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.

I’ll Tell Everyone I Have OCD

I’m pretty ticked off.

There’s an article on Huffington Post today about what you shouldn’t say to someone who has OCD (http://huff.to/1gkNN0Y). Essentially, it talks about how you shouldn’t say things like, “Oh, I’m so OCD too because I have to color-code everything!” Now, I’ll admit: it’s not my favorite article. I do think people get a little oversensitive these days. As I’ve said before, when people say things like that to me, I know they don’t mean to diminish my disorder. They just usually don’t know much about it.

What’s disturbing are the comments in reaction to this article. Many commenters are saying the author is self-centered, among other insulting things. The author didn’t represent her points well; I’ll give you that. But that’s no reason to attack someone. There are many more upsetting comments that have to do with ignorance about OCD, and I can’t sit by without addressing them.

THE TWO COMMENTS THAT ARE DRIVING ME MAD

1.) “OCD isn’t real, because it’s just… [eccentric quirks] [habits we all have–I double check my locks at night too] [made up so pharmaceutical companies can make money] [some label psychologists pick out of a box].”

NO. OCD is a real psychological and biological disorder. It is not a series of eccentric quirks. Yes, there are people who are neurotic about certain things. My husband has to make sure the dishes are done a specific way; he doesn’t like anyone else doing them because they will “mess something up.” But he doesn’t have OCD. He doesn’t like it when other people do the dishes, and he can get upset, but hours later, he won’t still be thinking about it. That is something you could call a quirk or being anal retentive. But it is not OCD.

Some people think that having a habit similar to that of someone with OCD means we all just have habits. I wish it were that simple. But it’s not. A normal person (and I say normal to mean a person without OCD, just so we’re clear) may double check their locks at night. They may use hand sanitizer or wash their hands before a meal after a day of touring somewhere. They might worry about salmonella while handling raw meat. That’s fine. But that’s not OCD.

Here’s the difference: When you have OCD, you obsess over things that are just habits to other people. You might double check your locks. But a person with checking OCD might check their locks twice, then three more times, then walk away and instantly start questioning whether they locked the door. And they will keep asking themselves that question. They might not be able to leave their home because they’re so terrified they won’t remember to lock the door, which could result in someone walking in and stealing things or waiting for them to come home before attacking them or [fill in other worst-case scenarios]. Or if they leave, they might be out for thirty minutes, an hour, a day, and still be obsessing over whether the door was locked. I’ve done this. Even on vacation, I’ve found myself asking my husband, “Did we lock the door? Are you sure? You really remember doing it? Did you check to make sure you did it?”

This can ruin a person’s life. I have been unable to enjoy myself or get work done more times than I can count because my obsessions took hold of my mind. Those of us with OCD don’t WANT these obsessions. Trust me, I wish I could just make my brain stop thinking in obsessions. Especially when violent thoughts come (these are obsessions about harming myself or others, where I envision something terrible being caused by me despite knowing I would never actually harm someone or myself).  Those thoughts horrify me, and I would give anything to stop them completely. But I can’t. I know it’s not logical to think like this. I have a ton of illogical thoughts on a daily basis. Hearing my cat using her litter box across the room can make me start obsessing about a need to wash my hands. That’s a part of OCD I can’t explain–because I just don’t know why my brain thinks like that. I know the thought doesn’t make sense, but I can’t stop it coming and sticking. The compulsions are something I can stop. But stopping compulsions is not easy. I’ve heard many people say, “Just stop doing it.” It’s not that simple. A compulsion is a release, which in an ironic twist actually increases anxiety and the obsessive process. For me, I feel like I cannot move on until I complete my compulsion. With therapy and sometimes medication, the compulsions can be stopped. But I have to be open to the work, and not everyone with OCD is ready for that. You can’t force a person to get better. I had to want it for the therapy to work.

And sidenote–not everyone uses medication. Medication can be very helpful because it reduces the anxiety that feeds OCD. I take medication for a better quality of life–so I can be present in moments and in my work instead of stuck in my head. Exercise helps too. Even if you personally don’t agree with medication, don’t knock someone for using it. Yes, meds can be abused, but so can any number of things. For those of us who choose meds and don’t abuse them, the meds help to give us our lives back. It’s a personal choice; don’t hate on someone for theirs. I don’t care if you don’t use medication; that’s your choice, and if it works for you, great! But I like taking my meds.

2.) “Why does anyone need to know you have OCD? Why are you even talking about it?”

We talk to educate. We talk to reduce the stigma. We talk to help others who might be too afraid to seek help because they feel alone.

Why does anyone need to know anything about anyone? I honestly found this comment the most nonsensical. If we didn’t talk about ourselves, how would others get to know us? And what’s so wrong with admitting we have a disorder? I used to be afraid to reveal I have OCD. But when I started just being open about it, I felt free. It feels so good to not hide in fear. By not saying it, I was treating the disorder like something to be ashamed of. But I am not ashamed. I have OCD. That doesn’t mean I’m somehow less than everyone else. I’m not better than anyone else because I have it either. I’m just me. I have a disorder. I fight it. I educate others. I will not stop telling people I have OCD.

And you know what I’ve found? The more I tell people I have OCD, the more I find out that so many people are affected by mental illnesses and disorders. OCD is more common than you would think. Some people have talked me about suffering depression or other mental health issues. I love it because it’s getting the word out and reducing the stigma. Before I started talking, I felt very alone. I felt like my disorder wasn’t very common and that I would be hard-pressed to find others with the disorder. How wrong I was. And I hope that because I talk about it, someone else will no longer feel alone. I guess you could say I’m looking for attention–but not because I’m self-absorbed or want everyone to think I’m just so special. I want to bring attention to the disorder and education. I want the stigma to go away. And that doesn’t happen unless we’re talking about it.

I want to point out that OCD comes in various degrees and types. It’s not all just checking doors and washing a lot. To go into the list would take too much time in this post. There are many types. Some people suffer mild symptoms that don’t interfere with their lives. Some people suffer moderate symptoms that interfere with life to enough of a degree that treatment is needed. And some people suffer extreme symptoms that keep them from living their lives. I’ve met people people suffering all these degrees. I’ve seen the effects firsthand. And I can attest that OCD is real, and it can be a major problem for some.

OCD Awareness Week is coming up, and I plan to help spread awareness. Please let me know if you have any questions about OCD. I’m more than happy to share my experience and what I know.