Hard, and Getting Harder

I don’t want to be that person that apologizes for a long absence. I had a goal to complete the 30 Days of Mental Health Awareness Challenge, and I do plan to get back to that. But I have abandoned this blog for months. Truth be told, life has just become too much. It’s been too hard to face all my demons. I know my old therapist would tell me that it is totally okay that I didn’t write anything for months, that it is totally okay that I am not being perfect.

The problem is, I’m dealing with a lot of feelings of failure lately, and I’m really struggling to let go of what is out of my control and to forgive myself for basically everything.

For nine months, I have been searching for a job. I chose to not look for work or complete an internship during my final semester of grad school because my OCD was bad, and I needed to focus on getting it under control and completing my schoolwork. Unfortunately, that has made it harder for me to find work. I chose to start my search a few months after graduation because I wanted some time to make sure I really had everything under control, because I want to be amazing at whatever job I do. I don’t want OCD to control me. But it’s worked against me. I’ve had some great interviews, and feedback always seems positive, yet I’m not chosen. I’m both overqualified and underqualified (long explanation). I’ve utilized my contacts list and gotten interviews, but I feel like I can’t keep asking for help anymore, because I’ve already asked so many times. This has devastated me. I have over three years of experience in my field. I have a master’s degree in my field. And yet I can’t get a job. I have never questioned myself and my choices so much in my life. I have tried to live without regret, but these days all I can think is that I should have gotten a master’s in psychology instead and worked toward being a psychologist.

In summary, I feel like a complete failure. I mean, I’ve always been an A student. I did impeccable work at my last job. And now I can’t find a job. Yeah, that’ll do a number on your self-esteem.

Considering that I struggle with perfectionism, this failure to find a job has hit me extra hard. I spend hours thinking about every little thing. Did I write the wrong thing in the cover letter? What did I forget to mention in that interview? What did that thing they said mean? What did the person they hired do that I didn’t? (Which of course is impossible to know.) I keep trying to improve. After every interview, I replay the whole thing so many times that I can’t clearly remember what happened, because the OCD sneaks in and twists things around by causing me to focus on details that were probably nothing to worry about. I recently snagged an interview for my dream job that I thought I did really well at, and I told my husband and friend that if I didn’t get it, I knew it would be the one to break me. And break me it did.

The moment I got the “You were awesome, but we went with someone internal” email, depression dropped on me like an anvil. I have been crushed under its weight ever since.

I spend my days alternating between screaming, crying, and melancholy. I sleep too much, and at all the wrong times. I do nothing for hours. Little interests me. I took a trip to my friend’s wedding shortly after this happened, and it took everything in me to get on the plane. I wanted to be there for my friend and with the people who love me, but I also really just wanted to stay in bed in the dark and not see or talk to anyone. I definitely was not myself throughout my trip, but thankfully my friends were understanding. I also spent some time with my mom, who let me spend my days sleeping and laying on the couch, without pushing me to talk about it until I was ready. She didn’t even ask about my job hunt.

I hate being this fragile. My anxiety is sky high; right now, the tiniest thing sets me off. My OCD has gotten bad again. I’ve been washing my hands like crazy, and I can’t escape from obsessive thoughts. I check the door lock too many times again. I’m back to hour-long showers. I have maintained a few successes, but my biggest struggles are definitely back with a vengeance. I know I need to find a new psychiatrist, since I have health insurance again, and get back on Prozac, which will help my OCD and depression. Meds help me, because they regulate the chemicals in my brain that cause all the anxiety and obsessive thinking. When in the midst of things, it’s hard for me to remember that a large part of this is biological–that I am not weak, my brain just doesn’t have the right balance. It’s hard to remember that I am not alone, that other people have struggled in the exact same situation. In the midst of this, all I do is wonder why I’m such a failure, wonder what everyone else is doing that is so much better than what I have to offer, wonder why I can’t ever seem to catch a break. Because on top of the job thing, I’m dealing with a lot of stressful things I can’t talk to people about–really heavy stuff that I’m pretty much carrying on my own. I have no answers. I know certain people are judging me and twisting perceptions of me, and they only know one side of the story–not mine. I feel very alone because of that. I know I’ve let people down. I know there are a lot of people who think I’m a snob or a jerk or this or that. I’m not really. I just haven’t had it in me to be social and open. It takes everything I have just to get out of bed in the morning. When I feel like this, I close off. I just want to escape from it all.

I want my lust for life back. I want to be contributing to society. I want to be doing something, anything. But I’m just not there right now.

It’s really scary for me to post this, to put this much detail about what’s been going on out there. I’ve put off writing this, because I’ve been so afraid to say it all. I guess I don’t want anyone to confirm my fear that maybe I really am not good enough. Or to use this against me later, since I’m still trying so hard. But I started this blog because I wanted to be real about OCD, anxiety, and depression. Millions of people suffer daily because of these. And I want the stigma to go away. I want people to know that they aren’t alone in these feelings, that someone out there has felt the same way and can still be happy and successful. I may not be there right now, and I may be struggling to believe the day will come when I will be there again, but every day I hold on to a glimmer of hope with all my might. I keep trying even though it takes a great amount of effort. Fake it until you make it, right?

If you’re feeling depressed, you’re not alone. If you struggle with OCD, you’re not alone. If anxiety fills you constantly, you’re not alone. But we can fight together. We can overcome. It might be a long journey, but every small step is still progress, and if we’re staying on the path and trying, then we’ll eventually make it.

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.