“So OCD?”

We live in the age of different. “Hipster” is in and it’s cool to be unique, nerdy, and quirky. What better way to show your individuality than branding yourself “so OCD“?

Except for OCD IS NOT a quirk, or a set of tendencies…it’s an incapacitating, isolating disease that makes you afraid of your own mind. This is what it’s really like to have OCD:

*You believe you are a horrible person.

Imagine having a song stuck in your head. Now imagine that instead of a lovely, catchy tune it’s the thought of murdering your best friend. In horrendous graphic detail. Over and over again. You’re not mad at your best friend, and you’ve never even done anything violent, but…

It. Won’t. Stop. Playing.

You probably feel uneasy just reading that. But that’s what the “obsessive” part of OCD is like: intrusive, unwanted, disturbing thoughts that won’t go away. No one seems to know what causes them, although it might be miscommunication between parts of the brain or something faulty in its error detection circuit.

The thoughts aren’t always about you doing bad things, but they’re never pleasant. Most obsessions are based on deep fears — “What if I or someone I love gets sick?” — or basically the worst things one can think of, like blasphemy, racism, suicide, murder, rape, contamination, animal abuse, cannibalism, torture …

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People with OCD who have thoughts of doing something violent never actually act on these thoughts, and those who dread bad things happening almost never see those things happen. While most people can shake off a weird thought, when you have OCD, it sticks in your mind. Inevitably, you think, “Why do I keep thinking about these things? Is it because they’ll happen? Do I want them to happen?”

The answer’s no! No, you do not. But you will still fear you do.

*You’re Probably Not a Neat Freak

Sheldon, from Big Bang Theory, is depicted as having OCD. OCD is a debilitating condition so it is a bit strange that the show is often poking fun at his ‘compulsions’. The show plays on the OCD stigma by making sure to mention some part of his strict schedule (also can be related to aspergers syndrome which he also has) or his fear of germs. Don’t get me wrong, those are fears and compulsions that some people have but our society needs to be more aware that there are MANY other forms that OCD may come in.

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This means that despite what the media might have you think, having OCD doesn’t necessarily mean you’re neat and particular. Those of you into freak shows (sorry, reality shows): First of all, don’t even get me started on the show “Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners“…Second, have you ever seen that show “Hoarders“? Hoarding is often a symptom of OCD.

Compulsions can vary. Sometimes they correspond to fears, like washing your hands because you’re scared of contamination. Sometimes there’s no real logic behind them, like when you have to jump over a line on the floor because otherwise everybody you know will die horribly and it will be all your fault. Or you keep counting because you don’t want to lose control and start stabbing people.

Many don’t have physical compulsions at all, instead suffering from “purely obsessional” OCD, where all they have are obsessions. And some people with diagnosed OCD even obsessively doubt the fact that they have OCD.

OCD, at heart, is an anxiety disorder. Yet movie and TV characters with OCD are often shown washing their hands or straightening things, never suffering from overbearing anxiety. This is probably because it’s easier to show someone cleaning than to show someone going through extreme mental anguish.

*You Know There’s Something Wrong With You

One of the many differences between people who have OCD and people who are just “quirky” — is shame. Let’s be clear: If you regularly check your pockets to confirm that you’ve still got your car keys, or if you prefer your sandwiches with the crust cut off, or if you only eat orange Skittles, you’re not suffering from OCD.

Those are just quirks, and also the orange Skittles are obviously the best. People like quirks when they’re cute, fun, and harmless. When they involve picking at your fingernails to get blood (that isn’t even there) out or sitting on your hands so they don’t move and slap someone, people just think you’re “crazy.”

But you’ll believe it of yourself as well. You’ll be standing in your bathroom at three in the morning, scrubbing your pocket change because you’ve been awake for hours wondering if it could contaminate your clothes and make you a danger to the people around you, and you’ll be unable to stop, but you’ll know that what you’re doing is crazy.

OCD is “ego dystonic,” which means “out of sync with your ideal self” or “making you look and feel like an idiot.” People with personality disorders typically think they’re always in the right, and people with psychosis often don’t realize that their delusions are coming from their heads. But one of the defining characteristics of OCD is knowing that your thoughts are bizarre and your rituals don’t make sense.

Additionally, people who have OCD don’t even get any joy out of their compulsions. Relief? Definitely, but it’s temporary, like scratching a mosquito bite. You don’t want to count every pole and sign you pass, you have to.

There are people who are ‘perfectionist control freaks’ and love every meticulously planned minute of it. But they have a different diagnosis: obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCPD involves being neat and exacting (is that even a word??) to the point of disrupting one’s life and being really annoying to everyone else; it’s all of the OCD stereotypes with none of the anxiety or shame.

*It’s Rarely Just OCD

The day I was diagnosed with OCD was one of the best days of my life. Finally, I knew what was wrong with me, I wasn’t crazy, and I could get it treated. But then came the depression, dissociations, psychosis, trichotillomania and dermatillomania, anxiety, PTSD diagnosis…”oh, yeah. You have all those things too. Sorry about that.”

Panic attacks, Tourette syndrome, hypochondria, body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania, dermatillomania, and eating disorders are all OCD spectrum disorders. They’re diagnosed on their own but also like to hang around in the background while OCD tricks your mind. They’re like its creepy cousins.

OCD also often coexists with depression. This is partly because of chemicals and genetics, and also because constant obsessing, isolation, or exhaustion from ritualizing can be extremely depressing. Studies show that having OCD from an early age tends to make you more susceptible to depression because it wears on you so much. You’re also at higher risk of suicide.

The good news is that OCD and its tag-along disorders are treatable. There are all kinds of medications and therapies that can help alleviate symptoms. And since the spectrum disorders are linked, one treatment can sometimes cover all symptoms. OCD is not something that can be cured, but it can be controlled.

Im not going to lie…my OCD has not responded to many medications. There was one experimental medication that did work but seems to be not working for the last little while. At first this made me feel like I was back to where I started just less than a year ago.

Thankfully, a lot of stinkin’ hard work has moved me forward in my recovery! I keep hearing from my supports that they are noticing that I’m so much better than I was then. I still have a very far way to go but a few steps are behind me now.

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The face of OCD? I look calm in this picture but I was actually struggling with millions of intrusive thoughts and likely counting in an effort to “neutralize” the thoughts. OCD doesn’t have “a face.” 

*You have a demand for certainty

You think you should know for sure whether you will get violent, loose control, or are contaminated.

What if i didn’t unplug my hair dryer and it catches fire? Then the house would catch on fire, burn down to the ground, and it would all be my fault. What if there are germs on the door handle and I touched it? Then my entire family would get extremely ill and die. What if I lost control and acted on one of my horrible thoughts? Then I would stab somebody and they would die a horrendous death just because I didn’t take the proper precautions.

What if, what if, what if….?

The compulsions offer relief from the uncertainty. OCD sufferers are desperate to feel certain so of course they try to do anything and everything that offers relief even if it takes them hours upon hours to reach that “safe” or “just right” feeling. Then Nothing short of perfection is enough to ease the raging anxiety in the sufferers mind.

Dear non-sufferers,

Do you still think it’s funny, cute or quirky to have OCD?

Are you still going to label yourself “so OCD” when referring to your neat, tidy, and clean preferences or your choice to double check that you have your car keys?

May I ask that you please, please, reconsider that choice of words?

It can be hurtful by making us feel like you are disregarding an OCD sufferers debilitating and incapacitating symptoms.

#GetLoud

The lives of people with mental health conditions are often plagued by stigma as well as discrimination. People with mental health conditions are often depicted as dangerous, violent, unpredictable, manipulative, fakers, dramatic, or exaggerated. This stigma is a reality for many people living with a mental illness, and it’s one of their greatest barriers to living a complete and satisfying life.

This week, this very stigma prevented me from getting proper medical care.

I went to see a specialist who I had been waiting a VERY long time to see. Her resident came to talk to me first then he went to talk to the Dr privately. She came in and told me that the only possible reasons my thyroid levels could fluctuating is because I’m either not taking my medication regularly or its not being absorbed properly (but she’s “pretty confident that that’s not the issue”).

I TAKE MY MEDICATION EVERYDAY-WITHOUT FAIL!!
…Sometimes an hour or so late…but I never miss it…
Then she tells me we should stop focusing on my symptoms as medical symptoms and start looking at all my other diagnosis’. (Clearly, referring to the mental health piece.) My mom asked, “So you looked at her mental health records and assume that’s all this could possibly be?” To which the Dr bluntly responded, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think.” She repeated over and over and OVER that we should get blister packs (prepackaged scheduled pill containers from the pharmacy). We told her that we put my meds in a pill organizer that is just as effective but cheaper. The Dr insisted we use blister packs because “The pharmacist puts the exact doses of medication in each day.”

Seriously!? You’re saying that you think we are COMPLETELY incapable of putting my meds in the pill container?? And WHY would I purposely take the incorrect dose!? I KNOW how sick I feel when my levels are off! And if we’re not doing it properly then why are the rest of my meds dispensed, absorbed, and working right?? If this is all a mental health problem, why am I doing so well mentally, right now, while my symptoms are so bad?

And to top it all off she told me, “There is absolutely no connection between mental health and thyroid function.” Really!? What about when my depression got really bad in December and January when both times my thyroid was extremely low? Then as soon as my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) went back to normal I was FINE mentally! How do you explain that? Coincidence? Probably not.

What doctors need to realize is that we, as patients, don’t expect them to know everything. We really don’t. However, we do expect them to listen and treat us like intelligent, rational people. Maybe some of us are square and don’t fit into the round holes most doctors see everyday; but that doesn’t mean our symptoms aren’t real.

I also believe that this Dr may not have had any other ideas as to why my thyroid levels are fluctuating and I have all these other symptoms. She may not have an answer…honestly that’s ok.

What is not ok is her treating me like dirt.

It is not ok for her to completely write me off (before she has even met and talked to me!) just because I struggle with mental illness and my symptoms and labs are not textbook.

I am not just “a mentally ill” person. I am not my illness. I have a mental illness, yes. But I am so much more than it. I will not stand to let my mental illness be all that other people, including health care professionals, see.

This stigma is NOT OK!

 

So, how are we going to change it? 

We are going to bring as much awareness to mental health as we possibly can. We are going to shout it from the rooftops! (Too much?)

You, my faithful readers, are all going to tell your neighbours, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and especially your children, that:

Mental illness is not something to be scared of. It can be scary to go through, certainly, but it is only a chemical imbalance in a persons brain. Make sure you tell them (this is important!) that it is not a personality flaw or character trait!! It is not fake, exaggerated, or dramatic. Tell them that, any type of mental illness can be serious, debilitating, and in some cases the person may even put themselves in dangerous situations (again, remember that this is not for attention-it is a sign that a person is ill and needs some form of treatment). Tell them that mental health problems are VERY common. Try to find a story of someone who has struggled with mental health and have recovered or are recovering. It can be mine, another friends’, a family members’, or anyone’s really. Just share a story of hope.

If you have struggled with anything mental health related I strongly encourage you to share your story with people!

~If you have been open about your struggle, than I am so proud of you! I know just how difficult that can be; the uncertainty of people’s reactions can be utterly terrifying! Please keep sharing your story-make sure to keep it as hopeful as possible!!

~If you haven’t told many people about what you have/are going through, I encourage you to tell at least 2 people-anyone! Start with me if you have to. You will be surprised at how many people will be supportive, how many people will be encouraging, and how many people have their own untold stories that you would never know about otherwise.

~If you are struggling silently, please, please, please, talk to someone! It’s extremely scary to open up to someone about something so personal, especially to a stranger, but it’s so freeing. Through talking to someone you will learn ways to deal with or manage your symptoms, and that is a wonderful feeling.

 

 

It will do the world so much good if we all could talk freely about mental health, without talking in hushed tones.

It is crucial that those on the front lines, who may be working with people who have a mental illness, receive the education and support needed to help manage bias. Programs need to be developed to teach health care professionals to identify and manage their biases toward mental illness and the people who have the mental illness, so that it doesn’t interfere with clinical care.

Training more people across the medical field in mental health issues creates the possibility of incorporating mental health screening in primary care settings, promoting early treatment and emphasising the physical component to a mental illness. There also needs to be education about the physical-psychological connection of mental health conditions and physical illnesses.

People most definitely should not be discriminated against because of their mental health conditions whether past or present. And certainly not by so called “health care professionals.” It’s just not ok.

This isn’t the first time I have been discriminated against and I don’t think it will be the last time but this time, I’m not letting it just slip by.

We need change and to get there I need your help! Please do your part to help raise awareness! Time to #GetLoud!

**THIS IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK!! (May 2-8th)** So even more reason to #GetLoud!

 

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