One of the most common questions I get asked is “How are you doing, mentally?” It’s a completely reasonable question. Right now, everything I do revolves around my health. It’s a scary and turbulent time. At twenty, I’ve faced a lot of obstacles. This has caused me to develop different issues along the way. As I’ve said before, I have OCD. This is something I wasn’t aware of until several months ago. As a child, I’d often have intrusive thoughts. Anxiety would develop as a coping mechanism. I always assumed OCD was obsessive cleaning, handwashing, and compulsive behaviors. If I had OCD it would be very noticable. Given, most of my information came from the TV show, Monk, which I recommend (It’s a great show). For me, my OCD often presents in a hyper sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and obsessive thoughts.
I’m explaining this because had I realized earlier that it was OCD, I would’ve received better treatment. Mental health is something that is very important for anyone. Especially those of us dealing with chronic illness. I used to deny the presence of my anxiety because I didn’t see it. Now, I want to make a distinct difference here. For months, doctors told me, “You must be anxious all the time. You must have a horrible time sleeping.” and that wasn’t true. I wasn’t anxious about my health and I slept like a baby. While I wasn’t anxious about my health, my OCD was presenting in other ways. Not very notable ways but it built like a volcano, until one day it erupted.
All of a sudden, I was seeing threats everywhere. It was all I could focus on, I was having intrusive thoughts over and over again. I started developing mental compulsions to combat the intensity of the intrusive thoughts. Everything made it worse. It was a terrifying month of being clueless of what was happening. Finally, my therapist suggested I watch a YouTube video about OCD. Everything came into focus. It all matched exactly what they were explaining. Most people with OCD have a core fear. My fear is death. Most of my intrusive thoughts revolve around a fear of dying. I have sought out the most aggressive form of treatment, Exposure Response Prevention.
Weekly, I sit down with my therapist and have to accept that I will die. It’s as unpleasant as it sounds but it works. I can recognize my OCD for what it is. Intrusive thoughts no longer seem so scary. That’s not to say that I don’t catch myself engaging in compulsions because I still do. There are a lot of days I forget I have OCD for periods of time. During the Spring and Summer, my OCD was present in my every moment. It was what everything revolved around. If I was lucky, I would have a collective hour of time throughout the day where my OCD wouldn’t bother me. Now, I have intrusive thoughts and can let them go depending on my stress level.
I’m writing this because I want to normalize not only OCD but dealing with mental health issues. It’s not easy to seek treatment or speak your fears out loud. The first time I spoke my OCD outloud, I was sobbing and calling my mom because I was terrified. Saying to my providers, I’m more anxious today made me more normal to them. I thought it would be the opposite. I saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with OCD. He said that unless I needed to be medicated he felt like I was doing really well with therapy. My anxiety didn’t affect my physical health in a negative way. That was incredible to me. I feared seeing him because I thought he would write me off. Saying my anxiety was causing all my physical health issues. Which does happen to a lot of people.
Once I took a step back and accepted this anxiety exists and I need to deal with it. My care team became much more focused on my physical health. I’m not saying everyone has anxiety, but taking care of your mental health is vital to everyone’s health. It took me feeling completely buried alive by my OCD to accept that it was present. Now, I am ions from where I started and my mental health is addressed weekly. I have good days and bad days. I don’t feel ashamed or scared of what people think of my OCD. It is what it is. It’s okay to have fear and to feel anxious. It’s okay to say you’re struggling. If I never admitted it, I would’ve never come to this space and that would be a tragedy. The practices I’ve implemented because of treatment have taught me to be happier and more grateful. I would never give that up and I am grateful that my OCD has brought me to the place I am. Like everything in life, it’s a journey.