Mental Health

The Reluctant Sentimentalist

I’m trying to figure out how I’ve gotten so much cornier as I get older. Shouldn’t the cynicism be firmly entrenched by now? I’ve long said that I’m only masquerading as a cynic, which is true. I know life can be incredibly difficult, and I’ve faced some dark days myself. If running away from my brain ever became an option, I’d likely do so for an hour or two, maybe even a weekend. That aside, I hold onto hope for reasons I can’t understand, and that scares the crap out of me.

But now things have gotten out of hand. I may or may not cry when I see a sentimental story. I also look at dogs and kittens and maybe even miniature humans and think, “How cute.” And I’m blaming all this on my niece. She’s six, so she can handle the responsibility.

The fact that I become a big weepy mess when she invites me to school functions is all her fault. That I say “I love you” more often to other humans, including that little one, is all her fault. That I want to do better by her is all her fault. And I’m no stranger to temper tantrums, bouts of screaming, and nose-picking. We have that in common. But here’s the thing: it’s amidst all this that I still find love. Damn her.

The world has not prepared me for this. I am completely caught off-guard by my love for her. (If you’re interested in how this all started, I wrote this story about it.) And it’s made me so so saccharine. But – big sigh – I think it’s good for my mental health. You need a cause bigger than yourself to feel fulfilled, and while I’m still working on that in terms of my career and my passions, I have my niece to thank for showing me who I’m working for. The world is hers now, and – forgive my corniness, for I have sinned – I want to make it just a little better.

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OCD

Sing with me!

So I ran across this article in The Atlantic: “Relieve Your Anxiety by Singing It.” Essentially, the author talks about how therapists are using Songify as a way to help patients cope with various anxiety disorders, including OCD. Songify basically turns your speaking voice into song, robotic, ridiculous song.

You have no idea how much this speaks to me. I am the queen of making up ludicrous songs. Also, I know that my OCD is ridiculous, but I just can’t stop ritualizing. That’s the power of OCD, right? Well, I thought I’d try it. I’ve long known about how recording your rituals can help ease the pain associated with them, but this is the first time I’ve actually done so. I think the idea of putting them to song is less scary for me. So here’s the result: This is My OCD. I sense a Grammy in my future – although a life with less anxiety would be a nice consolation prize.

What do you think of this idea? Would it work for you?

Anxiety, Depression, OCD

Ask for Help

The first time I needed help, I only asked for it when I hit a breaking point. I had known about my OCD for years, and only once did I try to speak up about it. It was a failed attempt that included me stumbling around for the right words to say. I forgive myself for that now, but I would love to go back and say, “You don’t have to wait to ask for assistance.”

For whatever reason, I set up my own self-fulfilling prophecy. I knew I wouldn’t get help for my OCD unless something devastating happened. I believed my OCD had to get so out of control that I’d have no choice but to seek assistance. Then the devastating thing happened. My friend died in a car accident, and I couldn’t handle it. I was teaching at the time, and I’m grateful for those hours I spent in front of the classroom. While up there, you’re forced to concentrate on the task at hand. There’s no time for lingering thoughts. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again because it’s so true: performance has much in common with mindfulness, and it’s one of the reasons I feel at home when I adopt a persona, be it as a teacher or a comedian. Don’t get me wrong; I am myself when I teach, but I’m also performing a bit. I’m the version of me that’s not an introvert.

During that terrible time after the accident, when I was home alone or just sitting still somewhere, I couldn’t escape the rituals. Unexpected accidents are a chief concern of my OCD-addled mind. Nearly every ritual I complete is a stopgap against this uncertainty. At this point, I was checking traffic reports every time my sister went to work to make sure she was safe. I called my parents every night to see if they were still alive. I could no longer sit quietly and watch TV or read a book. And still I didn’t get help.

My body pushed me in the right direction. I became so ill with the flu that I had to go to the ER. The nurse who took my information offered me a ride to the room in a wheelchair. I thought she was joking, even convinced myself I didn’t need no freakin’ wheels. The nurse knew better. She kindly, gently got me to sit down, and I was grateful for it.

I recovered from the flu, but my mind was still wary. It took me sobbing on the phone to my mom to finally say, “Hey, perhaps I should call a psychologist.” I had reached my breaking point. But here’s the thing: there shouldn’t have to be a breaking point. I wish we could all be free to say, “I need help.” Even now, I’ve hardly learned my lesson. I’m hurting deeply, and I know I need to make a phone call. I’ll do it, if only because I’ve said I will so very publicly. But those words are still hard to write.

Ultimately, I can’t be an advocate if I don’t take care of myself. I’m going to take care of myself.

OCD

What if I don’t have OCD?

The first time I went to see a psychiatrist, I thought, “What if he says I don’t have OCD?” Though not a doctor myself, I was fairly certain I did have OCD. I had read about it, and the symptoms seemed to match mine. Perhaps not completely, but every case is different, right? It wasn’t until I was face to face with the reality of seeing a doctor that I briefly wondered if I’d gotten it wrong.

I’m fascinated by the brain, and if I were smarter, I may have become a neuroscientist. As it is, I just read books about the brain and its myriad dysfunctions. There are worse habits. At any rate, my accuracy in diagnosing brain disorders was at 100%. See, I had just diagnosed one of my students with synesthesia. During a creative writing class, she began describing how each letter for her had a particular color when it’s said aloud. This rang bells for me. I told her about synesthesia, and she checked it out. She’d always thought she was odd in a bad way. I feel like I actually did her a service. Man, I miss teaching.

Presently, however, I was facing the intake specialist. She wanted me to describe the reason for my visit. I was nervous and thoroughly overwhelmed by my (perceived?) OCD. My friend had died in a car wreck, which made my symptoms spiral out of control. The stress alone brought on the worst flu I’d ever had, for which I was only just recovering. So I likely fumbled a bit, didn’t quite articulate what I truly wanted to say. I mentioned OCD, and she scribbled notes. She seemed more interested in the trauma. I steered her back to the OCD. Was I leading the witness? Ultimately, she recommended that I see a counselor for the recent trauma, and (perhaps perfunctorily?) also recommended that I see one of the psychiatrists in the practice who “deals with OCD.” That seemed terse. Did she not believe me?

I had to wait a week before I could see the doctor, but his name was auspicious: Dr. Still. Yes! He’d keep me calm. Providing I actually had OCD, that is.

The agonizing week finally ended, and I met the doctor, who looked to be about 21. “So soon out of med school,” I thought. “Would he really have the diagnostic tools necessary to meet my needs?” This sentiment was unfair, but I was nervous and overwhelmed. I told him my symptoms, and he just kept writing notes. I alternately felt both assured by my doctoring and horrified that I’d gotten my diagnosis completely wrong. I think I may have squeaked out, “I guess it’s OCD.”

He finally put the pen down and said, “Oh, you have OCD.”

That made me laugh a little with relief. Then I thought, “Wait. Is he chastising me?” This was another unfair assessment because he followed with the best words I’ve ever heard in dealing with this disorder. “You’ve just been coping?” he said. “For over 20 years?”

I nodded.

“Well, I want you to do so much more than cope.”

Thank you, Dr. Still, for helping me thrive.

Writing

Is my blog feeling left out?

This is another post where I’m referring to writing I’ve done elsewhere. This time it’s a piece about  incorporating humor in your writing, and it’s over at Ask Your Editor.

Apparently, sometimes I talk about things other than OCD. My poor blog, however, might be feeling left out. If my blog has become sentient, I might be in trouble.

Ask Your Editor is a great site to visit for questions about editing and writing. Amanda, who runs the joint, is an awesome human and excellent writer and editor.