Last year around this time, I wrote this post, Getting Personal about my struggles with anxiety, depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I took a couple of weeks off of blogging, made time for myself and sought out help for my issues. A few weeks later, I wrote an update about my progress — a slooooooooooow journey that has yet to come to a finish. While every day continues to be a new struggle, a new obstacle to face head-on, I am still so amazed, so blessed, and so thankful to have friends like you to walk through it with me. Seriously — the amount of support & love I received when I first wrote those posts were overwhelming in the best way possible. I couldn’t believe that people who didn’t know me at all were taking time out of their busy lives to write me touching, personal emails and encouraging me to lift my head up and keep going. I saved most of the emails and still read them occasionally, humbled by the gracious selflessness and friendship from these wonderful strangers. So if you’re reading this — anybody, really — thank you.
My entire life I’ve suffered from anxiety and OCD. It plagued me as a child, slithered its way through my adolescence and has made a seemingly-permanent home inside of my adult brain. Most of my life I didn’t really understand it — it was something that happened to me that I just accepted, like having horrible taste in music or liking Sketchers. I figured that this is me and I can’t change it, so I dealt with the anxiety as best as I could.
As a kid, this meant taking antidepressants to help me sleep, help me focus, and keep me sane. They were also prescribed to help my exhaustive Irritable Bowel Syndrome — IBS — which combined with my anxiety, made my life more like a prison sentence than anything else. I was a child recluse, refusing to leave my home in fear that something tragic would happen. My family would long for vacations, even simple dates to the movies or a new restaurant in town, but I would beg and plead to stay home, safe within the confines of my home, in a zone I could control. And when we did go out, I spent the whole time wracked with anticipation that the fear I’d been dreading was inches away, creeping up on me at any second. So I’d spend the majority of my time in the bathroom, locked in a stall crying and wishing it would all go away. I was only 8 or so. This continued all throughout my entire school career.
My entire life I’ve had strange fears or “quirks” that I never added up until recently. In the sixth grade, I was in art class when I asked the boy next to me a simple question — why was he using a purple crayon to color his hair? He responded, “shut up, I am going to shoot you in the head and kill you.” Something inside of me told me I should tell on him, so I did. The next day, he was gone — and I overheard my parents saying that cops had actually searched his home and had found a loaded gun with easy access. The day I heard that, I cried myself to sleep. I knew I was probably going to die.
While out shopping that weekend, I asked my mom for a windchime. “Why?” she asked. I explained it was to hang in my window, so when he — or anyone — broke into my bedroom window to kill me, I’d hear the windchime [okay, so it’s really lame logic in retrospect but whatever]. The windchime stayed up for a very long time before I finally had the courage to take it down, but removing the windchime didn’t remove the terrible feeling that had permanently branded me. From that day in sixth grade forward, I never really felt safe anymore. Anywhere I went, I felt like there was a giant target on my back, a bullseye shot for anyone who wanted to take it.
I remember asking my dad once if he thought people could see dream bubbles above heads like they sometimes portray in cartoons. He said he didn’t know, but probably not. It was then that I decided to control my dreams and my movements so they could never be interpreted incorrectly. If I was having a dream — say, you know, a sexy teenagery dream [don’t say you never had one with Justin Timberlake, you liar] I would force myself to wake up and stop because I was SURE that someone was watching me, reading my mind, seeing my thoughts. When I walked my dog today, yesterday, three years ago, I convince myself that the neighbors are all watching me, spying on my every step, reading my mind and plotting my next move. I feel like nothing I do is truly private, truly intimate. I honestly just feel like my life is one fucked up version of The Truman Show, except I’m obviously way cuter than Jim Carrey.
Stranger things, too, like the fact that I’ve had a fear of smell even as a young child. Upon receiving my Happy Meal, I would inspect my toy and beg my parents to wash it repeatedly in the dishwasher until I could no longer smell that smell. What smell, I don’t know exactly — I just knew that I couldn’t mentally handle the odor. This became strong throughout my life thus far. If I smell certain smells — again, nothing in particular, I just know when I smell it — I have to leave. I drop everything and go. To date I am very assiduous with applying my deodorant and perfume. I use two different deodorants because I’m convinced only one does not work. I apply each one at least ten times to each armpit, and then I generously spray myself with perfume once after getting ready, then a second time before I leave, then periodically throughout the day, checking here and there that I do not smell. If I should smell, I will leave wherever I am and come home. I’ll rub an alcohol-soaked cotton ball or wash rag over my body and bathe until I can’t smell anymore. So at least you know I have good hygiene, right?
Or the fact that certain rituals must be performed before I can continue on with my day. When my parents tucked me in as a kid, they had to pull up my bedsheet, then my blanket, and then my comforter, and then sing three lullabies in order before I could go to bed. If they messed up the routine I’d force them to start from the beginning — I could not go to sleep, couldn’t process going any further, without my ritual complete. These days, my bedtime routine doesn’t involve ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ but is still very planned. If I don’t get up, get ready or start my ‘daily list’ before 8-9am, I consider my day over. I can’t process running errands, I can’t process hanging out with anyone, I just can’t do anything, as if I’m stuck in some kind of weird mental pause. If I don’t silently pray each night [and mind you, I’m not religious — I am merely hoping that nothing bad happens, willing everything to go according to plan — my plan — and for no one to get hurt] I feel as if a cataclysmic event will occur and I will be to blame. It’s been my whole life praying every night — and I can’t imagine a night forgetting or stopping, because I am convinced the next day I’ll likely die, or someone close to me will. And whose fault will that be?
When I talk, I have a gnarly habit of asking the same question over and over by phrasing it in different ways. “What time is dinner?” can’t be answered by someone with a simple “6pm.” I must rephrase the question — “so, dinner is at 6?” a million times, “dinner is going to be at 6pm, right?”, over and over and over, “okay, 6pm is dinner”, and over and over and over, “so I’ll be here at 6pm for dinner then?” again. Maybe it’s that I don’t trust myself.. or that I don’t trust anyone, I guess. This has been difficult in all of my relationships as there is only so many times I can ask my boyfriends, “are you mad at me? are you sure you’re not mad at me?” before they snap. But not asking, but not clarifying is simply impossible. I must get the words out. I must clarify, enunciate, verbally record the information before I can move forward. Because if I don’t, whose fault will that be? Mine. I’ll miss dinner. I’ll get my heart broken (but know he wasn’t mad after all.. or maybe he was…). And if I don’t warn my sister to look both ways before crossing the street (even though she’s 16 and definitely knows this traffic 101 rule) and she were to be struck, I would blame myself for never having said anything.
Shortly after writing my posts I went to my doctor and begged for help. I told him I was suicidal (it wasn’t completely true but it wasn’t completely false, either) and asked for something, anything to ease the pain. He prescribed me Prozac which I started taking at a small dose. Things were wonky and ebbed for awhile. I gradually increased my dosage and found myself lower and lower than I’d ever been before. It was approaching summer and I remember sitting in my garage bawling to my mom, telling her I wanted to die. After that incident I increased my dosage again and this time it felt like the magic number — the answer to all of my problems. Everything seemed a little hazy around the edges. Yeah, I still had my rituals. Sure, I still prayed and felt threatened had I not. But it seemed okay — for awhile.
And then, out of nowhere, it became dreadful. I was back to where I started — having nightmares each night that I was trapped in my old house, a dingy, money pit place in a terrible neighborhood where I’d spent most of my life, or that I was hiding from something ominous and deadly, never quite able to escape before they found me. Rather than the usual once a day ritual, I was vacuuming my house multiple times a day, mechanically and maniacally pushing the machine through each room, desperate to remove the unwanted hair, the stench, the pain I was feeling. I would pour bleach on the counters in the morning, noon and night and scrub them until they sparkled. My focus wasn’t off-kilter, it was completely off the rails. If I missed even a minute of a TV show, I’d have a panic attack. I hated feeling like I was constantly living on a bed of nails, never really able to get adjusted comfortably before something else set me off.
Sooooo I talked to my doctor and we tried Zoloft which I’m currently on. And I hate it. And worst, I hate myself.
It’s been a month now and I can’t seem to find the energy to do anything. When I think about my blog, I don’t feel anything. When I bake, I don’t feel anything. When I hang out with friends, I don’t feel anything. When I laugh, I don’t even feel anything. I go to the gym and I sweat and I work my muscles and bones and come home as if nothing happened — everything is just a big, numb blur. I get a text from a cute guy and I stare at it like a lobotomized shell, trying–willing–myself to feel something, anything.
Lately, I spend most of my days sitting. I hate it, and I hate myself for it. I try to blog, try to bake, try to engage myself in everyday life, but find it’s much too complicated and requires too much energy for me. My emotions have flat-lined, my passions and interests are DOA and I just sit here, my mind racing a million times an hour, wishing and waiting for this magical dosage to kick in, to get me normal again. But then again, I never really knew ‘normal’, anyways? Is ‘normal’ still counting syllables to songs on my fingers when I listen to them? Is ‘normal’ still feeling I’m being watched anytime I go anywhere? Or is this ‘normal’, meandering through life like a mannequin with what seems like nothing to live for? < I know that is definitely not normal even if I still don’t know what ‘normal’ really is.
And each day I wonder that with my continued medication and therapy, what will normal be like when and if I finally achieve it? My entire life I’ve only known myself as someone secretly methodical, someone obsessed with control, someone rigid in schedule and assiduous in nature. If I ever get to normal, will I lose all of those things? Will I stop praying? Will I stop caring about a lone dust mote? Will I stop feeling the need to drop everything and give in to my compulsions, even the ones that seem the least offensive, like wanting to clean the counters when I see a crumb? Because I don’t know if I want to give those things up. Like an addict, I suppose, I want to hold onto what feels most comfortable, even if it is part of a life that isn’t really fun living. It’s what I know as ‘me’. Will I change so much that I’m unrecognizable to myself, to my family? Will they look at pictures of me and wish I was still the same weirdo who liked to wash my toys or who spent hours debating over what to wear because I feared I’d pick the ‘wrong’ thing?
Thinking about all of this and really, living all of this presents so many questions with answers that only time will reveal. I’m currently in some crappy therapy that I’m hoping I can switch out of, and I’ve already emailed my doctors with an urgent request to switch or increase my medicine. I don’t have intentions to hurt myself or others, and if I did I would certainly go to the hospital immediately. Right now, my main goal is to be well and to feel well. As it stands, OCD has spent the majority of my life as my life, but for once I’d like it to just be a part of my life and not monopolize the whole thing which is why I’m doing what I’m doing by taking non-therapeutic therapy classes, ingesting terrible medicine and writing this out which has been surprisingly cathartic.
Mostly, I just want people to understand that OCD isn’t just wanting to wash your hands a lot or liking things straight and tidy. It’s more than that. It’s a way of life. It’s a disease that monopolizes your mind and controls your life like some fucked up puppeteer. We don’t choose to count sewer grates, tap our fingers to the beats of a song or dust the house seven times a day. We don’t want to have to open and close doors eight times or feel like if we don’t perform a certain ritual or say a certain thing that something terrible will happen to us or someone we love. We don’t ask for that guilt, we don’t ask for that pain. We don’t choose to mutilate our bodies to calm ourselves (and now you know why I don’t ever, ever wear sandals) and we don’t choose to ask the same thing multiple times to reassure our minds that everything will be okay.
My whole life I’ve been a girl who loves to laugh and make others laugh, too. I get by with my crippling OCD by trying to make the best of it and poking fun at it when I can. The only other alternative that I know of is to let it completely succumb me, and if I did that I definitely wouldn’t be here right now. So I try to laugh and joke and self-deprecate which may not translate that what I’m dealing with is actually serious. I know I’m sending mixed messages here, so that’s why I wrote this: to let you know that hey, OCD and anxiety are serious problems that can affect anyone at anytime, can result in different symptoms and triggers, and can be handled in different ways. This is my way of letting everyone know that while I spend most days feeling like I’m under one hundred sopping wet blankets, drowning inside my own boring head, that deep down I can still feel myself here. This is my letter to you, my friend, that I am still here and still plan on staying here. That I’m getting help, that I’m headed for the finish line and that I’m not giving up. Sometimes you may need to lift those blankets up to get me out of my dark funk, but I’ll be there .. I just need a little extra love & encouragement. I kinda feel dumb asking for that, but not as dumb as I feel when I sit on my ass all day watching shitty television. That has to be the dumbest fucking shit ever.
So if you’re wondering where I’ve been, haven’t seen me in awhile or think I hate you or something, I don’t. And I’m sorry. I am here, and I am probably vacuuming something as you read this.
If you need me, I’m still here. I’ll still be posting regularly, I’ll still be (trying) to comment and maintain my space in the universe. And if you want to talk about anything (seriously, I’m an open book, y’all) feel free to email me at anytime. I’d love to talk to you, I really, really would. [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]
And after all of that nonsense, what I really really meant to say was thank you. THANK YOU. Seriously, I can’t say thank you enough.