OCD is not one of them.
Sure, I have problems getting out of the house sometimes. But I’m not a neat freak by any means. I don’t get twitchy if something is out of place. I do have a thing about getting stuff on my hands, but that’s from working in healthcare. It’s not like obsess over it or anything.
Unless it’s bleach. Or engine oil. Or gasoline. Or chemicals.
Or someone’s sick. Or if it’s a bathroom. (Yikes.) Flu season? You best believe my hands will be freshly washed before I eat in a public place.
If I eat in a public place, because that’s difficult sometimes. The noise level bothers me at times, and then I feel a little on edge because it seems like people are staring at me, and I get weirded out when people see me eat. I can only eat half my plate, because if I eat more than that, I could get nauseous or get stomach cramps and end up having a panic attack.
And–oh yeah, if I have a panic attack in public, I start having trouble leaving the house. All that trouble with driving starts. I get to where it’s difficult to go to and from the mailbox. You know that lady on Shameless? Sheila? Yeah, I get her. I totally understand her deal.
Mine’s not that bad–really, it’s not that bad–it can’t possibly be that bad…
That’s what I kept telling myself most of this year. It’s not that bad. Bad was the time I was trapped in my bedroom at thirteen with the bureau shoved up against the door.
Bad wasn’t only being able to go outside very early in the morning or very late at night. In my mind, I could still get out–albeit with someone else, not alone. That was still something. I’d been in worse places.
But denial isn’t that great of a place to be, either.
Turns out that my definition of “bad” is pretty far off base. It’s easy to keep digging yourself into a hole when you believe it really isn’t that deep. You can jump out any time you like. You’re fine, really. And when you start getting pinned in a corner with meds not working and your view of the future getting really narrow, well, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough.
Or maybe you just can’t be fixed.
Here’s what I didn’t think OCD was: I didn’t think it had anything to do with the endless, ever-spewing thought tape running constantly in my mind. That was just background noise, you know? Just negative cognitions, a logical outcome of the things I’ve lived through. But there was a problem with that.
There wasn’t just the negative thought tape, running independently despite my attempts to shut it down. There was also the constant chess game of trying to out-logic myself.
MR. ROBOT is awesome, by the way.
If there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over in my trials with my own mental health, it’s that to all appearances, I’ve got my crap together. I’m smart, I’m competent, I know how to advocate for myself. I stay on top of my treatment and I do my best to understand its rules so I can beat the illness at its own game.
Well, it’s a bit of a problem if you’re following the rules for the wrong game. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of this. So when friends and family threw together the cash to get me to see the therapist who pulled me out of the nosedive I initially fell face-first into at 19 and got me to graduating college with a 3.0, I kind of had to go. My own strategies weren’t working. The thought tape was getting louder than ever. Meds were failing. Everything we tried not only didn’t help, it made things worse.
So I sucked it up and I went to go see Bailey, because if there’s one person I know I can trust with their hands in my skull, it’s her. I filled her in on the last eight years, explained the situation, and almost immediately, she said “Here’s the thing–this isn’t trauma you’re struggling with right now, this is OCD.”
I was thinking, Whoa, wait a minute. I don’t have rituals. I don’t have compulsions. Obsessions? What are you…
And over the past two months, it’s fallen into place fairly neatly. Not only have I not kept this thing we will call The OCD at bay, I’ve fed it. I made it bigger. And yeah, trauma has fed it over the past eight years, with good reason, but the presenting issue, the thing that is in my way, yes.
Yes. The thought tape. The obsessing. The attempts to out-logic the monster.
You can’t out-think a thing that has already overrun your thoughts.
I thought I was facing my fears, but…I wasn’t approaching them the right way. I thought, if I can just get through it, even if it’s awful, then I’m still okay. Wrong. Absolutely wrong. That simply reinforces thoughts like I just can’t eat in public or I knew I’d be miserable on that trip anyway. Sitting there, eyes closed, sweating, trying to wait out the anxiety or keep it pushed back far enough that it wasn’t obvious how scared I was–that wasn’t the right approach at all. Shutting my eyes, bracing, flinching…those things might have gotten me through the moment, but they never got me to see what was really happening. They hid it. And all those avoidance strategies just made it worse.
So, it’s been about two months since I’ve started working on rerouting my thoughts, and I’ve learned a few things. Huge things. Things that are now clicking and making sense.
Instead of tolerating the distress of a fear, I walk straight into it.
I see it, I recognize it, and I face it intentionally.
And then I do it again, and again, and again. Willfully approaching situations that make me nervous isn’t easy, but it’s getting easier. It comes more naturally. The instant The OCD whispers You can’t do this, I respond by doing it. Whatever it is.
Two months in, I can drive again. I’ve gone from seeing friends maybe once a month to at least once a week. I’ve even made new friends. I’ve made awesome progress getting back to doing things I hadn’t done in months. Life is improving so quickly now that it’s hard to think I was so hopeless two months ago. I thought there wasn’t any direction left to go in.
Now, I’ve realized I can go in any direction I want. I just have to take the first step. One of the biggest ones is actually talking about it:
Guess who said “hi” to the neighbors for the first time in months–and didn’t have a meltdown!!
Okay guys…next up is going to the mailbox…without checking first…to get the mail. I CAN DO THIS. BELIEVE IN ME.
I RAN ERRANDS BY MYSELF. The bank. The grocery store. The DMV. I did it alone. And I didn’t freak out!!!
SAID HI TO MY NEIGHBOR. AGAIN. AND GOT THE MAIL WITHOUT CHECKING.
Had dinner in a loud restaurant which was kinda crappy at first, but eventually I acclimated and it came down WHILE I WAS THERE. WHAT?! I recovered enough that later I even swung by to meet Pru at the close of her shift and she and I hung out for a bit ✨
Guess who had a giant panic attack and started sobbing in the grocery store but pushed through it and didn’t run and stared at people like YEAH I’M CRYING THIS PLACE SUCKS AND I HAVE STOMACH CRAMPS BUT I AM GONNA POWER THROUGH IT AND IF I VOMIT WHATEVER, DON’T CARE, I DO NOT CARE….and eventually I even calmed down and got through the store. The world didn’t end!
Biggest surprise? People are actually supportive of that stuff. No judgment. No laughter. No people making fun of a thing that has crippled me for months. Hmm. Another thing The OCD was wrong about.
Plus? A lot of people have messaged me that they’re glad I’m talking about it because they suffer from it, too.
Maggie Stiefvater has written some brilliant stuff on OCD, and there are plenty of other people in writing who struggle with mental illness. While stigma promotes the idea that we shouldn’t talk about it…it’s evident that we should. People feel less alone. They connect with each other. Help each other. Offer encouragement. Y’know, the things we all need to get by.
Anyway, that’s been my life for the past few months. I think I’m slowly getting back to writing. The thing tickling my brain now involves a haunted house set in a patch of woods where time gets weird and the kudzu is a little strange. It’s equal shades Lost Souls, Stranger Things, and Donnie Darko. So far, it’s very fun. We’ll see where it goes.
Take care of yourselves, guys.