So thank you Lena (I speak as if we are bffs) for reminding me of this.
I follow Lena Dunham on Instagram, because she is such a lovely inspiration to myself, who also suffered with childhood OCD, anxiety and depression. I decided to repost this particular photo because I have struggled with balancing the shame of weight gain from my medications that control my mind and the logical notion that they are helping me recover. But my thought process was flawed- exercising isn't about looking good and controlling weight! It's about leading a healthy lifestyle, and a health body really does help to make a healthy mind.
So thank you Lena (I speak as if we are bffs) for reminding me of this.
So today I wanted to address and issue that many people face, whether they have mental health issues or not. The word "selfish" has a extremely negative connotation, despite the fact that in many situations, being selfish is not only okay, it's necessary. I have been called selfish numerous times throughout my life, and I used to be quite offended whenever the word was spoken in my direction. I used to be so concerned with being non-selfish that I ended up compromising my own happiness in the pursuit of making others happy. Afraid of judgement, I ended up stuck in toxic friendships and relationships, which worsened my anxiety and eventually would lead to periods of severe depression.
After several years of this repetitive behaviour, I finally realized how detrimental it had been, after speaking about it at length with my former psychologist. He pointed out that a majority of the people I was surrounding myself with were walking all over me, and that I was enabling this to happen. It's not that they were bad people, or that they meant to hurt me, but in not standing up for myself and "selfishly" asking for what I needed or wanted, I was essentially standing by and watching my own happiness disappear. I needed to be selfish, to cut ties with those who I didn't actually want to be around, and to ask for the support from the ones who I truly wanted in my life.
If you are unhappy, don't be afraid to be assertive. If you need something to change in your life, be selfish and do whatever you need to do to change it. No one else is going to stick up for you. The truth is that biologically, everyone's brains are programmed to think about what benefits them and them alone. Often, this instinct can get suppressed, especially if someone is suffering from a mental illness such an anxiety or depression, and we tend to get comfortable in our surroundings, and get scared to rock the boat by making any changes. Personally, I would find myself in that situation, and sometimes spend years in the same relationship, afraid to leave or ask for anything to change. It was extremely dangerous for my mental health, and it is only outside of the situation that I realize what I was doing. Hence why I decided to write this post- don't be scared of changing the situation you are in if you are not happy! When I finally found my voice and cut out all bad relationships and friendships from my life, I saw a large portion of my anxiety and depression follow. It was truly amazing how much better I felt when I finally was selfish enough to give myself what I wanted. If you find yourself in a rut, don't be afraid to make some changes based on what YOU want. Be your own best friend. Stand up for yourself. Trust me, you'll wonder why you haven't been selfish all along.
Today I am challenging my readers to watch this short video clip and hopefully be enlightened on how it feels to have OCD, and how suffocating it can be. It's not simply about liking things clean and ordered!
Hello again, I apologize for being so MIA in the past few weeks (ok maybe longer, applications for grad school and exams are hard!) Anyways, today I just wanted to write a post about how much I have improved from my experiences with my psychologist, psychiatrist, and health care team at McMaster. I figured it would be encouraging to those who are just setting out on their recovery paths, or hopefully encourage those who are a little lost to look into treatment options.
I began seeing a psychologist at McMaster University at the Student Wellness Centre at the end of my first year of university, after a particularly difficult few months. At this point, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was very strong, and my obsessions increasing in frequency and intensity- causing me to invent new routines to cope, mainly involving repeating phrases over and over in my head or placing objects in specific places for hours until I got them just right. Oh and using hand sanitizer in insanely high amounts to combat the germs I felt that were overtaking my body. My anxiety was at an all time high for this reason, and as a result, I began to feel extremely depressed. I didn't feel like going to class, didn't want to eat. All I wanted to do was lie in my bed, and watch TV. I didn't really feel motived to pursue my dream of becoming a scientist. I was overwhelmed with apathy, which caused me to feel ashamed, and thus causing feelings of hatred towards myself.
One day, I managed to drag myself out of bed to my abnormal psychology class (ironic, no?). We had a guest speaker that day, who talked to us about her experience with extreme, chronic anxiety. As I was listening, I was overcome with emotions, and almost started crying in the middle of class. I felt that I was finally being understood by someone, that I wasn't completely alone and pathetic, because here was another person going through exactly what I was struggling with. After the class, I talked to her, and found out she had received help at the Student Wellness Centre of McMaster University. I didn't waste any time- I knew if I went home and went to bed, my desire to recover like her would be completely overtaken by my apathy again. In tears, I quickly walked over the the wellness centre, where I was taken to see a mental health nurse, who put me in contact with my psychologist. I had seen psychologists before, whom I did NOT like, yet this one seemed very different. His no bullshit approach to therapy that involved me directly confronting my fears was exactly what I had needed after my years of avoidance caused by my anxiety. From there, months and months of continuous cognitive behavioural therapy and exercises would begin. I didn't know when I had decided to attend that class that day that I would be setting myself up for a long yet rewarding road to recovery. I will forever be grateful for that girl who shared her story of anxiety with me and my class. Her presentation marked the exact point when I finally realized how much my life had unravelled, and how desperately I wanted to get it back, and be just like her. Her courageous action of telling her story is exactly why I can sit here, three years later, free of many of my symptoms of OCD, depression, and anxiety. I can only hope that through sharing my stories with mental illness, it helps my readers suffering in similar circumstances to make those small steps towards recovery.
So you think you may have some kind of mental illness, or maybe you've just noticed you are feeling kind of off the last few weeks? Don't panic. Everyone has days where they don't quite feel right. For some people, this passes within a few hours or days. For others, like myself, it become a cycle that stretches out for months and eventually years. Here are some tips/realizations I've personally had during the time in which I realized I had a mental illness:
1. So you've felt bad for a while-First of all, remember it's not your fault. Nothing you have done led to this maladaptive thinking or these physical feelings. Maybe you had a tough few months because you were starting a new school, or you lost some friends/family members, or maybe you're adjusting to a new job. Either way, the fact that you've realized you aren't quite yourself lately is amazing, and you should be commended! After all, it took me years to figure out that my obsessions and compulsions were different and that it wasn't considered 'normal' for people to do what I did.
2. So you admit to yourself you've been feeling off...now what? First off, I would suggest confiding in someone you trust that you haven't been feeling well lately. Face it- not man is an island. And this is definitely the case in your journey to get help and feel better. You cannot do it alone. Plus, since more people are now aware of mental health disorders, you may find friends/family who are in similar circumstances that can become a support network. Either way, confide in someone, so they can aid you in the next few steps to recovery.
3. Seek out help- now this one is probably one of the scariest/most difficult steps for people. Most often it's met with apprehension and the sudden denial that they need help. Face it- you admitted to yourself you are feeling off- do you want to feel better? Don't tell me no, because I know no one likes living in the shitty circumstances of a mental illness that's taken over. You need to learn to admit your illness isn't part of who you are- it is external, but needs to be dealt with accordingly and managed throughout your life. And no, you weren't born knowing how to manage it. So go seek out a professional! :) Personally, I would recommend a psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioural therapy or positive/motivational psychology, just based on my recovery process. Social workers can be good too, but personally I did not have a good experience with them.
4. Stick to it- if you go to at least 5 sessions with a mental health professional and you don't like their style, it's not you! It takes a while to find someone you trust and can gel with, so keep looking and don't get discouraged! Remember the person(s) you confided in before when you realized you weren't feeling well? Lean on them while you search for the right professional to help you out.
5. So you found someone- YAY! Half your battle is done. Believe me, I went to a lot of psychologist, psychiatrists, and social workers before finding a good match. But I knew I was sick, and with the encouragement of my friends and family, stuck to it and found Dr. Cooper and Dr Tulvig, to whom I owe my sanity. (Disclaimer: jk, just because you have a mental illness doesn't mean you are insane)
6. Don't give up- It took me 18 years before I finally started to make progress in getting rid of my OCD and anxiety/depression. It was a loooooong road. And yeah, there were easily hundreds of times that I just wanted to stay in bed asleep and not deal with it. But I pushed forward with the lovely support network I acquired at my time at McMaster, and kept making slow steps. You'll notice it'll seem like two steps forward then one backwards. And it sucks, but you know what? You are still moving ahead. And you'll look back on the months or years of work and realize how much happier and healthier you've become. And I can tell you from personal experience, that makes it more than worth it. :)
If you need help finding financing for seeking out professional help, or finding resources/qualified professionals feel free to message me. I know tons about which clinics/doctors in Toronto and Hamilton are helpful, as well as the resources you guys have in college and university
Childhood Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is very rare, and often goes undiagnosed due to the lack of awareness and communication of children towards mental health disorder. Having OCD as a child or adolescent is extremely isolating, and sadly, roughly 10% of people diagnosed with childhood/adolescent OCD will attempt suicide.
That introduction is a bit morbid, however I wanted to introduce this topic in a very honest and realistic manner. I began having my first symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder when I was 6 years old, although I really didn't realize what I was experiencing. Because the human brain is hardwired to remember instances of fear, I can recall my obsessions at that age very well. I distinctly remember sitting in my kindergarden class, playing with those weird connect-y colourful cubes (I was making a princess castle, naturally), when all of a sudden images of my entire family being horrifically mangled in a car accident flashed through my mind- out of the blue. I had never witnessed an accident or been in that situation before- I just had this urgency that my family was in immediate danger, and that I was going to be an orphan. A voice in my head kept repeating that my family would die soon, followed by images of destruction and death. These thoughts began to occur more frequently and intensely. I developed many other obsessions within the next few weeks. I would be in the hallway, waiting in line to take a drink from the water fountain after gym class, petrified with fear. I remember weighing in pros and cons in my head, being so thirsty from running around in gym but being so terrified that I would catch a disease from the water fountain (I had recently seen something about diseases on the news). Starting at age 6, I began obsessing over how I could keep my family safe from their 'imminent death', how I could avoid germs at all cost, how to keep someone from abducting me, how to keep my house from burning down, and a menagerie of other obsessions that I won't get into, because it would take too much time to list them all.
Because I was so young, and felt so helpless over these constant images/voices flashing through my mind, I started to develop routines and rituals as a way to cope with the images and voices that were swirling around my head. I mean really, that was all I could do to feel in control of the situation at such a young age. This is one of the distinguishing factors of OCD- the use of what's called "magical thinking". I thought that if I did things in a certain way, or counted something, or ordered/hoarded items, that the images and voices would go away, and everyone I loved would be safe. The compulsions started at age 7. Most of my compulsions were performed inside my head or when I was alone, so naturally it was tough for my family to know how much distress I was in all the time.
Here are some personal examples of my obsessions, and what compulsion I performed to try and rid myself of the torturous images/voices:
Obsession: My family being murdered
Compulsion: Praying for 1 hour every night, repeating each prayer exactly 4 times (because in my mind, 6 was a number of death, so saying anything in a multiple or factor of 6 ex. 1, 2 or 3 would mean my family wasn't protected, and would be murdered.) If I said the prayer and it didn't sound right in my head, or wasn't the exact right timing, I would need to start over again. Even if I got it right on the 2nd or 3rd try, I would need to do it again until it equalled 4, 5, or 7 tries, because I needed to avoid 2 or 3 or 6 in order for my family to stay alive. In my mind, this was not an optional ritual. If I didn't do this right, I wouldn't sleep, because it would be my fault that my family wasn't protected. This ritual started when I was 7, and was finally broken down/phased out when I was 17, and started getting help.
Obsession: My parents dying in a car accident
Compulsions: I would hoard away any piece of paper that I could find around the house that had their signature on it. I couldn't throw out school forms or notes they had signed, because in my mind, if I threw it out, that parent would immediately die. In my eyes as a child, I was responsible for my parents being alive. This ritual started when I was 7, and ended when I was 15.
Obsession: My house burning down
Compulsion: I checked the oven probably 10-15 times before I went to sleep each night. I would also try and repeat certain phrases in my head to avoid the possibility of a fire in my house. This ritual happened from when I was 9, and ended when I was 18.
Obsession: Me being infected with a fatal illness
Compulsions: washing my hands for long periods of time, after touching anything someone else touched, anything I deemed 'dirty'. This means I was washing my hands upwards of 50 times a day, until they were raw and bleeding. I also tried using hand sanitizer religiously, and stronger chemicals that caused burns/discomfort occasionally, all to ensure my hands were disinfected. I also was/am petrified of doorknobs and other public items which carry a lot of germs, so I tend to avoid them. This ritual started when I was 7 and it still somewhat of a struggle for me to suppress currently.
There are many other obsessions and compulsions I have experienced. The point of me writing this all out is not to ask for sympathy, or scare anyone with how different my mind works, but mainly to show you all that people with mental illness go through so much that others are unaware of. You can't ever really know what is going on in someone's life. I had a tremendous amount of difficulty growing up with OCD, mostly because I felt so isolated and concerned I would be rejected by my childhood friends if they found out. In regards to my friends in elementary school, I was able to appear fairly 'normal' on the outside, but it was extremely difficult. Many regular activities that young children love, I had to pretend to enjoy while dodging these obsessions and the need to perform my compulsions. For example, my friends in elementary school loved sleepovers, but the entire time all I could concentrate on was that I had no way to ensure my family was alive if I slept at their house, and I couldn't check their oven enough times without seeming weird, and their family had germs that could infect and kill me. Often I found myself just following along with whatever other people were doing or saying, because I needed to keep my illness a secret. So much of my life in elementary and high school was in my own head, so I probably appeared to other people as boring or vapid. Truth is, I was just mirroring what other people were doing to stay afloat.
I am forever grateful for those family and friends who stayed around and supported me from childhood up until now. And to my mental health team at McMaster who finally helped me come to terms with my life struggle with OCD and anxiety. When I was younger, I knew something was wrong, but I never told anyone, out of fear I would be teased or isolated from 'normal' people. I was scared my family would look at me differently. But in reality, even though dealing with my OCD was the hardest thing I've ever done, it's made me the person I am (as cliche as that is). And a lot of people love the actual me. Including myself (finally). So if you are struggling with coming to terms with a possible mental illness, and fear of non-acceptance, feel free to message me or contact a mental health professional. Because living in fear won't help you recover. And I guarantee you will be happier and healthier once you and those around you accept it. And if they can't accept it, they aren't worth being around. The truth is, you aren't defined by your mental illness. It isn't who you are. It's something that is inflicted on you due to neurological abnormalities and environmental conditions. No one should blame or reject you for it. Because more often then you think, there is someone around you going through something similar.
Now before I begin this post, I am going to throw out a couple of definitions (so cliche, right?) so that everyone can understand exactly what I am saying when I describe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is likely that I will make another post sometime ranting about how OCD is portrayed incorrectly in the media, but for now, I just want to clarify exactly what OCD entails:
Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear or worry (obsessions), repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety (compulsions), or a combination of such obsessions and compulsions
thank god for Wikipedia right?
Basically, I want to illustrate that when you have OCD, you get these extremely disturbing images in your mind, that are very vivid, and cannot control. Once they flash through your mind, they increase in intensity and frequency until a state or urgency or panic is reached by the person affected.
In order to combat these frightening images and thoughts (obsessions) one must then perform compulsions in order to relieve themselves of the panic they feel. The one exception to this is the case of Pure Obsession OCD (pure O) which only produces disturbing images, and avoidance of anything related to the obsession is the compulsion, rather than performing rituals.
I however, suffer from classical OCD, so I experience obsessions and perform compulsions.
In addition, I have also been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression, which likely stem from what I have gone through with my OCD. I will elaborate on my experience with multiple concurrent disorders in further posts.
Hello, lovely people of the internet. And probably my mother. Welcome to what has been an idea in the back of my mind for a very, very long time-my mental health blog. I decided today was a perfect day to launch it, as it is Bell Let's Talk Day, which is kind of self explanatory, so let's talk!
In the past, I have been apprehensive about sharing such personal and intimate details about my mental health disorders with strangers online. This is probably the main reason it's taken me so long to gather the courage to create this site. Mental health disorders unfortunately have a tremendous amount of stigma attached to them. When creating this website, I was thinking about what would happen if employers, or family members, or friends judged what I wrote in my blog, and wrote me off as an insane. What if this causes people to not want to be around me, because they think I'm crazy? Well, those malicious thoughts were quickly dismissed when I remembered that the reason people would consider me '"crazy" is because the majority of people DON'T share their stories of mental illness with others. The silencing of many individuals who are afflicted with mental illness by those around them who aren't accepting is what causes the stigma to grow.
So, to break that silence, let's talk about mental illness. I am going to attempt to make daily blog entries outlining my story of mental illness and recovery. I hope that in doing so, my readers can identify with some of the challenges I've had, and do one of two things:
1. If you identify very strongly with what I write, and feel you have a mental health issue yourself, don't hesitate to message me, and I can help point you in the right direction of a healthcare professional. You are most definitely not alone!!
2. If you finish reading some blog posts, and realize you may have someone in your life who is dealing with a mental illness, try and make yourself an ally. Let that person know they are not alone, and you are happy to listen if they need to open up to someone. The most important thing is that you DO NOT pass judgement. This person is likely feeling isolated already, and they need to know they aren't going to be alone in their recovery.
Thank you for reading my extremely long introduction (sorry about that). I will be back to discuss my specific mental health disorders later today. Please share the Bell Let's Talk photos on Facebook, as Bell will donate 5¢ towards mental health initiatives.