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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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.