I Am A Person With A Mental Illness, It’s Not The Other Way Around

Being real, raw, and vulnerable is something that I strive to be in my life, my actions, and even more so in my writing. One, because I believe being a person of raw feelings makes me a more relatable person. Two, making myself vulnerable does give the opportunity to become very hurt, but also the even greater opportunity to be very brought up from experience. And lastly, being a real person who talks about real issues, breaking the taboo or the norm, and bringing the issues to light for others to see that they are not wrong, they are not crazy, and they are not alone is very important to me.

So today, sticking exactly to that theory, I am going to do just that. I am going to admit a mental illness of mine to the world through my writing that I have never done before. I wish you could see the war going on inside of me right now admitting this to the world, to my peers, to my friends, to my community, at home and at school. To my bosses, to everyone I work with, have worked with, and will work with. To those who know me and will know me, and to those who will never truly know me for anything but my written word.

My name is Danielle, and I suffer from a mental illness that is most commonly known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions). Often the person carries out the behaviors to get rid of the obsessive thoughts, but this only provides temporary relief. And, not performing the obsessive rituals can cause the person suffering from the mental illness great anxiety. A person’s level of OCD can be anywhere from mild to severe, but if severe and left untreated, it can destroy a person’s capacity to function at work, at school or even to lead a comfortable existence in their own home. OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults, and the problem can be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, and/or depression. OCD strikes men and women in roughly equal numbers, and usually first appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children, and research indicates that OCD might run in families.

So do you want to know what medication I take? It’s called Sertraline. You probably know it as its name-brand equivalent: Zoloft. It’s a popular selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication. Zoloft can treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), social anxiety disorders, and panic disorders. Are you curious to what counseling service I have sought out? The company is called PAR Rehab, located in Lansing, Michigan.

And, to be completely real, raw, and vulnerable with you, I have actually suffered from all of those mental illnesses listed above. But, the three main ones that have started everything and caused everything else to follow along and trail behind are depression, anxiety, and OCD.

My diagnosis of OCD is mild, yet still enough to alter my life and the way that I live it. It isn’t the ho-hum OCD that we all joke about (which, by the way, doesn’t offend me when laughed over). But, it isn’t the type that forces me to wash my hands an excessive amount of times. The stories that I want to tell you today aren’t exaggerations, they aren’t made up, and they aren’t fabricated. They are my reality and the way that I see life every single day.

If you really knew me, you would know how sensory I am. I hate the way that many things feel, especially styles of clothing. If I am wearing jeans, I always have a pair of leggings under them. A very specific style of leggings, too. UnderArmor leggings. These styles of leggings have a satin, slippery feeling that protects my skin from the rough feeling of jeans that I cannot stand. I also have the same problem with socks. If my socks are too thin, there is a chance that I am wearing a second pair underneath. Buying my clothing gives me anxiety because I have to carefully select what I will actually wear, and what would just sit in my closet. It causes me to obsess, and if not done correctly or if I am not dressed in proper layers, all I can do is think about the feeling that my skin relays to my brain until the point that it is all that I can think about, and I cannot focus on school, work, or anything else.

My car was one of the first large purchases that I ever made on my own. I bought my car the same week that my grandfather lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, and he gave me the go-ahead on the purchase. Before this investment, I took out a car loan through my credit union for half of the payment, and put cash down on the other half. From putting so much of my personal and hard earned money into this car, a 2008 Saturn Aura, I have become obsessed with the condition and state of my car. This summer, a rock shot up from the highway and onto the windshield, sitting on the wiper. In order to get rid of it, I turned on my wiper blades in hopes that it would fly off. Instead, it left a scratch on the glass. A small one, probably only visible to my eyes as I watched the event unfold. I then took my car to the car wash and proceeded to go through the wash three times, hoping it would clear it up. I vacuum my car almost every week (except in the winter, it’s too cold out), and keep the inside in pristine condition. I have two sets of floor mats. I don’t eat in my car unless it’s a dire emergency. I panic when I am the designated driver because I don’t want anybody to get sick in my car and have to clean it up. I stay on top of the gas, the oil changes, the fluids, the washes, the tires, and everything that goes along with car ownership. This summer, while moving out of my childhood home and into my uncle’s house, my boyfriend, dad, and I were packing up my bedroom and loading the contents into separate cars to drive across town. There was a mirror from my bedroom that needed to go, and in a rush, none of us thought to wrap it in the moving blankets. As it laid in the backseat of my car and went across the bumpy, pothole-covered roads of Lansing, along the way, it ripped a hole in the leather of my backseat. Not a large hole, one that could only fit my tiny fingertip through. As soon as we were unloading and I noticed this, I immediately began to sweat, panic, and weep. It was literally a hole in the backseat of my car, and it surely was not a big deal. But, it was to me. I was so angry, and immediately lashed out at my boyfriend, blaming him for all of the fault in the accident since he loaded my car for me, and helped me move. He apologized even though he definitely did not have to, and took my car to get the hole repaired that same week. He never did tell me how much it cost, and I don’t even want to know. My parents made me apologize, and I did, but the fear and angst that rushed through my chest and into my mind over the small, stupid hole was almost too much for me to bear. It made me want to lash out.

Cleanliness is a big part of my struggle with OCD. I shower at night, every night. A lot of girls only wash their hair a couple of times a week, but I wash mine every night. I refuse to go to bed without showering, because I like the way I feel when I go to bed clean in my clean sheets. I have a very specific bedtime routine, beginning in the shower and ending when I close my eyes, and everything must be followed in order. If, for some reason, it is not, I have to start the routine completely over. When morning comes, same thing. I have a very specific routine that I follow, and I could do it in my sleep. I wear an excessive amount of deodorant in fear of being a person who smells weird, because I never want to be that person. I freak out if something doesn’t go as planned during my routine. I give myself plenty of getting ready time, because rushing through my routine and forgetting something would alter my entire day. One time, I forgot to put in my earrings in the morning, and was almost to my work. I turned my car around, went back home, and put in my four stud earrings, because all I would have thought about all day is missing that step of the routine.

Things haunt me and keep me up at night. Stupid situations, the way I said things, the way that I followed through with a task, if I forgot to do something, if I made a list but left things off the list, it goes on and on. OCD has caused the most insomnia for me, more than college or my job or anything else. I replay situations in my head and think of what I could have done or shouldn’t have done. I consider if I did it a different way, what the result would be. I think about what I could do to be better, over and over and over and over. The clock then ticks on and the sun comes up and the night is gone, time to start another day.

And, something else. My writing. I re-read these articles so many times. When I write, I read. I read, I backspace, I look at it, I think, I consider, and I change. I delete the whole article, and I rewrite it. I save it, and come back to it. I leave an article half-written for months, and find it again later to pick back up. I check punctuation 100 times before I ever click the submit button on the top of the page. When I cross post my articles, I check the word formatting and make sure everything still looks the same and is in uniform with the rest.

Sometimes, I am told that my OCD is a good thing. I believe that it has really motivated me, and it has made me a very detail-oriented type of person. I tend to be thorough and go above-and-beyond. I don’t like leaving tasks unfinished, and I really push for clarity and don’t like leaving things unsaid. But there’s an ugly side to this mental illness as well. If I’m wronged, it haunts me. If I fail, it haunts me. If I think too much about something haunting me, that haunts me. The idea and anticipation of messing up at something, anything, haunts me.

Those are the days my mental illness “wins.” But, there are more days that I win, and I see the light coming through from getting the help that I needed, confessing my mental illness to those around me, and no longer letting it define me as a person. Instead, I now define myself as a person who lives with a mental illness such as OCD. Since I’ve started being more open about it, and since I’ve been letting people into my battle who constantly remind of what is really true and what really matters, the disease is losing its power over me. There are more days where I win.

In philosophy, it’s is known that naming something gives you power over it. We see it as far back as Genesis. I think that’s part of what this whole post is about. This is me naming my struggle. This is me proclaiming, to all of you, that I’ve named it.

Through this real, raw, and vulnerable experience, I hope you feel a little bit more of what I feel. I hope you are able to tell the differences in what you thought you knew about me, and what you might not know about the true, hidden secrets of who I really am. I hope you are able to take people for who they are, and love them fiercely for themselves and allow them to be genuinely imperfect in all of their ways.

I hope you are able to love me, for me.

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