How Recovery Changed My School Life (& Self Worth)

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~.

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Why I Love My (Old) OCD Clinic

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!)

Feel the Fear, But Do It Anyway 

You cannot have bravery without
fear.

Throughout my life, I’ve been afraid of many things. I thought my fear was something to hide from. An actual threat. Everyone taught me, hide under the covers. Do what you need to do to not feel anxious.

But that doesn’t solve anything, does it? 

Tonight I am inspired by the Biblical passage of 1 Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. When David was sent to bring food to his brothers fighting the Philistine army, he was thrust into a situation that had caused every Israelite soldier to cower in fear, literally run away from the battle. 

The nearly 10 foot tall Philistine Goliath was once again threatening the Israelites. He proposed that their armies do not fight, but if any Israelite was able to beat him alone, the Philistines would become Israel’s servants. However, if they lost, the Israelites would become the Philistine’s servants.

David, visiting his brothers in the battle line, asked what was going on. The soldiers told him the story and the great prize from King Saul; Saul’s daughter and exemption from taxes and service in Israel (That’s like no jury duty, woohoo! They should implement this in America, just saying).

David starts out bravely insulting the Philistine. Instead of rallying with him, David’s brother gets angry. He calls David conceited, his heart wicked. If that is true, David’s conceit was was obviously an advantage on that day.

When Saul heard of David’s remarks, Saul summoned David. David, the young boy, the shepherd from Bethlehem, boldly offered himself up fight Goliath. 

Without armor, without experience, David approached Goliath. Goliath mocked him, “Am I a dog? Is that why you’re coming at me with sticks?” But David’s stick was not a stick. It was actually (drumroll please) a shepard’s slingshot. While the slingshot didn’t even compare to Goliath’s spear, sword and javelin, David had another weapon. David announced:

 I’m coming to you in the name of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, the God I the armies of Israel, whom you have challenged. Today Adonai will hand you over to me. I will attack you, lop your head off, and give the carcasses of the army of the P’lishtim (Philistines) to the birds in the air and the animals in the land. Then all the land will know that there is a God in Israel.

Do you think David was fearful when he approached Goliath? The Bible does not say, but David’s bravery was greater than what fear he might have had.

This story teaches us to do what we desire, even when we’re fearful. In life, we will have amazing opportunities that will intimidate us. How we make that decision should never be based on the fear we feel, but our desire to take that opportunity. This is bravery! By pushing past fear, you’re already braver than those hundreds of Israelite soldiers. 

If you want to do something, feel the fear, but do it anyway! Feel the fear, but do it anyway. If we ever want to get where we want to be in life, we need to push past fear. 

In Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, we gain the tools to fight the giant that is OCD. Our slingshot, if you will. 

Sometimes OCD feels like a giant Goliath. Sometimes we want to run and hide (or compulse and avoid). However, that will never solve the problem. That will never win the war. No obsession you face can ever be solved by a compulsion. On the contrary, every obsession you face can be solved by acceptance. To fight OCD is to surrender to it. 

Sometimes this seems impossible. However, if you believe in such things, Matthew 19:26 in the Bible says that with God, all things are possible. A phrase I brought up a lot in the OCD clinic.

So with your slingshot and possibly with Adonai-Tzva’ot (Lord of Hosts), you can fight any Goliath in your life.