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.

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OCD

Stretch, Leap, Sail, Jump

I have this theory that OCD informs some of the risks I take. These are calculated risks, though some might say that’s absurd. That’s because these gambles involve jumping out of airplanes and leaping off tall buildings. But even as I’m filling out the paperwork to relinquish vendors of any responsibility for my potential death or dismemberment, I’m thinking, “Well, how often does the parachute fail to open?”

Here’s where the OCD comes in. The only way to get better is to face your fears. You have to flood yourself with anxiety in order for that anxiety to decrease. So jumping out of an airplane isn’t exactly exposure therapy, but part of me has taken these leaps to overcome the fear I’ve gotten so sick of throughout my life. (Please note that I’m not endorsing this behavior; I’m merely speaking from personal experience.)

OCD has been a constant source of pain and fear for me for nearly three-quarters of my life. I get tired of fear, so I’ve confronted it in myriad ways. To date, I’ve gone skydiving, jumped off the Stratosphere (twice), been zip-lining, and let my niece put bugs in my hands (which she finds hilarious).

A boss from long ago once told me I liked certainty. Based on his observations, I wasn’t someone who’d easily stretch beyond my comfort zone. He was ­­right and wrong. I do like certainty; it’s at the very root of my ritualizing. But I will push my limits. I don’t consider myself a thrill-seeker; I’m just someone who hates to be chained to fear. Perhaps it isn’t the OCD itself that informs my behaviors. Instead, there’s a lesson embedded in the recovery process. Stretch, leap, sail, jump – you’ll be happier for it.

Anxiety

Zeus Might Love Me

I’m pretty sure my mom’s cat knows I’m at DEFCON Dinosaur Extinction when it comes to my recent bouts with anxiety. He’s cuddling with me, asking about my day, and offering to do my laundry. That is why he sits on my clothing, right?

This is the same cat that once cornered me in a narrow hallway. Years ago (when I was an actual adult who wasn’t sharing her space with her entire family) Zeus told me that I was in his hallway. He did one of those throaty growls made all the more ominous because his mouth remained closed. Also, just a week prior he had torn a pair of my pants with my legs still inside them. Given the context I was afraid, so afraid that I called my mother over to rescue me.

“He’s throaty growling,” I said.

My mom laughed.

“His mouth is closed.”

More laughter.

I’m convinced she trains him in mischief-making.

Fast forward to the present day. Zeus is being nice. Like really nice. He sits on my lap and purrs. He pats my head knowingly. It’s like he understands that anxiety sucks and he’s there for me.

He might also be hungry.

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.

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.