Anxiety

Building a Better Ellipsis

Today in my internet ramblings I found this statistic: women hit the nadir of their happiness at 38 ½. Even without scientific backing, this feels right. I’m 38 ½ (yes, I still count with halves), and I’m sad. Before I move on, let me say that I’m angling for an optimistic post. My initial response to this stat was: “Of freaking course!” After that, I thought, “Well, here comes the upside.”

Let me be honest and say how unhappy I’ve been feeling, even intimating to some that I’m going through a mid-life crisis. Mostly, I think this is because I’m adjusting to several big life changes. Not only have I moved to another state for a mediocre job, but my family just lost their house and thought it would be fun to camp out in my one-bedroom apartment. We make s’mores and sing Kumbaya every night. My anxiety has also turned my brain into an echo chamber of doom. When I say that phrase, it’s with mock melodrama, so it sounds funny. When I’m living that phrase, it’s doesn’t feel so funny.

Every morning I wake up and think, “This can’t be it.” That’s another phrase tinged with both hope and despair. When I’m tired and cranky as I head out to my mediocre job, I’m not feeling so optimistic. But when I’m writing and thinking and exploring topics of interest, “this can’t be it” has transformative power. There’s definitely more. So much more. To be sure, though, such hope is difficult to hang on to. And yet…

I should end this post at that ellipsis, weigh down those few dots with possibility. But hope only comes with real work, and I don’t even know what kind of work that entails. Pick up the pen; put down a few words. Watch some stand-up comedy. Set goals. Dream a little bit. Pay attention. That sounds like a good start.

That’s also not where I want to end this post. It’s too tidy and trite. Here’s something more specific: my current goal is not to give in to anxiety for three minutes. Then I’ll go for another three. I don’t know where I came up with that time frame, but it feels more authentic than five minutes. 2:59…2:58… That’s a better ellipsis.

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Magical Thinking

Just a Thought

When you have OCD you live in a world of magical thinking. One moment of anxiety and you think, “Well, that’s portentous.” You start believing your body is psychic, that it’s divining secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. “This has to mean something. My body doesn’t lie!” When really that panicked feeling, that moment when you can’t catch your breath, is just anxiety. It might even be gas.

For nearly seven months I’ve woken up with feelings of dread. This has come about because of a flood of changes in my life. I’ve moved to another state, gotten a new job, had an existential crisis, and given up yodeling. Add in some money trouble and familial stress, and you get more fun than a day at Disneyland. The fluttering in my guts and bonus heartbeats have become Pavlovian. Cue the alarm clock and let the discordant trumpets play in my chest.

You’d think with such chronic discomfort I’d stop giving credence to the signals my body sends out. Alas, anxiety doesn’t respond to logic. I’ve been trying, somewhat intermittently, to use mindfulness as a mode of combat. “Look at that shiny thought. It’s just a thought. Here comes a feeling. It’s just a feeling.” And yet, the gravitational pull of these thoughts and feelings is enough to bring the moon crashing into the global ocean. Still, I’ll keep trying.

OCD in the wild

About the Target Sweater

I have OCD and I’m not offended by a top that says “Obsessive Christmas Disorder.” What bothers me most is not the sweater itself, but some people’s reactions to those who are offended by it. I do stand-up and often make fun of my OCD, but I do so within the context of understanding the disorder; my jokes aren’t borne out of malice. Interestingly enough, so many people who are dismayed by OCDers’ dismay tell us to lighten up.

The other thing we’re told is: Don’t we have better things to worry about than a stupid sweater? I see where these individuals are coming from. We live in a dangerous world, as evidenced by the attacks in Paris, the horror in Syria, and the countless other acts of violence that are perpetrated every day. In the midst of all this, an unfunny sweater on sale at Target seems trivial. But for many of us with OCD, what’s bothersome about the reactions to the top is that such comments speak to a casual disregard of mental illness in general and OCD in particular. (Not all reactions were like this. Some people have spoken with empathy about people with mental illness.) OCD is difficult and debilitating and horrifying. Being told to lighten up and worry about what matters comes off as crass.

I’m sure most of us can agree that destigmatizing mental illness and fighting for access to affordable care are absolutely important, but these issues get buried beneath false dichotomies. We’re talking at cross purposes. The violence in the world must be discussed, and so too must the issues surrounding mental health care. There’s room in this world to have reasoned discussions about both.

I don’t believe that people are being willfully ignorant about OCD. Perhaps I’m naïve. But I do know that OCD is widely misunderstood and oftentimes misrepresented in popular culture. Instead of pushing back against the torrent of invective, I’d rather have informative conversations about the topic. That’s why I write, why I tell jokes, and why I’m open about having OCD.