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!)

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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”

Inside The OCD Box

Having OCD is like being trapped in a box.

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!

Kat

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! 😀

Pps. Check out my channel for an overview of what I did at the Annual OCD Conference. I’ll have 1-3 videos about it coming out in the next month or so. 🙂 Stay tuned and subscribe to see them right when they come out! 

Women I Love

So, I was thinking about International Women’s Day and I decided to journal about it, since I have been journaling the past few nights. I was going to make a list of all the women who inspire me. Then, suddenly, I drew a blank.
I could think of all the men who inspire me, Jesus, Ghandi, Dr. Ben Carson… And, ironically, men who do not inspire me. But I could not think of a woman who does.

That baffles me. How could I, a strong woman myself, not have any strong women I look up to?

It really shows me how much inspirational women are missing from pop culture. All I hear about are celebrities (and criminal activity by those celebrities). I don’t hear about enough women who are good role models to young women like me-and younger young women, who need them more than I do.

So I set myself a challenge and did some digging. I decided to write a list of 10 women who inspire me. It took me over an hour, but I’ve now found them.

1) The Biblical Ladies– Ones who did great things for the Most High God and His Kingdom. I specifically wrote Esther, Ruth, Mary, and Mary Magdelene.

2) Malala Yousefzai. If you do not know who Malala is, you may be living under a rock. You might want to get out of it. Malala is a girl who, at 16 years old, got shot by the Taliban for promoting the idea that girls should go to school. As a woman who went to school, I know how important this is. Malala is a modest woman who stays true to her religion while condemning the acts of those who use her religion wrongly. I find myself doing the same thing. I think she’s younger than me, but I hope I can make an impact as big as Malala has.

3) Mayim Bialik. Mayim is an actress, but that’s not why she’s on this list. She’s on the list because she’s an actress, neuroscientist and Orthodox Jew. She gracefully applies the Jewish rules of Tzniut (modesty) to her life, while in the competitive world of acting. She also has some book smarts, considering she has a PhD in neuroscience. (Ps. “Some” is an understatement).

4) All the lady mental health YouTubers– On YouTube there are many courageous women who advocate for mental health. Young and old, we come together to help this world understand mental illness. Those of us who speak our stories inspire me most of all, as telling your story of a mental health challenge opens you up for a world of hurt. However, and I think my mental health YouTube friends will agree, it’s not usually as bad as we think it will be. And we get to help others in the process.

I specifically wrote down Kati Morton, LikeKristen, and LetsTalkTics. Go check them out!

5) Beckah Shea. Beckah Shea is a singer who I can describe best as a complete blessing. She overcame mental illness and now sings (and raps!) her heart out for Jesus. I got to meet Beckah and see her perform. Even while very pregnant, she was full of energy. She is walking in the Spirit, I have no doubt about that. Her personality left a handprint on my heart, I will not forget her anytime soon!

Definitely check her out if you like Christian music!

6) Katherine from my Messianic Synagogue. If you didn’t know, I’ve been going to a Messianic Jewish synagogue every Saturday (the Sabbath). Messianic means they believe that Jesus is the Messiah. There is no fellowship quite like it. It is an amazing feeling to worship the same way Jesus worshipped. Anyway, there is a woman at the synagogue who is very touched by my story and my headscarf. I haven’t told her, but I’m very touched by her story too. I admire her faith, her knowledge, and her love for Jesus and other people. She also has a PhD in pastoral counseling, so we bond over our shared interest in psychology. I hope to become more like her someday, because she has the fruits of the Spirit in her.

7) Shawna Houson. Shawna is a Youtuber I have watched for ages. She inspires me in my filmmaking, faith, mental health, and just over-all being a good person. She’s funny, but more than that, she’s real. She recently uploaded a video about how depression effects her life. If you watch Shawna (also known as Nanalew), definitely send her some love. (Yes, YouTubers do read comments!)

8) Female veterans, police officers, and firefighters etc. The females who save the lives of dainty girls like me every day. Doing what most of us do not have the courage to do. I know I don’t. If I was on a battlefield, I’d be gone before the first gunshot. So I pray the Most High blesses those women and keep them safe, because they are very special women and we need them.

I’d also like to mention, I’m inspired by women who do those jobs in head scarves. Proving to the world you can be in a head scarf and be strong and independent.

9) Women I met at the OCD clinic. When entering the OCD clinic, I don’t think I realized I would meet such beautiful people. The young kids & teens I met there are the strongest people I know. They fight a battle in their minds that you couldn’t even dream of without having OCD yourself. And in that program, they were winning. The young women I met there are the strongest women I know. They’ve been to Hell and back, but they’re still standing! I love those girls like crazy and think of them everyday! Which reminds me of a quote:

Sufferers of mental illness aren’t victims, they’re survivors.

If you’re suffering from mental illness, keep your head up, you’re a survivor. 🙂

10) Women relatives– Memere, Grandma, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Celine.

And the biggest inspiration and woman I love the most in my life, my mom! Mom, you are an amazing and strong woman. You went through hardships in life, but it hasn’t knocked you down. You support me and love me through my worst and best times. You love me unconditionally. You teach me what Jesus’ love is like, although I could not fathom all of it. Even though you deal with your own challenges, you still take care of me every day. You put others before yourself and that is admirable. I love you!