Mortality is a topic that recently popped into my mind very late at night. I am someone who has always suffered in the present. OCD, Anxiety, you name it. Looking towards a better future is my way of coping with my struggles.
“Tomorrow will be a better day”
“When I’m a psychologist I can help others like myself”
“One day I will reach my dreams”
…I focus on the future. My dreams push me forward each day and give me purpose. Yet they are all based in the future…and that future is not a guarantee. There is a possibility that I may not live to reach those dreams. The one thing I am guaranteed is today, and that is not enough for me to be happy. Each day I dream about the office I will have, how it will look, and the people I will help as they sit beside me fighting their mental illness. Yes, I appreciate each day. The beauty of the world around me. The way laughter fills my entire body with golden happiness. How it feels to be loved by friends and family. The wet kisses of my puppies. The sunset that repeats it’s glorious masterpiece each night. Is it wrong that these beautiful moments aren’t enough for me? If I happened to die today, my life would be very much incomplete. Is that because I’m young? Just some late night thoughts and realizations I thought worthy of a blog post.
For a while now, I have been on the schedule of showering once every three to five days. Showering continues to be a struggle due to my OCD. The process of showering is a chore for me. Having to undress, get all wet, wash my hair and put conditioner in it, dry off, brush my now tangled hair. It’s a pain and OCD know’s that. He tries to protect me from doing such a chore. But, I’m tired of feeling dirty. Of having to coat my greasy hair with powder to make it look cleaner. Of spraying myself with perfume in case I smell. On Monday I decided enough was enough. I decided I will shower every night. It only took until Wednesday for OCD to decide he doesn’t like this new idea. The feeling of dread settled in my stomach like a lead weight. Anxiety trickled through my veins making it feel like an electric current. My heart tingled and fear seeped into my body spreading slowly through my limbs like a molten lava. My body refuses to leave the couch, and if I try, all of these feelings and emotions intensify. It makes me so angry. One more emotion to add to the storm inside me. I force myself to stand up in a swift motion and the storm inside roars making my tears leave their ducts and stream down my face.
I hate the feeling of anxiety. It feels like a mix of fear and static has settled into my stomach and over top my heart. I push through however and walk upstairs to the bathroom. I quickly undress and stand there looking in the mirror. I want to just jump in the shower, but I can’t. Now I have to look at my face. Look at any blemishes I have. Look at my arms and the freckles I have. It is as if my brain is doing anything it can to keep me out of the shower and distracted. If I try to look away, anxiety intensifies once again. The anger boils inside me making me finally jerk away from the mirror, place the shower mat on the floor, tug the curtain to the side, put the water on, and step into the shower. The storm starts to slip away and I’m left washing my salty tears away. I finish my shower with a heavy heart knowing I have to take another shower tomorrow. This feeling of dread gets old real fast. Anxiety gets old real fast. OCD gets old real fast…and I don’t even have my biggest trigger to worry about yet…school.
To add a positive to my negative mood, I know it will get easier. The more you fight the feeling, the easier it is the next time you do it. For showering, it may take a few weeks for it to feel easier, but in the end, it will.
I have always been one for fresh starts. My go-to saying was, “this week is a new week, I’m starting over.” By doing this, I seemed to expect everything to be better. I expected smooth sailing. When the time came that I would fall back into my unhealthy habits, I would become disappointed in myself, in my circumstances, and in life. My lovely therapist and treatment team I’ve had over the years has given me a new mindset to use when I want to “start over.” Below I’ve listed what they have said and put my own spin on it with the ladder technique.
Create a destination. (Mine is overall mental health that I can live with more easily)
Remember that no matter how many setbacks you have, you will neve fall further than before. Each setback teaches you about yourself and your illness.
Look at treatment as climbing a ladder to your destination.
Realize that treatment is most of the time two steps forward one step back. Some days it may be two steps forward two steps back, or even two steps forward three steps back. My favorite days, however, are the three steps forward one step back. After a while, you may see more of those days. But it is important to realize that the steps backward are going to make an appearance and it is natural in treatment. Realizing this helps with that disappointment that sets in when having a fallback.
Evaluate each week how far along you are on yourladder. Remember that you can never start back at the beginning as you have learned more through the journey than you did at the start of it. There is no rush to get better. It is a slow process. Take time to appreciate the little victories.
My absolute favorite day of my trip to England and Germany was an excursion I took from London to Stonehenge and Bath. It was in the low 20s° F and it ended up being the windiest day of our entire trip. Stonehenge was absolutely amazing to me. I’ve dreamed of visiting ancient sites since I was old enough to understand the History Channel. I knew how much I would enjoy it. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy Bath. Before planning our trip I didn’t even know what Bath was.
My story of Bath began with my small excursion group running back onto our tour bus out of the wind and cold, with hot chocolate in our hands. (Honestly the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.) I took my hat, gloves, and scarf off and settled in for our bus ride to Bath. Our bus driver Lorey maneuvered the bus through the windy roads of the English countryside while our tour guide Leslie picked up her microphone and started pointing out a farm up ahead. She noted how she loved giving tours at this time because of the pigs. You see, the pigs are bred for meat, so at this time we were able to see the pigs walking about. I didn’t understand her fascination with the pigs. I’m a huge animal lover, but she was going on about the pigs as if they were the Queen of England. It ends up, the pigs play a huge role in the creation of Bath!
The myth states that in the 9th Century BC there was a king who developed leprosy. He was banished and forced work as a pig farmer. He raised them, fed them, led them to safety. Eventually, the pigs caught the kings leprosy. He and the pigs were on a constant journey to find acorns, the pig’s favorite treat. On their search, the pigs started to roll in the mud next to a hot spring. Immediately the pigs were cured of their ailments. The king was shocked and quickly followed suite…rolling in the mud near the hot spring. The king was cured of his leprosy. He was so thankful for the magical hot spring that he decided to create a city around it.
The Romans found healing in these waters as well and around 50 AD they built the famous Roman Baths. They built the temple and dedicated it to their healing gods. Crowds flooded to the baths seeking healing and long lives. The people faded eventually traveling elsewhere in the 4th Century AD. The stone structures were turned into wooden huts until it was eventually abandoned.
The Saxons took over Bath in the 6th Century and it flourished once again. It continued to be a bustling city through the middle ages. People still went to the hot springs for healing. Visions of angels were said to have come to some who bathed in the springs. Cathedrals were built and all was well until plague hit. The waters still were of interest to those who heard of it’s healing properties.
In the 1700s Bath was a fashionable place to live for the wealthy. There was beautiful architecture and the Pump room was built which allowed easier access to the healing water of the baths. Although it was a fashionable city to live in, most of its occupants were poor. The 1800s took the city of Bath in a new direction. It boomed like never before. It became a large and important town. It’s importance quickly faded with industry growing faster outside of Bath. It returned to being a market town for tourists and shoppers. Bath was very unsanitary at this time. It caused sickness in the town.
The 1900s brought to Bath the new technologies such as electricity, trams and eventually buses. World War II came in like a storm and damaged over 1,500 buildings. It recovered however, museums were built, and to this day tourism thrives. How could it not? It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.
As I walked down the cobblestone streets taking in as many sites as I could, I stopped to take a picture of the Bath Abby Cathedral, I didn’t immediately notice the man with pigeons all over his arms and head. He called out to me, “Hey there! Would you like to try?” I laughed, shocked to see a man covered in birds and confused about what he was asking. He smiled at me encouragingly and said, “Just put your arms out!” I was in a daze, not understanding what putting my arms out would mean. I did as he said and in less than a second, a half a dozen pigeons flew on me. I couldn’t stop laughing, my smile brighter than the sun shining above me. My heart tingled with happiness. Here I stood in an ancient city, with marble buildings surrounding me, and The Pigeon Man smiling in front of me taking my picture. It felt like a dream.
Was it the bathwater I had just drunk with the hopes of a healthy future? Was it the magic of the acorns giving me this unbelievable feeling of happiness? Was it God looking down at me in front of his majestic cathedral in Bath Abby? I’m not sure what made me feel so light, but I can still feel my heart tingle with the memory.
As I write about that amazing day, I can’t help but do what I do best and connect it to my struggles. This amazing city has a historic and monumental past. The past full of ups and downs, victories and defeats, healing and illness. But what do we remember this city for? The healing of the bath water. Why is that? I think it is because we as humans always carry with us a hope for a better future.
Millions of people have stood in front of the ancient baths with hope bubbling up in their chests before taking the first step into the water. Hope. It is the most powerful emotion I have ever felt. It pulls me forward in my darkest of times and it happens to be the exact same emotion that founded the City of Bath. The joy I felt there represents the bright future ahead. There will be healing and illness on my way to that future, there will be victories and defeats before reaching that destination, but I will get there.
I grew up a Roman Catholic and the morals and values that faith gave me helped make me who I am today. When someone faces a struggle so big, you can’t help but search for reasons as to why this has happened. For my family, our answer was always “God has a plan.” I truly believe that. God has a plan and everything happens for a reason were the sayings that got me through my hardest times. I’ve known what God’s plan was since I was 13 years old. I met Dr. Franklin and Dr. Antinoro at UPENN Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety and they introduced me to the lifesaving methods of treating my OCD. I knew after meeting them that they are exactly who I want to be when I grow up. This right here was God’s plan for me. I am struggling now, but one day I can use my experience to help others like myself. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to please others. I don’t want to offend anyone, I don’t want to upset anyone. I want everyone to be happy, healthy, and in love with life’s adventures. Dr. Franklin and Dr. Antinoro brought back the happiness and hope in my life. That is what I want to do for others.
So, as I had tread my way through the rough seas, this dream of mine, this plan, kept me going. I knew one day I would get better. My parents made sure of that. I would not always live like this. Hope was something I almost always had. Life can’t be this hard forever, right? Right. One day the stormy clouds have to pass. One day the seas have to calm. One day the winds die down. Everything will work out in the end. Everything I’ve gone through will be a life lesson and will make me stronger. These thoughts were essential to getting me through the worst of times. I hope by writing this, someone may read this and become inspired to start thinking this way. Optimism is the only way you’ll get through it all in the end. Why not start now?
It’s been a while since my last post. I have realized just how much I relied on getting my thoughts and feelings out on here when I was sick last year. Now that I’ve been doing so well, I haven’t had too many thoughts poisoning my brain. I have thrived this summer. I took on an internship with the Director of Mental Health which has been amazing. My supervisor has given me many jobs and even made me the event organizer for a Suicide Prevention event. I’ve gathered speakers, booked two venues, and ordered promotional items. It has been a lot of fun. It has shown me that I will be able to not only function, but thrive in the real world once I get out of school. A year ago, these thoughts would have put me into a panic attack, but now I am filled with such excitement!
I’m feeling ready for the real world. To take on responsibilities, to push myself to work harder, and to envision my future. With a future in mind, I’m taking my first steps by not only taking an internship with the Mental Health Department of the county but to fly to Chicago and attend the Annual OCD Conference by myself. This will be my first conference and I’m so excited to see what this experience holds. I can’t wait to hear everyone’s stories and to meet professionals in the field. It will give me a look at what specifically I want to do in the Mental Health field, what different positions there are, and to possibly network and gain connections. I truly feel like I’m ready to face this big scary world. I’m finally taking steps towards my dreams of helping others and I am just amazed by how far I’ve come.
Keeping a journal is a great way to organize your thoughts and evaluate what you are feeling. It is advice that doctors and therapists always give. In the past, when that advice was given I would brush it off. It seemed pointless and like a waste of time. I started writing quite a bit last January and continued it during my time in residential treatment in the summer. It was a perfect coping method. I would write just before bed and summarize my thoughts and feelings for the day. There were many nights I just wanted to skip, but I tried to push through. For a while I seemed to have pretty negative entries. That’s when I decided to create this blog. I would share my thoughts and experiences which I wrote in my journal and try to turn my thoughts into more positive ones. Not only did it help me, but I found that there were others that could relate to what I was going through and who found my blog inspirational. It helped me become a little more chipper during a hard time in my life.
When I was in residential treatment at Rogers Memorial Hospital, my therapist unsurprisingly had me write each night. But instead of using it as a way to vent and summarize my day, whenever I mentioned something bad that I did or that had happened, I had to talk about something I learned from that experience and something positive that could come out of it. I had a fear of failure. I used my OCD as a shield to protect me from taking responsibility for my actions. If I was sick, I didn’t have responsibilities, therefore I had no chance of failing. So each night I would use my journal to remind myself that each day is a learning experience. Every mistake is a chance to learn and grow. Let me tell you, when I remind myself that, it feels good. Same goes for writing positives that happened during the day. Some days when I’m really struggling, my entry for the day is lists of good things that happened. The sun was out, the wind blew against my skin, I saw a dog today, I know one day it will be easier. Isn’t that the perfect mood to fall asleep to? As much as you may just want to brush journaling off, I say give it a try. Below are some tips and topics I use when journaling.
If and when you miss a day journaling, don’t apologize. Don’t think of journaling as an obligation or a chore that needs to get done. Think of it as a way to unwind.
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or writing quality. This is only for your eyes and for getting your thoughts on paper. Don’t be embarrassed.
Decide if you want to journal in the morning or night and be consistent. Many people say it is more beneficial to journal in the morning because you are more positive, but I like to summarize my day and list the positives. (I am also not a morning person and like my sleep!)
Set a reminder each day to journal on your designated time. Mine is every night at 8:00 pm!
Don’t just write about the good things that happened. Like I mentioned before, write about the bad things and how it made you feel, but at the end of that thought remind yourself that life is a learning experience, it will help you grow, and for me, I believe everything happens for a reason.
Decide if you want to journal in a notebook or an application. I’ve tried both but tend to stick to a physical notebook. If you want an application, DayOne was really nice. That’s on Mac and iPhone (Update, DayOne got expensive!! When I downloaded it, it was free!) Many people also use Evernote which is on all platforms. I’ve never tried that for journaling though.
If you’re artistic try an art journal!! I love looking at the different art journals on Pinterest but I’m not one bit artistic.
As suggested by Dr.Mike There is no right or wrong way to journal! These tips are based on how I write mine and some things I’ve learned. If you write differently leave a comment and share your tips! Have fun and use journaling as a time to relax. Write freely. It’s a no judgement zone.