30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge–Day 3

MIA challenge

Day 3: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

Medication: I struggle to fight any of my illnesses with Prozac. Medication isn’t for everyone, but Prozac really helps me. I tried Luvox for my OCD, but it had horrible side effects and made my anxiety worse, so I was glad when a new doctor switched me back to my tried-and-true Prozac. Prozac helps me stay calm and blocks some of the obsessions and anxiety. This keeps me from engaging in compulsions and feeling so down all the time. Right now, I’m not taking my Prozac because I’m between school and jobs and have no medical insurance, thus rendering me unable to afford a visit to my psychiatrist. I’m out of refills on my meds. I stopped taking them before I ran out so I would have them on hand if I absolutely could not manage anymore. Thankfully, I’ve been staying better than the previous times I went off meds, but that’s because so far, nothing huge and dramatic has happened in my life to trigger the anxiety that throws my OCD into overdrive. I’m not doing as well as I was on the meds, but I’m doing okay.

I also occasionally take Klonopin for anxiety attacks. I’m terrified by all the things I’ve read about how easy it is to become addicted to that type of med, so I work really hard to only take it if other methods won’t calm a serious anxiety attack (read: hysterically crying and shaking, unable to concentrate, total freakout meltdown mode).

ERP (exposure and response prevention): This has been key to fighting my OCD. I previously tried talk therapy (it did nothing for me) and a combination of medication management and talk therapy (only the meds made much of a difference). Once I knew I had OCD, I knew I would need to use practical measures to get better. I’m just that kind of person: theory doesn’t do much for me, but practice makes a huge difference. For OCD, this is a highly effective treatment because it forces you to live with the obsession without engaging in the compulsion. As you are able to live with the obsession without the compulsion, the obsession’s hold on you weakens, until it becomes more of a whisper or nag than something you feel has taken control of you.

I used this for contamination, checking, and perfectionism. My therapist and I used the SUDS scale (subjective units of distress). I talk more about that in detail here. We set up a hierarchy, and I completed the tasks starting with what would cause the least amount of anxiety, increasing to tasks that caused more anxiety once I had a handle on the lower items. This made a huge difference, but I still have to work on some areas.

Exercise: I have a hard time relaxing. I often don’t feel like I have time to relax, and even when I do, it’s hard to shut my thoughts off. I always want to be thinking about something. Doing something. Exercise is one of the things that helps me relax. I do want to lose weight, but I use exercise to keep my mental health good. It really does work. I go out for a power walk (well, now I can jog for part of that, something I couldn’t do before) and turn on my music, or I do some dancing with my Dance Central game. When I walk, I’m able to just focus on what songs I’m listening to, the environment around me, and my body. Sometimes I use that time to think through an issue without the pressure of other people around. Exercise is sort of a natural medication–it helps regulate the chemicals in the brain. (Read more in this post.)

Talking about it: I didn’t always talk openly about OCD. I hid it for a long time. I felt ashamed and embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to think I was “crazy.” Trying to keep it secret caused me even more anxiety. My heart would race if someone walked into the public restroom while I was washing my hands, because I knew they might speak to me about my hand washing (and sometimes they did–hello, more anxiety). I was terrified coworkers thought I was doing icky things in the bathroom because I spent so much time in there, when in reality I was washing my hands about 10 times a go. I didn’t want to admit that the raw redness of my hands was caused by me, not some allergy. But when I finally just started telling everyone, I felt free of that anxiety. Not everyone understands OCD. Not everyone will be accepting. But it still helps me so much to just be open. It alleviates the pressure caused by trying to hide. The less anxiety I have, the better, because if I don’t have much anxiety, my OCD can’t be fed.

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30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge–Day 2

MIA challenge

Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

I have a love/hate relationship with it.

I hate it because it would have been so nice to hear my therapist say, “Oh, you’re just using these actions and thoughts to deal with other stuff, and once we deal with that, you’ll never need these actions and thoughts again.” But instead, I have something I will spend my whole life fighting. Some days, I just don’t have the energy. Some days, I wish it would all go away.

But I love it because I know that I’m not alone, that it really is something I can’t help having but can fight, that I can help others understand it. Until I started therapy, I had no idea that many of my struggles were OCD. I knew contamination was OCD (thanks to the media, even though the media sometimes gets it wrong). But I never knew perfectionism was part of OCD and therefore something I could work on. I just thought it was normal for anyone who is successful in this world. I assumed you had to be killing yourself at work to have any measure of success. I assumed unhappiness and nervous breakdowns were just part of the package. But they’re not. Balance is possible. There are people who are incredibly successful who don’t worry half as much as I do on a good day. I’m glad to know this now because of my diagnosis.

I also love knowing about OCD because it has helped me understand some of my great-grandmother’s behaviors when I was a child. She helped raise me, and I now suspect she suffered from OCD. She worried about things that I even knew at the time were irrational, but to her, they were normal and fact. Understanding her has helped me realize how important it is for me to educate others, so we can create a world where OCD doesn’t own us.

I feel angry at the depression diagnosis, even though I know it’s been true. Even though I talk about how important it is to reduce the stigma, I’ll admit that sometimes the stigma about depression creeps into my mind and tells me I should be better at sucking it up. A lot of people have told me how strong I am when I’ve been in the throes of depression, and I get angry at myself because I feel so weak and vulnerable when I’m supposed to be strong. I have to remind myself that they say I am strong because I am fighting. Strong doesn’t mean letting nothing get to you. It means that you keep fighting, even when you can barely put one foot in front of the other.

I feel unsure about the possible PTSD diagnosis. I’ve always heard about it in relation to soldiers, and I keep thinking that what I have been through can’t compare to that. But then again, I just don’t hear much, if anything, about it outside of war and soldiers. Maybe it really is something I have. I don’t really understand PTSD, and right now, I’m more focused on getting a handle on my OCD than anything else. The stigma also affects this one for me; I keep thinking that if I actually do find out I suffer from it I shouldn’t tell people because it could seem like I am comparing my pain to the pain of soldiers. And I’m totally not. This whole area of my diagnosis is just one big confusing blur.

Anxiety disorder totally makes sense for me. It feeds into OCD. I’ve always struggled with intense amounts of anxiety. But through relaxation and stress reduction techniques, I’m learning how to stay more calm and level.