Coming Out, Depression

It’s about time I start taking my own advice

I love books, and like most bibliophiles, I’ve amassed a collection I can’t possibly read in a lifetime. Short of becoming the world’s fastest speed reader, these books will likely remain unfinished. With such self-awareness one would think I’d stop buying books. Alas.

I’m a bit stubborn, so it takes just short of an eon to make changes in my life. (It also takes me several years to write a blog post. Mea culpa.) Back on April 15, 2016, I posted about needing therapy. I was in a bad way, and I knew it. Once again, however, that self-awareness didn’t propel me forward. Imagine me instead sitting on my futon-that-strives-to-be-a-couch contemplating therapy and then deciding life sucks anyway and then seeing what’s on Netflix while chastising myself for not cleaning my apartment.

That is, until now.

Drum roll please.

I started seeing a therapist, who confirmed that I was indeed in a bad way. Not only do I have OCD (which, thankfully, has been manageable), but I also have depression. Apparently, I’m also in the business of collecting mental illnesses. Unlike my book collection, however, I plan to deal with my disorders effectively. To that end, I’ve started taking antidepressants, which have been a life-saver. That’s not an exaggeration. I’ll devote more time to discussing my meds later. (Perhaps when the current ice age ends?) For now, I’ll just say that the medication has been working and therapy has been good.

Taking the step to get help is hard even if, as I have, you’ve done so before. I mean, I even advocate on therapy’s behalf. I go door to door passing out flyers. I write therapy fan fiction. All this to say, I’m an imperfect advocate, but that’s ok. (My therapist says I should be less hard on myself.) So I’ve gone and done it; I’ve gotten help. I think I’ll celebrate by buying myself a book.

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Magical Thinking, OCD

Poking the OCD Monster

lesson

I just read that book. I read a lot, so this shouldn’t be a big deal. But this book has magical powers. If you read it, someone you love might die. You can’t be 100% certain that will happen, so you shouldn’t read the book at all. Or so my OCD said.

I bought this collection of stories the day my friend died in a car accident. His sudden death was a painful reminder that life truly is uncertain. That event triggered my worst bout of OCD symptoms, which ultimately led to my seeking help. That was six years ago, and while I’ve certainly gotten much better, I couldn’t shake the connection between that book and that terrible day. I remember reading the timestamp on the receipt and concluding that my friend was dying while I was purchasing the book. There’s likely no truth to this, but I imbued the book with dark magic anyway. The title, I thought, was especially portentous. Here Comes Another (Painful) Lesson.

So I didn’t read the book, and even looking at it made me nervous. Over the years the book remained on my shelf, and then I moved and didn’t bother putting all my books back in their bookcases. I lost track of the book or deliberately forgot about it. More to the point, I purposely didn’t read it.

I don’t know what happened to make me finally do it. I’ve certainly been inspired by the people I interact with on social media. I’ve seen so many people overcome struggles, which made me feel less alone. Also, I believe that the act of posting something publicly is a way for me to hold myself accountable. That’s how I’ve managed to continue meditating for 200 plus days and counting, so I took this approach with the book.

I posted that I was reading the book and then started posting fun quotations from the book and then realized I wasn’t nervous while reading. In fact, I felt a strange sort of calm. I don’t know that doctors recommend this sort of public reckoning, but the approach worked for me. I’m just describing my experience.

While posting these messages, I had moments of feeling too brazen. I’d defiantly type “suck it OCD.” This, of course, made me scared. Don’t poke the OCD monster. Then I realized this was more of the same OCD thinking, so I kept poking the monster. Suck it OCD. Suck it so hard.

And then it happened; I finished the book. It took me about a week, and I made it through with minimal pain. When I was done, though, I cried. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s the truth. I had invested so much emotion in the book, and I could finally let it go.

The cover still makes me a little nervous, so I keep it out in the open. The title doesn’t seem so portentous now. I’ve learned a lesson, and it was a good one.

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.