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The Unhelpful Remarks from Loved Ones

The last year and a half has been a grueling challenge — among finding my place at my job and company, learning how to love myself, treating my OCD, getting through panic attacks, and learning how to be completely independent — it’s no wonder the only thing I want to do on weekends is Netflix Marathons. When I panic, I think about all of the hard work I go through and eventually I get to this “it’s not fair” mentality. That there are people who don’t have to deal with thinking about every thought and feeling they have at all times.

I get tired of rethinking the last day and evaluating every feeling. I get tired of rethinking a tiny desire I have for my significant other to do things simply because other people’s significant others do it. I get tired of evaluating what my desires mean in the grander scheme of things and wondering if any desire or feeling or thought I have is indicative of the failure on my part to be a functioning person.

Perfection is a bitch. I don’t want to want to be perfect. I don’t want to want my relationship to be perfect. And I’m tired of thinking about everything all the time. It’s not just necessarily that I have obsessions. It’s that I fret and worry and wonder about every tiny little firing neuron in my mind.

Here is the thing: I am lucky. I am so lucky to have such a supportive, understanding partner who listens to me and validates my feelings. Who understands my jealousy and doesn’t shame me for it. Who lets me read his text messages because why not, he doesn’t have anything to hide. My closest friends respond in meaningful ways to my concerns about anxiety. They listen to me repeat the same obsessive concerns over and over, without making fun of me or telling me to shut up. My support system, for the most part, is impeccable. But there are some people in my life who are not supportive. And the scary thing is, they don’t know that they’re being destructive.

When I try to express myself to some (read: one) of my loved ones, they say dismissive and unhelpful things. These reactions nearly silence me; lately, I’ve been standing up for myself. I’ve been removing myself from these situations instead of letting the invalidating behavior affect me or deter me from trying to better myself.

Here are some of the things that have been said:
“You’ve got a great job, you’re successful, you’re moving in with your boyfriend who is fantastic..I don’t understand why you’re unhappy.”
“Little things shouldn’t stress you out, you should be able to handle this.”
“Your psychiatrist is only trying to get more money out of you. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

When I first suspected I had OCD, someone in my support system kept telling me over and over again that I didn’t have OCD. They did this in some misplaced effort to be helpful. But, in fact, it was detrimental. I was having all of these intrusive, disturbing thoughts that were indicative of OCD, and by the person telling me I didn’t, it made me feel like the thoughts were real, or reflective of my actual desires. This made me feel worse.

My new psychiatrist is entertaining the idea that I might have undiagnosed ADD and that ADD might be the cause of some of my anxiety. While I don’t necessarily think I meet the criteria for ADD, there are a lot of things about me that meet the criteria, and I think it’s smart on my psychiatrist’s part to eliminate all possibilities. Of course, when I mentioned this to the same person mentioned above, this is what happened:

Them: You don’t have ADD.
Me: I think I’ll leave that up to the mental health professional to decide.
Them: I’ve seen more kids with ADD than your psychiatrist can shake a stick at. You don’t have ADD.
Me: I think it’s a good idea to consider all possibilities, here.
Them: He’s just trying to get more money out of you. You don’t have ADD.
Me: I have to go. I’ll talk to you later.

And I hung up the phone. These kinds of remarks were so unhelpful, especially with the recent occurrence of “I don’t understand why you’re so unhappy” or “You shouldn’t get this stressed out.” How does a person think these things are helpful? It’s so frustrating. It’s so frustrating to hear someone you love say these dismissive and awful things. All it does is serve to drag me down. It makes me feel like I’m not enough. Like I’m not doing enough. Which, frankly, is bullshit. I do so much to better myself. And to hear someone say “why are you so unhappy?” I want to scream. I’m struggling with abnormal anxiety. I’ve battled depression my entire life. It must be so nice to not have these problems.

I’m tired of standing up for myself to this person. It’s exhausting. It is driving me away from them. The worst part is, I can’t cut them out of my life. For the most part, they are a good person to have around. But when it comes to my struggles, they have hardly ever done anything to help me. And I can’t say these things because it will make me seem ungrateful. I just have to grin and bear it and pretend like I don’t care. So I won’t talk to them about my anxiety. I won’t talk about the medication I’m taking. I won’t talk to them about what I’m going through. And that makes me sad.

I’ll stick to my supportive significant other and my friends with their inexhaustible empathy. I’m so thankful for my boyfriend and my friends. I guess, like me, my support system can’t be perfect. I just never expected the breach in the hull would be with someone who is supposed to love me unconditionally.

Quiet, Powerful Women

Jessamyn Fitzpatrick

I am fascinated by quiet women.

I, who have always been afraid of being too loud. Too big. Too much.

“You have a lot to say.” A second grade teacher once told me. Tell me about it. I grew up understanding that there was a shame in silence. Be quiet. When you had an opinion a teacher didn’t like. Be quiet. When a grown-up didn’t want to answer your question. Be Quiet. When a parent was angry with you. Silence was never a kind of freedom for me. It was a prison. A punishment. And so I grew-up believing in full-disclosure. Believing that “not going there” is simply a coward’s way of pretending that there does not exist and I refuse to be afraid. Afraid of my own experiences, my own heart. Or perhaps what I fear the most is becoming invisible.

Quiet women challenge that fear.

They frighten me…

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Misconceptions about the Severity Spectrum of OCD

The spectrum charts here is the most concise illustration of the difference between what people THINK OCD is and what OCD ACTUALLY is.

My OCD Voice

Every once in a while I will search on YouTube for videos raising awareness about OCD. In some videos the person making it will interview people without OCD, asking what they think OCD is. (Here are two prime examples: 1  and 2). I find these interviews fascinating.  Not only are there huge misunderstandings held by many people about what OCD is, but there also seem to be general trends within these misunderstandings.

I noticed a lot of the misconceptions about OCD were about what the spectrum looks like. The misconceptions revealed in these interviews kept painting in a picture in my head about what people seem to think the spectrum looks like and what it actually looks like. I decided to finally make an attempt to draw the chart I was imaging.

Many people seem to think everyone is a little OCD and a few people they may have heard about in the news…

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The Path of My Ruminations

What most people conceptualize as OCD is only a sliver of what actually occurs. The truth is that hand-washing, counting, re-locking doors, and checking faucets is the tip of the iceberg. I don’t have these kinds of compulsions. If I’m being embarrassingly honest, sometimes I wish I did, because then people could see not only how much I suffer, but how often. How very repetitive my obsessions are.

The compulsion that I have is called ruminating. It’s a mental checking and rechecking of feelings, thoughts, emotions, fears over and over again in order to achieve 100% certainty about how I feel about something. The problem is: there is no such thing as 100% certainty – at least as far as the human mind is concerned.

I’ve written about what my ruminations are and how I overcome them, but I don’t think I’ve laid out how they work and what the path of the thoughts to emotions and actions are. In my experience, there are two kinds of ruminations, triggered and untriggered. Untriggered ruminations come to me naturally and without any prompt. Triggered ruminations come from an event or a statement or an action.

For the sake of transparency (I’ve mentioned this in previous posts), my ruminations usually revolve around my relationship. You can read about the general gist of the different types of OCD here.

Untriggered Ruminations
Anxious thoughts drive me to feel depressed pretty much every morning. Every morning, while I am unmedicated (I stopped taking my daily meds a few weeks ago and only take them as needed), I wake up a significant amount of time before my alarm (usually between 3 – 4:30 AM). By the time I realize I’m awake and that my alarm hasn’t gone off yet, my mind is already in full force. I am contemplating pretty much every aspect of my life. Am I happy? Am I satisfied? Do I feel jealous today? Am I attracted to other people? Does my boyfriend love me? Do I love him? Does he want me around? Do I want him around? etc…

Every morning, I am greeted with this. And every morning, after I arrive at my train station, surrounded by strangers in business suits, I write in a notebook to help purge the racing ruminations. To find the real ME beneath all of the negativity and chaos running through my mind. Every morning (to varying degrees) I contemplate my relationship. Why? Baggage and fear, most likely. I have a fear of repression – of being in a shitty relationship and not realizing it. This, on top of needing control, and a diabolical fear of loss and abandonment most likely account for most, if not all, of my relationship-themed OCD. So, in order to combat this, I check and recheck how I feel about any given facet or circumstance.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the resulting conclusion of all this thinking is: my relationship is fine/wonderful/fulfilling/great, and I am satisfied with it, the outlying 1% being standard minor complaints or dissatisfaction that occur in any relationship from time to time which can range from “Hey, he could probably help cook more often but it isn’t really that big of a deal” to circumstantial issues such as not being able to live together yet or both of us being tight on money. (I’m making a distinct effort here to not say that I am 100% satisfied because requiring certainty is a major problem related to my anxiety and I need to learn to accept less than certainty.)

These ruminations are patterned and easy to overcome (“easy” is relative. It takes lots of daily long-term work, but not nearly as much work as triggered ruminations). Because they happen daily, I can often compartmentalize them into “this is just a daily rumination, I don’t need to worry about it.” Also, these ruminations can be completely eliminated by taking medication (which I have chosen not to do).

 

Triggered Ruminations
Triggered ruminations are much more complicated and complex. They occur as a result of an outside force: a statement, a song, an occurrence in a film, an exchange between me and my significant other, a story someone tells me about a relationship, etc. Anything can be a trigger, really. And once something becomes a trigger, I have a tendency to want to avoid it (this is a common trait for people with OCD and/or intrusive thoughts).

Something like this follows a distinct path that sometimes can escalate into a panic attack. In fact, this is usually the cause of my panic attacks. Here is the course it follows (I know this method of laying it out is chaotic and messy, but I’m trying to illustrate the chaotic nature of it. It is not quite this linear, but writing is linear and limiting. This usually happens the way a fractal would function – like a tree, with a base, a trunk, and then branches giving way to more branches):

>Trigger
>Feeling of doom – inside: heart drops into stomach, heat rises to my head and face, racing thoughts start, ache in my gut that spreads to all parts of my body manifesting in anxiety symptoms.
>Fear of racing thoughts ensues. Outside: fighting back tears, avoiding eye contact, attempting distraction.
>My behavior changes, I begin to avoid people around me, usually my significant other.
>Mean voice conjures several possible negative conclusions about the trigger arise, and my mind begins to search for evidence.
>Ruminate
>Ruminate
>Ruminate
>Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) kicks in and I try to find evidence against the negative conclusion(s) my mean voice has conjured.
>Deep breaths, become calmer
>Trigger replays in my mind
>Feeling of doom repeats, anxiety escalates, sadness/fear/general upsetness escalates.
>CBT
>Grounding (holding an object or focusing on present to circumvent the fixation on the thought)
>Deep breaths, become calmer
>Trigger replays
>Feeling of doom repeats, anxiety escalates, sadness/fear/general upsetness escalates.
>Thoughts of low self-worth drive negative conclusions and I begin to realize that I need to talk about what’s in my head.
>Ruminate
>Ruminate
>Ruminate
>Feelings of shame arise as I consider discussing my thoughts.
>Hold conversation in my mind (read: practice)  about what I should say to express my thoughts without hurting feelings.
>Ruminate about how the conversation will go (this used to take weeks, now it takes a couple of minutes or an hour). It is basically a rumination process within a rumination process.
>Finally say what’s on my mind.
>Feel shame.
>Get down on myself for having the thoughts.
>Get down on myself for getting upset by the thoughts.
>Trigger repeats – now followed by anger at the thoughts, anger with self.
>Mean voice gets louder, telling me I deserve nothing.
>Branches into two potential results:

  1. Panic attack (about 20 minutes) > Lethargy > Feel better
  2. Talk through mean voice > (get reassurance) > overcome feelings of low-self worth > emotional state lowers gradually into a calm state (sometimes the anxiety cycle can reactivate all over again if I am still affected by the trigger) > feel better

 

And often, at some point, usually about when CBT kicks in, the rumination will be ABOUT the anxiety. Instead of making me upset content-wise, I realize that the thoughts are irrational, my rational mind takes over, and the rumination just keeps going on its own – like a swinging pendulum, unaffecting and unaided. The simple fact that I am ruminating can cause anxiety and emotional upheaval. It becomes about the abusive voice in my mind and no longer about the thing I’m thinking about.

Obsessions, once triggered, can continue for merely hours or days, but can go for weeks or months. Once I overcome a particular obsession, the content of it doesn’t bother me. I can think about the thing without obsessing. But months later, the obsession may occur again – triggered or not – and the same pattern will repeat.

I’ve gotten better at working through the rumination, and by “better” I mean more efficiently and quickly. It used to take me weeks to get to a rational conclusion that I can now achieve in an hour.

So there is a lot of progress – AND, now I am more likely to discuss what’s going on in my head. I am beginning to overcome the shame and avoidance, which is good in the long term. It means that I’m getting better and that I am overcoming my OCD. Maybe sometime in the near future, I won’t have to do so much work every time I am blind-sided by intrusive or upsetting thoughts.

Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness

Let's Queer Things Up!

Internet, we need to have a talk.

I’ve had a number of readers ask why I’ve neglected to write about Amanda Bynes this last year. It’s simple, really. I don’t believe that celebrities are “fair game,” and that, when they have very human and very difficult struggles, I should capitalize on those things by writing an article, however well-intentioned. I believe they are deserving of privacy and respect, by virtue of their being people.

However, I’m making an exception here, because in the midst of the negative and callous press that Bynes has received, I think it’s time we had a chat about it from a different perspective. And then, after we’re done, I think it’s time we stop speculating about it altogether. Deal?

First and foremost, there is no way for us to know what, if anything, Bynes has been diagnosed with. The family has denied schizophrenia and bipolar…

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This is What Bad Headspace Looks Like

I’ve been in a terrible headspace lately. The last two weeks have been tough, life-wise and therefore head-wise. In my relationship, I’ve had to take on the role of supporter, as my S.O. has been going through some difficult things both having to do with circumstance, and I think, as a result emotionally. Because I’m a fixer – a loyal person who wants to take on all of people’s problems as my own – his problems become my problems. I take on a substantial load of the weight and, frankly, do too much to help.

Because of this, I get tapped out easily. And because I’m tapped out, I’m emotionally vulnerable. In the midst of this “crisis” (for lack of a better word), and possibly as a partial consequence of it, I began to have issues with one of my friends which was only escalating the stress having to do with the situation at hand.

Would you be surprised to know that I’ve been having a lot of “old,” intrusive thoughts? No, I suppose you wouldn’t. I look back on the stress level that I’ve been at lately, and I’m surprised I haven’t popped yet (read: massive anxiety attack) – and I suppose I should be a little proud of myself.

But, frankly, it just makes me sad. Sad, lonely, and tired. I feel isolated. Though I know the content of my thoughts don’t matter (it’s the obsession that’s the issue at hand – the content is irrelevant), I feel like I can’t share them with my S.O. He’s enduring a lot right now, and I don’t think he’s in the headspace where he can endure what’s on my mind. And that makes me feel alone. Because I can’t talk to the one person who seems to really understand.

I went out with a few friends who I haven’t seen in a long time and felt so far away from them. I spent most of my time with them worrying about their opinion of me, thinking that I was a bad friend for not being around enough, and convincing myself that they were all mad at me.

I can’t get myself to my therapy appointment next week because of the circumstances at hand. And that makes me feel worse.

I can’t stop obsessing about this or that, and my mean voice (normally abusive only to me) has started to project outward. Which makes me abuse myself emotionally even more.

I can sense the separation anxiety monster in me brewing a lot, and I don’t know how to make the mechanism stop anymore. I have made efforts to stop the obsessions. While out at a party last night, I started experiencing anxiety, fell into myself, began to obsess, and then said to myself “I’m not going to ruin my evening by hyper-focusing on every single fucking thing that happens and sitting here feeling like shit.”

I should be proud of myself for that, because my methodology worked. But the anxiety is still there. I still got home and cried. I still came home and hated myself for it. I still came home and felt ashamed and guilty.

I didn’t sleep all night. Kept waking up every 20-40 minutes or so. I know that getting through the day or getting through anxiety is often just a matter of changing your perspective and looking at things in a positive way. But, honestly, I just don’t have it in me today. I’m irrationally terrified that I’m pregnant. I’m convinced that I’m only going to hurt every single person who gets close to me. And I feel like I’m just waiting for the moment when everyone I love will abandon me.

I told myself that I would never dump negativity on this blog at all, because I don’t know if it’s productive. But maybe somehow this is helpful as well. To see what the really negative side of this looks like on paper. To see how much more honest it is.

It isn’t. This entry has been more reticent and distant than anything else I’ve written here. Why? Well, because I’m convinced you will all reject me.

I’m falling into myself, and when I’m wading in this deep of water, I forget how to swim.

I know I’m doing better. I am. But I am fucking tired of thinking about shit that I don’t want to think about. Thinking about the shit that upsets me more than anything. And I’m petrified that the monster that lives inside me and makes all of this up in my head is going to win for just one moment when I’m weak, and I’ll lose everything.