Mental Health Awareness Month: OCD Beyond the Screens

Mental Health Awareness Month: OCD Beyond the Screens | Twin Cities Moms Blog{Photo credit: Cari Dugan Photography}

Yesterday at work, someone wanted the napkins straightened. The day before that, I heard someone say their OCD was kicking in because she was stuck waiting in line at Target and she was getting very impatient. And last week… someone told me they had terrible OCD because their neighbor kept tapping their pen, in which they wanted to absolutely scream.

“I have such bad OCD.”

“I’m kinda OCD-ish.”

It’s commonly used, day in and day out people will proclaim their obsessive traits of neatness, organization, color coding and so on as a mental illness – Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

When they do, I was to take them into my arms. I want to console them. Console them. Console them

My heart sinks and the logical pieces within me want to let them know it’s not fair that they have to carry the weight of this mental illness around like a 600-pound gorilla on their chest. I’d tell them over and over again, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry…”

But that’s never the case.

Because typically, it’s brushed off and everyone carries on while I’m left standing there alone with arms open wide, steadily nodding my head that, “Yes! I know, I know..” I’m left standing there alone wondering, “But wait… where’s the panic attack… where’s the heavy breathing… the gasps… the cringing… the shaking… the fidgeting… why are you laughing?”

Because this isn’t what I know. This isn’t OCD, in fact this isn’t even kind of OCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder goes beyond the what the TV screens show. It’s far more than having a perfectly organized ROYGBV closet, tidiness, spotless tile floors Howie Mandel would eat off of or the rituals of power washing your hands numerous times and turning a light switch on and off. On and off. On and off just to feel relief and be able to move onto the next light switch.

For me, OCD has been a burden and a debilitating, embarrassing, and uncontrolled internal disorder that has taken me years to fully grasp and accept as something I cannot handle on my own.

It’s been four years since I was able to learn how to decipher the difference between reality and my irrational uncontrollable brain. I scheduled a quick doctor appointment to check out my right ear. For months, I was experiencing a constant “swooshing” noise, as if I could hear my own blood travel throughout my body (this would drive a sane person crazy, but someone with undiagnosed OCD – I was losing my mind). Over time, it got so loud that I couldn’t sleep at night and noises around me started to sound muffled. I stepped into the doctor office with the concern I was losing my hearing or simply going crazy. 

While I was in there, I noticed her watching my every move while my blood pressure soared. I apologized and explained I was frustrated that a notification on my phone wouldn’t clear. Then she said, “You’re not going deaf. The sound you’re hearing is from a nerve triggered by anxiousness. Come sit down….”

Next, she told me I was crazy. 

Ok… so not exactly in those words, but it would have saved some time had she simply said that. We ended up going through what seemed to be 300 questions repeating themselves in different terminology. On a scale 1 to 5, 5 being always, I answered 5, always. 

The day I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental anxiety disorder, was when so many of my daily behaviors finally made sense. I sobbed in her office the next 15 minutes, and when I walked in the door to tell my husband, I cried some more. He reassured me it was okay (my ears were ok, too) and that’s something I have to tell myself everyday.

When I say OCD is so much more than what entertainment portrays it as, I mean that my life is a constant routine – obsess, anxiousness, compulsive behavior, temporary relief – and repeat. I’m forced to feel present yet in a place halfway between the ground and the clouds, constantly reminding myself what’s due, what I could be doing, what needs to be done (weeks/months from now). I describe this best as being similar to hearing voices in my head, but it’s my voice. 

I struggle with traumatic thoughts… walking into a room and immediately thinking what I’ll do if someone were to come in and attack me or perhaps the anxiety will arise if I forget to take a mental picture of what my son is wearing JUST IN CASE he were to go missing that day.

I struggle with constant anxiousness, upset stomachs and headaches when I see certain textures (chipped paint, sci-fi characters, hay bails or the bottom of a dog’s foot). I imagine and obsess about them forming on my skin – resulting in utter disgust.

I check emails, missed calls, photos, notifications – the thought of “clutter” or space being taken advantage of tends to hurt my brain and soul in ways only one with OCD can ever imagine.

From these obsessive thoughts comes the compulsive rituals – picking. I’ll pick at nails, scabs, split ends, nail polish, chipped paint and food. This is a sense of instant relief from the thoughts, from hearing my own voice spitting out numerous concerns at one time. It’s relief from the ache in my head, my teeth from clenching my jaw so hard or my chest that tightens so stiff I sometimes gasp for air. This is my OCD. It will take over at any given time, and always when I’m least expecting it. This is why I want to console those around me when they speak of it… do they truly know the burden this monstrous disorder carries? 

And so, in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m choosing to open up. My friend used the word brave. I’m holding onto that for now knowing with any struggle, strength can be found. With the correct resources in place, OCD and it’s commonly seen components of depression, anxiety, or tics can be controlled. I feel prevalent to find it in myself to seek guidance to be able to share my story with you today – there are plenty others who exist much higher on the spectrum who are internally withering away with no hope or relief in sight.

For quite some time, I had found relief until I recently relapsed, common with mental disorders after some big changes followed by rather traumatic life events. The days were slowly growing long and painful. The panic attacks frequented more and it broke my heart when I’d catch myself begging for my kids to just.leave.me.alone. I would tell myself if I’m not better by a certain date, I’ll call the doctor. This happened every month until I finally told someone and said out loud I needed mental help.

Mental Health Awareness Month: OCD Beyond the Screens | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Help is out there and it doesn’t have to be something to be ashamed of. I’ve taken a stance to care for myself once again and stop the stigma that follows along with mental illness, a prescribed medication and behavioral therapy treatments associated with them. I’m proclaiming to take control of my life and finally learning how to properly hold hands with OCD than fight it on my own through the pain, struggle and hollow breaths of air. 

If you find yourself battling daily life with irrational behaviors, I urge you to speak up. It’s time we do more and learn more in order to find joy in playing on the floor with your children again. I promise you, there are better days. Slowly but surely, I’m coming upon these days and can appreciate the simplest joys to be awake, in control and feel alive again. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay…

One Response to Mental Health Awareness Month: OCD Beyond the Screens

  1. MaryLee Lazarowicz May 5, 2017 at 12:24 PM #

    Leah what a powerfully written article. Thank you for opening up and sharing from the heart your struggles. You are sure to give others hope that they are not alone as they try to come to terms with and find treatment for OCD, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Be certain your blog will definitely make a difference. Brittany has been blessed by your friendship!

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