Getting Back Up

A friend described the onset of her depression as a shocking experience. Mental illness often enters our life this way. It knocks us off of our feet. It can change our life in a way that is both drastic and instant.

Getting back up is a series of small steps. Some days we are not able to take any steps. Some days we fall back a little or a lot. Some days we can only rest where we are and breathe. The process of getting back up is rarely one that can be accomplished without the helping hand of another human being. It might be a friend, a therapist, a family member, a doctor. It might be many helping hands.

And you might not ever stand as tall as you once did before mental illness knocked you down. And this may cause grief and take some acceptance. But you CAN stand again.

A Gift

Recently, I have been busy. Like actually busy. I’m out there, in the world, doing stuff.

In the past, I felt the need to keep myself busy to avoid being sucked into days full of compulsions. I needed to be busy to prevent myself from responding to my intrusive thoughts with compulsions.

I needed to watch television every evening to distract myself from intrusive thoughts. I needed to get that summer job so I wouldn’t clean the bathroom everyday, shower multiple times everyday, do laundry everyday.

In the past, I would find things to fill my time that were personally fulfilling and made me happy. Like gardening with my mom. But my OCD always managed to take something away from those experiences.

In the past, I might have a really good day at school, but the whole time my OCD would be reminding me of the compulsions it wanted me to do afterwards.

In the past, being busy was a way of surviving. Now, it’s a gift.

Sharing Time Continues…

The Mighty is full of OCD stories from contributors:

1. “Contamination OCD Took Last December Away From Me – and I Won’t Let It Happen Again”

  • “Getting into the spirit of Christmas was hard. I worried that everything we touched would be contaminated. I didn’t want to go caroling. I didn’t want to bake the German tree torte I had bought ingredients to make. I didn’t want to touch Christmas cards to mail to people. Wrapping presents? Not without a lot of hand sanitizer first. Accidental chocolate stains and smears on clothes or furniture? How do we know it’s not poop? We can’t know for sure!”

2. “‘Coming Out’ to My Employer About My OCD”

  • “I need to tell you that for some time now, I have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am taking medication, seeing a psychologist and have a good network of people around me to help, both in and out of work. I’m here because I want to be open about my condition and want to do a good job. I’m here because I’m doing the best I can, but I need your help with a few things.”

3. “To Anyone Living With Intrusive Thoughts”

  • “To anyone who is dealing with intrusive thoughts, OCD and/or anxiety, please don’t be afraid to tell your doctor or therapist what your thoughts are. The sooner you reveal your thoughts, the better you’ll feel. Remember, the thoughts do not speak to who you are — they’re simply a part of your disorder.”

Sharing Time

I want to share my story because reading other people’s stories about OCD was something that really helped me. But mine is not the only story. So I’d like to share a few stories that I’ve found:

1. “What It’s Like to Live With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”

  • “In the years since I was first diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder . . .  I have spent much time distinguishing between what is real and what is an invention of my malfunctioning brain . . . It forces me to exist in a fuzzy cloud of half reality . . . The only guarantee is that it usually won’t make sense and I will never have seen it coming”

  • “When I was maybe 22, I went to a movie with my mother. Nothing happened in the movie. The movie was a comedy. Suddenly, though, I became convinced that anything I touched without prophylactic coverage would rip open my skin. The movie ended, and I got in a cab, putting my sleeves over my hands to pay and open doors, got home, and called in sick. That weekend, I hosted one of my best friends’ bridal showers at my apartment with socks over my hands.”

  • “I’ve been fine. I am fine. It’s just, god, when it finally lifts, you can feel how much lighter you are and, before it becomes heartbreaking, it is the feeling of a window open on a summer day.”

2. “What a Bad Day With OCD Looks Like for Me”

  • “The bag was in my car. The bag is dirty. It did not come in the house with me. So I stood outside by my car, with gloves on, and wiped my stuff down out in the open where neighbors could potentially see me. It is embarrassing, but that bag cannot go in the house. It is dirty.”


You Know the Way

I want to talk about relapse.

The first therapist I saw for my OCD told me at the last session I had with her that relapse was possible and there was no shame in it. She encouraged me to come back if I did relapse. I waved this advice off, thinking I had all the tools I needed to deal with whatever OCD threw at me. When you reach the light at the end of your tunnel, you forget how hard it was to be inside the tunnel.

When I did relapse, I tried to use all of my tools. But my OCD theme had changed, and I was dealing with new and significantly more compulsions than I had dealt with before. I didn’t want to go back to therapy for a lot of reasons, but one reason was because I was ashamed. I tried to stay busy and keep moving because I felt like free time was an opportunity for OCD compulsions to gain strength. At the same time, I was telling myself that all I needed was a break. I blamed by anxiety and compulsive behaviors on the stress of my responsibilities. I didn’t have a lot of awareness about my OCD then. But as time went on it became clear that I couldn’t do this alone anymore. I needed to find help.

I relapsed last month. Intrusive thoughts attacked and compulsions dramatically increased. I made an appointment with my therapist as soon as I could and we created a plan. She told me that even though I was struggling and feeling like I had taken steps backward, I knew the way back to where I was before the relapse. This is what I want to share: If you relapse and you feel like all of the therapy and work you did before was all for nothing – it wasn’t. It will be easier now to get back because you know the way.


It’s Okay to Grieve

It’s okay to grieve for your former self, the person you thought you were supposed to be.

I was supposed to be a world traveler. Growing up, I traveled a lot with my family and I used to love it. But as I got older, it became more and more difficult to enjoy with my excessive concern for safety.

There was a time in Europe where my dad left my family in a crowded square to take a picture of something. I couldn’t see where he was and I started freaking out. “Theresa,” my family members said, rolling their eyes. They were annoyed. But they didn’t understand.

Another time in Europe my family was lounging in an outdoor courtyard at our hotel after a long day of sightseeing. My younger brother announced he was going to go take a nap in his room, which he shared with my older brother. I wanted my older brother to go with him because I didn’t want my younger brother to be alone. No one had a problem with it but me. The entire time that my younger brother slept, intrusive thoughts about his safety clouded my mind. It was after this trip, when I was eighteen years old, that I decided I didn’t want to travel anymore. It hurts to remember this.

This summer I went on a vacation with some of my family. It was short and not far from home, but it was a step. It is hard to accept that I will probably never get to enjoy travel as fully as my family members, but I hope that I never stop trying to.

Loosening the Grip

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I canceled another therapy appointment this week and my mom asked why. School was my reason. My mom said I am tightening my grip and I don’t even realize it.

It’s true. I didn’t realize it.

But I am not offended by this comment. Because this is the kind of comment that can keep me from going back to the place I was a year ago.

I made a lot of progress in therapy and then got to a comfortable place. And my mom doesn’t want me to stay in that place. I don’t want to stay in this place either because I know that the longer I stay here, the harder it is to leave.

So I am going to go to therapy this week. And I am going to find ways to make therapy a priority, even while I am in school. I am going to loosen my grip.