I was looking through a window at a world I was not a part of.
My name is Angela, and I have hiding spots, in each city I’ve lived in thus far. I’m currently at my favorite one. It’s 7:00pm, and I’m glad I made it outside past dark. About an hour ago, I was laying in bed – somewhere in-between: discouraged that my past actions have led me to now, but grateful that I now see life in a way wherein I’m at least presently connected to “the now”.
To you all: I am your ghostwriter. The steadfast child you don’t worry about. I am your graduating class, Humanitarian of the Year. Your most supportive friend. I am your wingwoman. Your protector, who fiercely fights, and wins. My pride laid in my ability to change for you, to create for you. But I am anger. I am years of pain and solitude. For those who loved me the most, I was simply exhaustion. I was controlling, out of fear, and non-stop emotional irregularity.
I have been this way as long as I can remember. As a little girl I believed: an alligator was at the bottom of our childhood swimming pool; that I had to tuck my legs up when I slept or a snake would get me; I’d sit in a certain position on the couch, out of fear that someone would look in our window and see me. As a teenager, I’d try to get my family to say certain words, because if they didn’t say them, it meant something “bad” would happen. In college, and for the past 11 years, I have lived alone. I became ritualistic about lights; made obsessive phone calls to loved ones; read and re-read messages; I’d sit in showers crying; over-exercise; I was meticulous with my time. I would inconvenience loved ones to help perform in my ritualizing, all because I felt that I had sole control to “predict” or “help” outcomes for their “safety” or mine.
I would describe my life thus far – predominately – as looking through a window at a world I was not a part of.
In recent years, I had a sense of connection. It was terrifying. For the first time in my life, this person didn’t want anything from me – they weren’t asking me to create, or change, or pretend for them; simply to be me.
I didn’t know how. By the fall season of 2016, I didn’t feel like a person anymore. I suffered immensely at the hands of the present moment, not knowing how to process what simply is.
Fast-forward a year of effort – trying all I knew to be well, and I was still falling short. On Tuesday, October 5, I walked myself to the psychiatric ER alone. “You’re here to be seen?” Yet another who bought the masquerade I formally had such pride of. “Yes. What is wrong with me?”
Diagnosis: Pure OCD. Pure OCD means I perform mental ritualizations to keep myself “safe”. Constant intrusive thoughts in my head about all my decisions. Over a decade of my life making instant sense in the matter of hours.
My life was largely a very connected state of, what is called, magical thinking. Now, I detach one aspect at a time, to learn to see myself, and you each, as you are, in the present moment.
Since my diagnosis: I have made changes that are frustrating to me, in that they’re seemingly small. In actuality, they are quite substantial for me. It feels overwhelming, for sure. What’s even wilder is that Pure OCD is totally hidden. I have lived independently, in nine different states, in my 30 years of life thus far. I’ve held prominent positions within respected industries locally as well as nationally. I provide advisement on community initiatives, and am cherished by friends and families. You’d never know I suffered.
I don’t know what it is like to wake up and think “What do I want to do?” apart from my OCD rituals; rituals drove my mornings.
Now, I meditate using the app Stop, Breathe & Think. I have cut out caffeine entirely. I exercise four times a week, face food aversion in healthy eating, see a psychotherapist two to three times a week, a psychiatrist every three to four weeks, and I take medication.
My thoughts are slow enough in my head now for there to be a “stop gap”. All my life, thoughts came through my brain as equally important. It felt equally important to check my mail as it would to call my family, tend to my relationship, work, eat, do dishes – it all felt direly important, as though I was running out of time.
Now I resist, and learn to prioritize in a healthier middle, instead of all or nothing. I’m learning to own and confront my thoughts, by actions such as “What I think is________. Is that grounded in ‘what is’?” Doing so allows me to get a certain level of self-assurance and reassurance/clarity, without seeking constant affirmation.
One of the main reasons I share now is because, in order to be well, I can do nothing else but be honest. I can’t “forecast” the future anymore. I just have to be myself, and see. My hope for the short-term is to work on the relationships which are closest to me. To trust that who I am, just as I am, is okay.
My long-term hope is that we address mental health in a more comprehensive way in America. Right now, we still deal in extremes. Cases like mine aren’t broadly shared for one reason or another. The necessary care for me to function comes at the price-point of $500-600 a month. That financial figure is with employer healthcare, and is apart from bills of other necessity (housing, transportation, food). I know there are people who have OCD, or other forms of mental illness, who are unable to receive the necessary care, because it isn’t affordable for them. We must continue to educate one another in order to grow as individuals, and as a collective society.
For now, for me, it’s one day at a time. With love.
Here is an update from Angela she shared with us 6 months after writing the above Wall Post:
“Some of my personal sufferings over the last few years have also served to shape my thinking. I always hesitate to mention these experiences for fear of conveying the wrong impression. A person who constantly calls attention to his trials and sufferings is in danger of developing a martyr complex and of making others feel that he is consciously seeking sympathy. It is possible for one to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice…” – Suffering and Faith /Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I first wrote for Secret Illness in January 2018, 3 months into my clinical diagnosis. It would be accurate to say that the first 4 months following my diagnosis, were the most miserable months in my life thus far.
Sometime in the Spring, I picked up my favorite book: ‘A Testament of Hope’ by Dr. Martin Luther King, and the above quote stuck with me. I keep it in mind frequently, try to find the humor of OCD when possible, and continue to prioritize the aspects of life that support wellness in mind, body, and spirit.
These 4 lessons, have brought me calm:
1. Have patience with those who are dear to you; they’ve surely had patience with you. Right when I learned of my diagnosis, I instantly wanted my loved ones to know I was ‘well,” everything is ‘fine.’ In reality, OCD maintenance was going to be an everyday journey, and I had to work to accept that. It forced me see how frequently my dynamic with close friends, and family was often one sided to my needs. Often, loved ones were:
- Affirming me
- Attempting to focus my mind on tasks
- Figuring out the root of what caused me distress in any given situation
- Tolerating my irrational thoughts, and all that came with them
- Withholding their own needs in an effort to accommodate mine
2. Determine what day-to-day OCD Maintenance looks like for you. Regardless of your past, present, and future – you know yourself best.
3. Be forthright. OCD or otherwise, owning irrational fears, shortcomings, is never fun. However, I’d say it’s more difficult for a person who cares for someone with OCD to feel comfortable in beginning to share her/his/their true thoughts with you. *Circle back to lesson #1. I learned the more direct both sides can be, the better.
For the loved one:
- “I can’t affirm you right now.”
- “I need you to trust that … will be okay, and affirm yourself.”
- “You know I will always answer an important question for you. Is this question truly important, or can this wait?”
- “Right now, I feel … and so I need you to …”
- “I get leery when I hear you say … because historically …”
- “Do you recognize that right now you appear…”
For the person living with OCD:
- “I’m almost positive that I’m having an irrational thought, but I need to ask just once to make sure.”
- “I know that historically I’ve thought … so I understand why you’d think … but that isn’t now. I’ve worked through evaluating … and so I know …”
- “I can feel that I’m getting overwhelmed, and so I need …”
4. It is possible to become obsessed with how ‘perfectly’/’quickly’ you are getting well. There was a period of time, when I determined: “Okay, I’ll journal all my dreams, I’ll take psychotherapy 3 times a week, and I’ll admit everything at once.” It was super overwhelming. I asked an emergent psychiatrist what was happening with me, and he said: “You became obsessed with how well you were becoming.” Cheers to the journey of life with OCD.
Categories: The Wall