Mental Health, OCD

Meditation is awful; meditation is wonderful

192 days ago I openly declared on Twitter that I would meditate for at least 10 minutes a day. I didn’t have an end date in mind. I simply declared my purpose and started counting. I figured the act of tweeting a number daily would hold me accountable. So far so good. I plan to continue into the future, but I still don’t have an end date. In fact, I don’t want one. I just want to make this a habit. I’m told this stuff is good for you.

I don’t know what kind of meditation I practice, though it might be something close to mindfulness. I only know that’s it really freaking awful. I have OCD, so simply letting my horrifying thoughts pass without trying to ritualize is, ahem, difficult. FFS is it difficult. Plus, my thoughts generally wander. In mere seconds, they shift from coconuts to zebras to dolphins on a bicycle doing the hula. I saw that once on YouTube.

But, you know, this stuff is supposed to be good for me. It’s supposed to be hard, but once you get in a groove the benefits are fantastic. So I’m told. And, well, I have to reluctantly agree. Ok, not so reluctantly. I like meditating. There, I’ve said it. Meditation is helping me. I’m not sure if my neural connections have been affected, but that’s what the scientific literature says will happen. (I’m the odd American who believes in science. Gasp.)

When I was on meds for my OCD, I hit a sweet spot. I knew it wouldn’t last, but it felt good. During that magical and oftentimes insufferable titration period, I was able to briefly enjoy moments without intrusive thoughts and exhausting rituals. Sure, my body was buzzing and shaky, but my mind felt, if not clear, at least free of oppressive thoughts. It’s like the waves stopped building. With meditation, I can get there again. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but when it does: wow. That’s really all I can say. (Remember, I’m only masquerading as a cynic.) When meditation works, it is wonderful.

To be fair, it’s not a cure-all. I still believe we have to take a holistic approach to wellness. That might mean seeing a therapist, taking meds, and eating and sleeping well. Whatever combination works for you is the approach you should take. I personally need to work on so many aspects of my self-care. But as far as meditation goes, I’m a believer. Did I really just say that? Why yes I did.

What kinds of things work to keep your mind calm?

 

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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

Hooray for The Mighty!

This past week I had a story  published on The Mighty. I love that site because the founders are truly on a mission to destigmatize illnesses of all kinds, both mental and physical.

When they agreed to post my story, I was excited. It’s my goal to become an advocate for those with OCD. I’m not sure I’m up to the task because I’m definitely not mighty all the time. In fact, while I was excited to get the story published, I was also anxious. My OCD tries to get me to believe that if something good happens, something bad must follow. This is when I like to tell it: screw you! My OCD backed down a little bit when I said that.

Please check out the site if you can.

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.