Statistics has been the biggest confidence boost of the year. I got a 90, making it the first math class I’ve gotten an A since probably the 2nd grade!
This kind of takes me back to my first semester in college. Coming from homeschooling through high school, and only recently getting over the anxiety I dealt with since childhood, I was barely ready to jump back into public academia. A huge reason I home schooled was my anxiety! I was so unsure of myself, I had no idea how this was going to work – or even if it would work.
I came out of my first semester with a 4.0 GPA.
It was an utter shock. I had no idea I could be good at school! My last years in public school were absorbed in Bs, Cs, Ds, and the feeling of failure. It turns out, I am good at school! Public school just failed me!
The moment I received those four “As” in my first semester, I felt like I could do anything. Going forward, I had a whole new sense of who I was and what I was capable of. I started believing I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I even thought about becoming a naturopathic doctor for a little while! Five years ago, I would have never considered becoming a doctor or applying to an Ivy League school. Yet, in February, I will be applying to an Ivy League school.
It may be “just” an Associate’s Degree, but it’s taken a lot for me to get here today. It’s taken a lot of sweat and tears to get this 2 year degree. (That’s taken 3 years to finish, but that doesn’t matter!) It’s taken a lot to become who I am today. And I cherish those three years that have shaped me greatly. I’ve had so many new experiences and learned so much more than what’s taught in class. And I am so, so happy even to feel like I’ve reached a milestone in my college career. It felt like it would last forever! This reward has reminded me there is an end goal! And it’s good, and it comes with a neat case.
I didn’t think I would cry during the graduation. I wasn’t even particularly excited. I was kind of embarrassed to get this much attention. But when I walked into that auditorium I felt such a sense of pride. Then, when the commencement speaker started to talk about fear, I almost started crying! (Here’s my synopsis: Fear is a roadblock, don’t listen to fear, persist through fear, you’re here because you were afraid but you came to college anyway,” awwwwwwww!).
I’m so excited for what the experience of getting a Bachelor’s degree will bring me. Also, the experience of returning to the work force during my nine months between colleges. And who knows, maybe I’ll get to experience getting a post-graduate degree too!
If you can’t decipher that, I’m returning to college in the Fall at a new school (to be decided) and taking the next semester off. I’ll be working and hopefully volunteering during that time. And yes, I’m hoping to get back into making videos!
Ps. Between public middle school and college, obviously I did get better grades while home schooled. Now, I will always insist home school is real school, but my parent’s did write my report cards. I had no way to know how I’d do in the real world (where I wasn’t in control of every curriculum), especially ~post-secondary education~.
I loved seeing my loved ones in Rhode Island last weekend.
When you say the words “loved ones,” you usually don’t expect that to include staff at a psychiatric hospital. This time, it does. Last weekend there was a reunion for the OCD program I went to when I was 16. Why would I fly up to Rhode Island just for a one-day reunion? Lots of reasons. First off, this was the only way I could get my father to let me visit my home state this summer. Second, I had been wanting to visit with an old friend for quite some time and this would be a good chance. Lastly and most importantly, I love and support my old hospital that much.
Most people don’t get as close to staff as I did. But when you’re in a program everyday for 6 months, let alone during a highly formative period in your life, bonds tend to form. The truth is, so much of who I am today is because of the staff at that hospital. It was where I ended up after first reaching out for help, it was where I first got diagnosed with OCD, and finally, it was where I recieved adequate treatment. The “adequate treatment” was from the staff I’m talking about today. Those were the people I spent 6 months with (7 if you count my second visit), some of which spent almost everyday in my home.
They were different from the start. For the first time in my life, I had therapists who didn’t hand me coping skills, assuming I’ll never be “normal,” so I might as well just try to avoid any illogical anxiety (no matter how debilitating). They didn’t tell me to snap a rubber band on my wrist, or mentally yell “stop” whenever I started obsessing. For the first time in my 10 years of therapy, there was an attitude of, “lets tackle this problem so you can live the life you want.”
They taught me to face my fears head on. And they’re the reason I’m the strong, determined, adventurous, confident, carefree warrior person I am today. They’re the reason I believe I can get married someday. They’re the reason I believe I can have a successful life. They’re the reason I believe I could get a PhD if I wanted to. Heck, they’re the reason I went to college to begin with!
I was homeschooled because of my anxiety. Before the OCD program, I had no idea if I could handle university classes, let alone be around so many people. Through facing fears greater than most people can imagine, I realized I can do anything if I have enough will (and act despite insecurities or fear of what people think).
They’re the reason I don’t live in fear anymore: they told me I can chose not to listen to it.
In addition to all the tools they gave me to defeat my OCD, I think the most helpful aspect was the atmosphere of the program. There’s nothing like being in a room of people, children and teens, who are supporting eachother and lifting eachother up. Meanwhile, in front of each of them is their own huge battle to face. For the first time in most of our lives, we were in a room of people who understood us. (I feel like I’ve spent the rest of my life looking for that roon again.) And the word “can’t”? It’s completely unheard of. Either you’re taking your life back or you’re not, but there’s no “can’t” in anxiety. Fighting our fears wasn’t as hard when we were in that room, either. In fact, sometimes it was fun. I guess this is proof that a load weighs less when people are helping you carry it.
The staff instilled in us an attitude of resilience, then we instilled that into eachother. But even in our worst moments, it was never so dark that we couldn’t crack a smile.
The OCD program taught me all of that and more, and these lessons have stuck with me until today. In many ways, they made me into who I am. However, I wouldn’t say I’m a different person. I would say they got rid of the barriers keeping me from being the person I always wanted to be.
My gratitude for them is greater than I can express. I thank God for them, because it was God who brought me to this hospital at just the right time. And now I want to do all I can to pay it forward.
If I have anything to say to the public in this post, it’s a massive thank you to mental health professionals. Thank you to those of you who devote you lives to helping people who probably don’t like you, and most likely don’t want your help. I know it’s not easy to be the one to carry everyone else’s burdens (especially the burdens that come along with mental illness), but you do that with grace. Most people struggle to know what to say when other people are hurting, and would rather avoid the situation altogether. You went to school to get better at it. If you’re a mental health professional, a clinician, a counselor, or a therapist, that alone makes you awesome. We need more people like you in the world, and please never stop doing what you do!
You can see why I said it’s a gratitude greater than I can express. When I try to express it, it turns into a rambling jumble of encouragment phrases.
Visiting them is an amazing way to consolidate my recovery, which, in a way, stemmed from a relationship with these people. In no way do I believe it hinders my recovery, or that my immense admiration for them is unhealthy. In reality, going back reminds me of where I came from, and why I’m still fighting. Even years later and a thousand miles away. Also, it’s a way to thank the staff that I love.
This year a documentary is being filmed on the hospital, so I also got interviewed by producers of the documentary. (There’s no guarentee footage of my interview will make it in the show, but when I have more information I’ll let you know.) That was a great experience. Not only was I saying the things I love to say about mental health, OCD, and exposure and response prevention, but I was saying those things on the grounds on which I learned them. I’ve done interviews before, but this one was unique in that way. It was also unique in that it’s for cable television.
The night after the reunion, I got to spend time with my lovely cousins at one of my favorite restaurants. It was a breath of fresh air to see the familiar faces on that side of the family. The next day, I met up with a friend from elementary school I hadn’t seen in probably 5 years. 5 years! Although it had been so long, the bond between us was still there. It was sentimental and just good. I don’t want to go into details, but seeing her was amazing.
Perhaps I went to Rhode Island focusing on the reunion, but every experience I had there was heartwarming. I feel like that’s not the best word to describe it, but when I got back that’s how I felt: warm. Warmed by seeing friends, family, and familiarity I haven’t seen in so long. Even the airport was comforting!
So, yes, it was worth it to fly up to Rhode Island for a weekend. When that weekend is full of people who build you up and lighten your load to carry in life, yes, it’s worth it.
Ps. Once again the only sunburn I got this summer was in Rhode Island, thanks to the reunion being held outside. Oh well, my skin picking tendencies like watching the skin peel off anyway. (I mean, EW GROSS! 😛 Half of you will like that comment, surely!)
It doesn’t make much sense. I’ve never had an eating disorder. I’ve never had a disordered relationship with food. That is, unless you count the times I forget to eat because I’m busy being a perfectionist (i.e. OCD ritualizing) on whatever project I’m enthralled in, or times like last week when I couldn’t express my emotions and ate a whole box of chocolates instead.
I don’t know why eating disorders strike such a nerve in me. Reading about them-although I want to learn and I’m very interested in eating disorders-I always end up painfully, heartwrenchingly, akin-to-my-darkest-bouts-of-depression sad. Like mourning for a loss I didn’t have.
Maybe it’s because I see myself in them.
I recognize wanting to please my disorder so much I was killing myself while trying to help myself. I recognize turning my back on doctors and reason because what’s in my head is much more convincing.
The following is something I wrote during a really hard night this week. When I wrote it, I wasn’t planning on posting it. It didn’t even cross my mind to do so. However, today I read this to my therapist along with the “stream of consciousness” writing I also did that night. And she responded by saying,
“You’re a beautiful writer,
but there’s a lot of pain in that.”
Her compliment was what made me think about posting this. Because I’ve been wanting to tell you all how I’ve been feeling. And to be honest, I’ve been having a lot of bad days lately. The day that I wrote this, all of these bad days and sad, scary feelings all came out. I had to face it, and I am so glad I wrote it down in that moment. Although reading it makes me sad, I can use this as an outline for a plan. I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to forget the hardest feelings by the time I get to therapy. Not too helpful with feeling better. It’s like the feelings go dormant until something triggers this volcano that is my emotions to explode.
I’m sorry for the lack of videos. Even my dad said he missed them. Not posting a video for 5 weeks makes me sad, but mostly disappointed in myself because I know it’s my fault. I’m trying hard not to beat myself up, because I know that won’t help the depression. Plus, it’s mostly because school is so busy, but I could do it if I tried. OCD has been getting in the way.
And my “stream of consciousness” writing talks about how disappointed I am and how I’m not living for my values right now. I will not be posting that, however, because it’s way too dark and not written in proper grammar in the slightest.
Anyway, if you are easily triggered or having a bad day, probably don’t read on. Especially if you have harm or sexual obsessions. Unless you want an exposure, in which case go for it! Because this is me when I’m not accepting my thoughts. When I’m not exposing, but believe they could actually be true. These are obsessions when they cause depression more than anxiety. This is me on my worst days.
I feel this could be helpful to show that even in recovery I still obsess. I still ritualize. I still have OCD. It waxes and wanes, and right now it’s waxing. This is the worst of my thoughts on the worst of my bad days:
Humans can justify a whole myriad of horrible, disgusting actions. So, I’m not saying my intrusive thoughts can come true, but I am saying we can delude ourselves into thinking we feel a way that we naturally might not. And not in an OCD way, like “OCD says it’s true so it is”, but in a normal human way. We can lie to ourselves. Maybe better than we can lie to others. We can convince ourself to do anything, if we justify it with thinking it will be better off if we did this. WE would be better off if we did this. Humans justify murder, rape, adultery, with this line of thinking. It’s so easy. We see this happen in movies all the time, and you think “how could someone be so cruel?” But it happens in real life all the time. It’s not just art. It’s art imitating life.
I think maybe animals are better off than humans. Instincts seem to work so much better than complex thought. An animal with the instinct to be monogamous does not cheat on it’s mate. It does not cause pain to it’s partner. It takes care of it. There aren’t deadbeat dads in animals not programmed to be that way.
We are programmed to be monogamous, and to love, and to want to be loved, and to love ourselves. Yet, somehow, some [censored] how, we can convince ourselves otherwise. We justify murder in the name of love. We are the most dangerous animals out there and it’s not because of our instincts, it’s because of our intelligence. We know nothing and act like we know everything, and mess up everything in the process.
A song can make us feel that we’re in love with someone. A change in how we think can make us feel in love. I could very easily feel just as delusional. I have before. I’ve justified obvious sins, by saying “it is better off, God would want this,” when it is obvious from the Bible that he doesn’t. I didn’t murder anyone, but I got myself hurt, and I disobeyed God. And by that logic I could do it again.
I could do it again.
If I look at a picture of someone and feel a postive feeling I could most definitely fall in love with them, or delude myself into thinking I’m in love with them. I could make bad decisions in the name of this delusion. Humans.
It starts out as a box with plenty of room to move around, OCD is only asking you to avoid a few minor things.
You think, “Okay, it’s alright that I’m avoiding this OCD fear, I have all of these things I’m not afraid of to replace it!” Slowly but surely, OCD asks you to avoid more and more things. And the more you do what OCD says, the smaller your box becomes. Before you can even realize it, your box is tiny and cramped. You can hardly move without OCD asking you to avoid more fears and thoughts.
That’s how avoidance works in OCD. It never stops at the first thing, the OCD always grows.
On the other hand, when we tell OCD we’re not going to avoid or do compulsions, our box grows. At first, it hurts because we’re not used to stretching and pushing this heavy box that’s kept us stuck in the same position for so long. Even though it’s hard, slowly but surely we can do the things we love again. And that’s what makes it worth it.
We want your box to be big enough to hold the whole world again, so you can do the things you love and be happy.
When we first start facing our fears, they usually do get worse for a little while. But if we can stick that first while out, it makes a world of difference in our recovery! Get past that first stretch, and you can get through anything!
If the first stretch turns out to be too hard, we might need a little boost. This is where medication and supplements come in handy. When starting therapy for OCD, doctors often immediately put the patients on medications. This is because they know the patients are already in pain and that that first stretch may be a lot for them. The medication dulls the anxiety to the point that patients can start doing exposures (growing their box) and make it through the heightened anxiety.
I hope you feel better soon and have the strength to fight your OCD. In the meantime, know that I’ve had severe OCD fears around thing I loved to do. And now I can do those things as much as I want, with no anxiety. I could only do that by feeling that OCD fear and doing what I want anyway. Praying for you. But I know you got this!
Ps. This was originally written to a friend in a Facebook support group. But a lot of people liked it, so I edited it a bit and published it here. I made this analogy a while ago, but haven’t shared it too much yet (I thought I needed an OCD analogy, because all the good OCD professionals have one!). 😉
Special thanks to Zoltan for getting me to type this out! And everyone who encouraged me to post it. And Laura for being the best co-moderator ever! 😀
Right now I’m laying in the front yard on my bean bag chair, watching my dog’s heavy breathing in front of me. His toys are scattered across the grass, making it look like I have a two-year-old brother rather than a nine-year-old dog. Popped balls, dormant Frisbee’s, and exploded stuffed animals atop the grass, but Gator isn’t interested. He just lays there, resting silently.
I am honestly amazed by the beauty of nature. However, I am even more amazed that I don’t enjoy it like I used to.
I walk through this front yard every day. Although, it’s usually on the same path. From the car to the doorway. I touch very little grass and any grass I do touch is through the bottom of my shoe.
As a child I spend a lot of time outside. I played in the sandbox, in the mud, on my bike, in the pool. When it snowed I couldn’t wait to jump in it. As soon as the first snowflake fell I wanted to be out there. I wanted to run and play and I didn’t care if I fell down or my hands went numb from the cold. I protested snow pants and the bags over my socks my mom insisted on.
Nowadays, when it snows I just want the plows to come so I can go shopping. You know, what I find fun now.
I look out the window and admire the snow. It looks beautiful, peaceful. But I don’t enjoy my time outside in it. I think about playing in it, but “it’s too cold”. When I must walk in it, I complain about my frozen ears and focus on shielding my electronics.
It’s easy to chalk this change up to growing up. I am an adult now, it’s normal to spend less time outside. My one qualm with this theory is my dad.
My dad spent much of his childhood outside. Him and his 5 brothers spent their summers at the local pool and he grew up to be a diver for his university. There are plenty of home videos of them playing outside in the snow. But when he grew up, he kept swimming and he kept playing.
When I was old enough, he taught me how to play outside. He played soccer up until a few years ago. He was the assistant coach on my own soccer team. And when I grew out of it, he had the dog.
My dad still spends most of his days in nature. He still seems to find beauty in it.
When I go outside and look at the trees, I find it beautiful, but I don’t have that sense of wonder that I used to. Even looking out at the mountains of the Carolinas, I don’t feel overwhelmed with their beauty. I don’t feel moved.
I worry I say it’s beautiful because I have to. It’s expected of me to. When I was a child or even a younger teenager, I would be moved by the smallest piece of nature. Now I’m thinking about other things. “I have to edit a video, I’m late for my appointment, I have to get dinner, blah blah blah…”
My mind has been influenced by this fast paced society. Society constantly tells us to go and do, never to stop and listen.
Then they market new technology like it is the answer to our problem. Saying if we buy the latest iPhone, we’ll be able to do better, and therefore, be better.
But it only makes us more stressed out. It takes us farther away from stopping and listening.
I wonder if my attachment to my phone is part of the reason I stopped enjoying the outdoors. The older I got, the more I was interested in new gadgets and less interested in being outside. Why would I go outside when I have an infinite amount of entertainment at my fingertips?
Once I got an iPhone, my connection to the internet became literally constant. There were very few times when I had no way to get online for an extended period of time.
Actually, there were four times.
The only times I’ve been without the internet were when I was inpatient in the mental hospital.
My second time inpatient was after I got an iPhone. Now, when I tell you my connection to the internet was constant, you better believe I took advantage of it. My iPhone was the best distraction from my severe OCD. I had obsessions from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep, so the phone was always by my side. In the weeks leading up to the inpatient stay, I spent my days only laying in bed and playing on my phone. Although it was my easiest distraction, I still had obsessions and compulsions while using it. It was also used to compulsively research my newest theological “discoveries.” I would read from the most obscure webpages and believe it was the absolute truth, because that means OCD can accuse me of being a sinner for believing the “wrong” thing.
(Just a note, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Especially if OCD says it’s true.)
I was like a zombie. I was making no progress with my life or my recovery, if you could even call it that.
My last time inpatient, I was definitely in recovery. However, it was hard for me to keep up with therapy. Things in my life were very hectic and different. I had just graduated high school and was preparing to go away for a week without my parents. It would have been the first time I had been away from them for a week by choice, rather than necessity. However, I was going through a bad OCD spike that made me incredibly depressed. I wouldn’t focus on therapy and I stopped doing frequent exposures. I got out of my recovery mindset and started giving into compulsions and depressive thoughts. The internet was my distraction once again.
Without that distraction while inpatient, I was able to focus on myself. I was able to make a new recovery plan. I started from scratch and built up from where I left off. Instead of just idly letting things go downhill, I took action.
This obviously wasn’t only because I didn’t have my phone. But without it, I was able to look at my surroundings. I saw the trees and grass and appreciated it more than the hard, cold tile of the mental hospital. I looked at my life objectively, out of the lens of life’s pressures, and was able to start anew. Most teenagers groan of the idea of no internet, but in all honesty, being away from society for a little while is refreshing. Focusing on yourself and not worrying about what anyone else thinks of you is what makes your time spent inpatient so productive.
Without life’s distractions, you can find methods to get your life back to where you want it to be.
While sitting outside on the grass, I realized that maybe in order to get my life to where I want it to be, I need to take a break from the internet. It might be a little reminder of what’s important in life.
I can spend more time outside and have more quality time with the Earth. I can go on adventures and get my amazement for God’s creation back. Yes, me and the Earth are going to be best friends after this vacation.
It’s been a few weeks since I started this post and I am just now finishing it. I’m still unsure of the rules I will implement for this internet vacation, but I would like it to happen sometime this summer. And if you all are interested, I will blog about it.
Hope you liked my ramblings today. Let me know if you relate to anything I wrote in this post! I know it went a little bit everywhere.
Ps. I’m feeling a lot better since I started this post. I feel like my life is getting back to where I want it without the vacation. Although the vacation would still be nice.
I am doing a bit of a vacation with internet access, but I will talk about that in a vlog! 😉
Last night, possibly for the first time, I wanted to look at a picture and check my feelings as a compulsion. The urge was so strong, but I resisted. It is possible to resist compulsions. It’s incredibly hard, but possible.
It feels like you’re putting a lot on the line, but in reality you’re not. I think the logical side of you knows that. And in five minutes, or fifteen minutes, or an hour, when your anxiety has gone and you’ve forgotten what started it in the first place, you will see that it’s true.
In the moment, anxiety makes us feel like our thoughts are a threat. Like they must come true, because we thought them. However, that is only the result of our faulty brains. Making up meanings for thoughts that have no meaning.
In reality, thoughts are just thoughts. Everyone has them and they are harmless, to everyone.
My therapist and I have been working on exposing myself to the root of my fear. That I might be attracted to someone taboo. This means, instead of writing out my intrusive thoughts objectively, I write out the meaning I (falsely) apply to them.
I think that may be why this urge to ritualize was so strong.
But I’ve heard stories of people who have this compulsion. One minute of checking turns to two, then five, then ten. One photo brings feelings that are too conflicting, so add another, and another. Then it’s more than just the person you started with, it’s anyone who meets the qualifications set by OCD.
But that is true of all compulsions, isn’t it?
I wasn’t going to jump down that rabbit hole. I know where it ends.
That’s why when I get a new compulsion I try my absolute hardest to resist. No matter how strong the urge is. One compulsion always turns into two. And like drug tolerance, we become tolerant to the compulsion. So we have to do more and increasingly intrusive rituals.
When you look at it that way, it’s much easier to not ritualize in the first place.
Don’t look at rituals as momentary relief, look at them as giving OCD the foothold it needs to control you. That’s all it really is.
It is terrifying to resist compulsions, especially for the first time. However, it is necessary to recover from OCD.
Fight the bully, don’t feed the bully.
I like to think of OCD as the alien from Doctor Who that lives in electronics. If you don’t watch Doctor Who, you will have no idea what I’m talking about, but bare with me. If you do watch Doctor Who, I haven’t seen this episode in a while so I might be a bit off on the lore. Bare with me. Disclaimers aside, the alien feeds off of human’s faces because that is the “essence” of their being, so to speak. So the alien comes to Earth and goes into television screens, using satellite connections to be in many screens at once.
When a person is sitting on their couches watching television with their families, the alien appears on the screen in the form of a woman. It screams, “FEED ME! FEEEEEED ME!” As it sucks the face off of the people on the other side of the screen.
I remember watching the episode and thinking the alien was so gluttonous and disgusting. It will do anything to eat the most faces it can.
Then I realized, OCD is the same way. OCD comes into our lives shouting, “feeeeed me!” It starts off small, but grows larger and larger as we give it what it wants. It feeds off of our compulsions. And in doing that, our essence disappears. We become the person OCD wants us to be, rather than who we want to be. We become faceless.
To stop this, we must starve OCD. We will feel it’s whining and the result of it’s hunger pains. However, in doing this, it will shrink. And we can be ourselves again.