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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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.