All throughout life, I’ve always placed a high importance on the idea of mental well-being. I’ve always believed that the mind is a very powerful tool, and has the capabilities of making people prosperous or ill in their endeavors, depending on how it’s used. I’ve always found great fulfillment in helping others battle their demons, and guide them toward the path of mental prosperity.
I am also, however, a person who’s great at giving advice, but horrible at taking it. Despite being there for friends, and even working several years at Community Mental Health with other individuals suffering from mental illness, I myself struggle with mental illness. Several years ago, I was officially diagnosed with Clinical Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While my case isn’t quite as severe as others with the condition, the effects can be stifling nonetheless.
For those that are unfamiliar with OCD, it’s best described as having unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings and ideas which become obsessions. To then offset the formed obsessions, the individual will develop compulsive behaviors to try and rid them of their obsessions. For example, an individual may get an obsession in their head that they’re dirty, so they’ll compulsively wash their hands. That happens to be one of my quirks. The obsessions, however, are not always that cut and dried, and can take many forms. The forms can sometimes be much more intense and unwanted than the idea of just being dirty.
On the morning of Wednesday, January 31, I had a turning point. As I was getting ready to go into work, I felt off, and a little on-edge. I could feel various unwanted and uncomfortable thoughts start to race through my head. Given that I normally stay busy to offset my repetitive thoughts and obsessions, I figured once I got to work and focused on the tasks at-hand, my feelings would subside. I was wrong.
Upon getting to work, and having the e-mails start to pile up, my head began to race. While this physical response is normal for me, this time felt more intense. The to-do list of things I was behind on in life was deafening in my head, to the point where my heart started racing, I felt my breath getting shorter, and I felt the familiar symptoms of a panic attack approaching. I began to feel light-headed, and physically sick. I noticed myself getting angry at the smallest of occurrences, and knew I just had to leave the situation, so after informing my supervisor of my current mental state, I did just that.
I barely left the building before I started hyperventilating. As I got to my car, I had a complete physical and emotional breakdown. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have driven home in that state, but it was hard to think clearly. Anyone who’s experienced panic attacks before know how powerless and vulnerable they can make someone. Upon getting home, and probably freaking my brother Joel out, given he’d only been asleep for a few hours, I decided to listen to the advice a close friend gave me who knows the internal battles I deal with on a daily basis. I decided I needed to make some changes in my life. Once I caught my breath, I picked up the phone and did something I should have done a long time ago: seek help.
I’ve been silently dealing with OCD for as long as I can remember, I was just never able to officially identify it until recently. For the most part, I’ve been fairly effective at handling my obsessions and compulsions. Only those very close to me even know I have this condition, and for those who don’t, probably just think I really like to practice good hygiene. Like the classic iceberg metaphor, the compulsions that are witnessed on the outside aren’t even scratching the surface of the obsessions that are persistent on the inside. The result of what happened on the morning of January 31 are indicative of how the obsessions can make someone feel like they’re drowning.
Soon after I made the phone calls to set up appointments to better handle my condition, a co-worker reached out to me on Facebook. She noticed I left in a hurry that morning, and just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Soon after that, the girl I recently started seeing found out I was having a rough day, and swung by to drop off some lunch in between her busy day of classes. It was in those nice gestures that I realized how truly blessed and loved that I am, and how fortunate I am to have the people in my life that I do. Often times I get so wrapped up in fictitious obsessions, I lose sight of all the wonderful, tangible things I have right in front of me.
Just the simple act of saying yes I have OCD, and I’m working on getting better, felt like a huge weight was being lifted off my shoulders. Life has highs and lows for everyone, but by seeking help, I wanted to better control my internal obsessions to appreciate the highs, and better handle the lows. Just the simple idea of action did wonders, because I felt like I was taking control of my life again, and working to be the best person that I could be.
I’ve been taking things one day at a time ever since, as anyone who’s trying to overcome an obstacle should. But I have some very special people in my life who have been helping me through it. I’m sure they get a little annoyed with my constant obsessing and worrying that I share with them, but they continue to stick around just to make sure I’m okay. More than anything, I’ve been learning acceptance. Rather than looking at a situation as “xyz makes me anxious,” I’ve been looking at it as “xyz makes me anxious, and that’s okay.” If I’ve learned anything, it’s not about getting rid of bad thoughts, it’s about being at ease with them.