Last week I got what some might call devestating news. To be honest, I had a moment where I felt that gravity, too.
After months of feeling completely out of control of my body–my thoughts, emotions, sleep–I knew something wasn’t right and I just couldn’t keep trying to put one foot in front of the other like this.
My family deserves better.
My job deserves better.
I deserve better.
So, at the urging of my therapist, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist to manage my meds.
To be clear, I’m now 38 and I wasn’t diagnosed with anxiety until I was 34 even though even my earliest memories were filled with intense fear and worry, sleepless nights, and preparing for the worst.
When I went off to college, my parents found my 7th grade backpack filled with canned goods, bottled water, and survival gear hidden in the back of the basement closet…because WHAT IF THERE WAS A TORNADO!? In fairness, I did NOT include a can opener so we still would’ve been in trouble, but hey, 11 year old preparedness right!?
As bizarre as it sounded then, as a woman in my mid 30s, I truly had NO idea that other people didn’t live their lives like this–with a constant upset stomach, making endless to-do lists and then spending the wee hours of each night berating themselves for not checking off every box that day.
Now, here I am, nearly 39 and raising my own kids–one of whom has six mental health and behavioral diagnoses. My entire career is centered around educating and advocating for kids like mine but I’ve been secretly suffering with SO much more than just anxiety myself and I had no clue.
How could I be managing his meds, appointments, specialists, and mental health while being completely oblivious to my own!?
The psychiatrist listened patiently as I answered her questions, laughed off my feelings and experiences, and made sure she knew, “I can handle it.”
Y’all, I am NOT handling it.
Not even close.
I’ve had seasons where I cry every single day–sometimes with good reason, and sometimes because it’s a Tuesday. I don’t know.
I get so consumed by planning, preparing, and color-coordinating every hour of every day, that I miss the basics.
I have days–most of them lately–where I feel like my heart will beat out of my chest and I can barely breathe and I am certain something terrible is about to happen.
So, she shot me straight and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Today I am almost 39.
I am a wife, a mom, a friend, a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a writer, a speaker, an advocate, a grad student, an employee…
And I also am a person with
PTSD and c-PTSD
*Breathes out loooonnnggg, scary sigh of relief and grief and allll the feelings.
How have I lived nearly 40 years of life like this!?
How have I kept all of this buried so deeply that I survived close to four decades without being really honest with myself or even those closest to me!?
How have I managed depressive episodes, panic attacks, trauma responses, and overwhelming intrusive thoughts and still been some level of a productive member of society!?
Because I had no idea.
And here’s why–
Media and mental health are not on the same page.
We are progressing, for sure. But it’s slow going and we are way behind.
I thought depression was weeks of sleeping and crying and never getting out of bed.
I thought OCD was turning off every light switch 12 times, washing my hands until they bleed, and having to wear gloves in public–unable to hug or shake hands.
And don’t misunderstand me. Those descriptions ARE reality for some people. But not for me.
Naturally, I nerded out and read ALL the things I could (Read: I frantically obsessed and tried to control). I scoured medical journals and buried my nose in my grad school desk reference DSM-V to see what was really up with me.
Could the psychiatrist have been wrong!?
Spoiler Alert: She. Was. Not.
So here is what I’m learning, friends.
What OCD is Not:
1. A ‘Quark’ that is able to be Controlled.
2. Synonymous with ‘Neat-Freak’, ‘Germ-o-phobe’, or ‘Anal Retentive’.
What OCD Can Look Like:
1. Uncontrollable Intrusive Thoughts.
For me, this looks like being convinced that my husband is dead if he’s even 5 minutes late.
Assuming the absolute worst at all times because if I don’t, I am absolutely convinced that terrible things WILL happen.
Not being able to drive behind log trucks because I get actual full-on mental pictures of the post-accident carnage.
Feeling the need to always be with/in control of those I love because if I am not there, they will be hurt/kidnapped/killed.
2. Obsession with or without Compulsions.
For me, this looks like fixations on certain things,
An absolute physical need for perfection,
Compulsions that mask as control–like crazed rage cleaning my entire house when it feels like one thing is out of my control.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a subgroup of OCD. Y’all I’ve been a very athletic 170lbs and convinced I was the fattest cow to walk the earth and 365lbs and totally unaware because I suppressed, controlled, and avoided. I couldn’t honestly describe my physical self accurately if my life depended on it. Ever.
OCD, depression, and any other mental health diagnoses is just that–a disorder (or disordered thinking).
They are not a CHOICE.
They are not FUNNY.
They are not a JOKE.
It is just as hurtful to hear someone call my kid crazy as it was to have someone in a position of power last week tell me, “Just stop being OCD and relax!”
I wish I could. Trust me.
So, be mindful of your own struggles, friend.
Be understanding of those around you.
Be intentional with your vocabulary.
Be a support to those who need it–and to the strong ones (like me) who do a terrific job of “pretending normal”.
Be kind to people because I assure you that no one has a true picture of another’s battles.
*Please keep in mind I am not yet a licensed therapist and this information is meant to educate, but is not valid to diagnose.
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