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! ūüėõ Half of you will like that comment, surely!)

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I’m Not Recovered. | & Eating Disorders

Reading about eating disorders triggers me.

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.

Tonight I read an article by someone who has an eating disorder. And they are not participating in Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Continue reading “I’m Not Recovered. | & Eating Disorders”

The Time I Went a Week Without Internet

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.

GATOR2
My dog, Gator!

 

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.

Zombies & Psychology
Just a pun intermission. (Or “puntermission”!)

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.

Kat ūüôā

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! ūüėČ