It is officially OCD Awareness Week! Yay! To celebrate, I want to address some misconceptions, useful facts, and where you can go if you want to learn more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Education is key to ending the mental health stigma!
First and foremost, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a “quirk” everyone has. You can not be sooo OCD. It is a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). One of the main requirements for the disorder is the cause of clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
OCD is considered a chronic condition with a low rate of spontaneous remission. When you suffer from OCD, it is something you often have to fight repeatedly. There is no shame in falling backward or relapsing. In fact, treatment is often two steps forward one step back, and that’s okay!
Although OCD is often chronic, treatment can still be very successful! 70% of patients with OCD will benefit from either medicine or cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Patients who respond to medicine usually show a 40 to 60% reduction in OCD symptoms, while those who respond to CBT often report a 60 to 80% reduction in OCD symptoms.
Triggers related to washing and cleanliness only make up a small part of the OCD population. Obsessions can range from unwanted sexual thoughts, religious thoughts, harming others, and much more.
Research suggests that genes play a partial role in the development of OCD as well as communication problems in the frontal lobe of the brain. The thoughts and emotions one feels when suffering from OCD are valid and very real. They are not exaggerations or made up.
Treatment is not easy. Treatment often involves facing your biggest fears and sitting with the storm of anxiety that fills up each nook and cranny of your body. For me, OCD treatment was the hardest thing I’ve ever faced. It included endless tears, panic attacks, and a brain that did not want to change its ways. It was exhausting and emotional but once you learn you have control, it is absolutely empowering.
OCD is the worst and best thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve experienced so much pain, but have gained an endless amount of strength, knowledge, and friendship. I have received support, understanding, and acceptance. I am a part of an amazing community.
If you want to learn more about #OCDWeek click here! If you would like to learn more about OCD click here!
I am going to take you back in time. We are in the Fall of 2007.My parents only child has been very sick now for four years. She was diagnosed with Severe Tourette Syndrome in third grade. She has been on over 50 different medications. None of them easing the terror of the nights that are spent twitching and convulsing in bed. My mother would stay by her side all night as the tics were released, doing her best to sing soft calming melodies through the tears she held back. Just last year, 6th grade, my parents only child was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She couldn’t leave the house without a panic attack. She hasn’t brushed her hair in over a month, she hasn’t showered in over two. The doctors try new medications, desperately trying to save the flame in this young girl that seems to be slowly burning out. 7th grade. She is experiencing new and scary thoughts. She doesn’t like them. The thoughts tell her she has to kill herself, but she doesn’t want to. She tells my parents and they move into action without her knowing. They secretly lock up the medication. They secretly hide the knives. They secretly tie a string to her door that leads into their bedroom with a bell on the end. This notifies them each time she opens her door to leave her room. She didn’t want to kill herself, but she felt she had to. The thoughts were so strong one night. She didn’t want to do it. She still saw so much hope in life. She loved her parents and her friends. She ran into my mother’s bedroom crying to tell her the thoughts were loud in her head and my parents took her to the ER. This young girl of 13 years old did not feel safe. She felt she had to die.
Just last year, 6th grade, my parents only child was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She couldn’t leave the house without a panic attack. She hasn’t brushed her hair in over a month, she hasn’t showered in over two. The doctors try new medications, desperately trying to save the flame in this young girl that seems to be slowly burning out. 7th grade. She is experiencing new and scary thoughts. She doesn’t like them. The thoughts tell her she has to kill herself, but she doesn’t want to. She tells my parents and they move into action without her knowing. They secretly lock up the medication. They secretly hide the knives. They secretly tie a string to her door that leads into their bedroom with a bell on the end. This notifies them each time she opens her door to leave her room. She didn’t want to kill herself, but she felt she had to. The thoughts were so strong one night. She didn’t want to do it. She still saw so much hope in life. She loved her parents and her friends. She ran into my mother’s bedroom crying to tell her the thoughts were loud in her head and my parents took her to the ER. This young girl of 13 years old did not feel safe. She felt she had to die.
The thoughts were so strong one night. She didn’t want to do it. She still saw so much hope in life. She loved her parents and her friends. She ran into my mother’s bedroom crying to tell her the thoughts were loud in her head and my parents took her to the ER. This young girl of 13 years old did not feel safe. She felt she had to die.
In the end, she was admitted into a residential program for 14 days and it was discovered that Prozac was the culprit to these suicidal thoughts.This journey, however, was only the beginning.
It is crazy to look back upon my memories. To see such dark times. Times that do not even seem real. It is as if a film playing in my head and not real life memories. To think that now I am in my first year of my Master’s program, fighting the stigma of chronic OCD. Showing the world that there is hope, there is a life worth living, and there is a future for them. The fight is hard. It is a test created in a way that makes you nearly destined to fail. But if you put every ounce of strength you have into this war called Mental Illness, you can win it. Time and time again you will be enlisted in this mental health army, drafted into battle. Choose to fight, choose to learn, choose to make friends and be an advocate for your life and others affected, choose to win.
It is crazy to think I have been living in Brooklyn for almost a month now. I have just fallen in love. I love the people – who are not the rude New Yorkers you hear about on TV. I love the beauty of the buildings. I never thought of buildings as art until I was looking across the East River at the Manhattan skyline in awe or walking down a treelined street with brownstones on each side. I love the electricity in the air. How it makes you feel alive. I love how one moment I can be in Downtown Brooklyn and then after walking a few blocks, I’m in Cobble Hill, a historic neighborhood
where the electricity seems to have disappeared. Replaced by the sounds of children playing and the sights of young parents pushing strollers. I love how I can take a 20-minute train to Manhatten and feel like I have endless opportunities. But most of all, I love how I can do all of this, experience all of this, and feel all of this, and be making strides in my goal to help others. Not only do I get to live here in New York City, but I am here getting my Masters. I feel so light, so free. OCD doesn’t feel near. I know he still lingers in my brain. He waits. He’ll wait a month or so until he decides it’s time to come out of hibernation. But for now, I am free to be the best version of me I can be. I’m not weighed down or limited by my brains imbalances. And that right there is all I want. I am going to enjoy this feeling for as long as I can. I’m going to make the most of my time down here. I am so thankful I have been given this chance.
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.
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.
There is exactly one month until I graduate from College! It is an unthinkable accomplishment if you look back on my early teenage years. A time where graduating middle school didn’t seem like a possibility. A time where I had to live day by day. A time where I had to push the thoughts of helping others away and worry about myself making it to the next day. As someone who has ALWAYS worried about others, it was hard for me to concentrate on myself. When my Tourette Syndrome was at it’s worst, I would spend hours upon hours at night convulsing and twitching. I looked as though I was possessed by a demon…I felt like it too. Although it was miserable for me, I remember crying, imagining another young boy or girl doing the same thing at the exact same time. It crushed my heart and made the experience of suffering from an illness even worse. It is one thing to suffer by yourself, and another to know hundreds of thousands of others are barely managing it as well. Research shows that 86% of Tourette sufferers have a comorbid illness. Not only are the majority being squished, pulled, tightened, and yanked by their brain, but 63% suffer from ADHD, 49% from Anxiety, 47% have a learning disability, 34% are on the Autism spectrum, and more than 1/3 suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (Feel free to check out the other statistics Here) Ever since I was diagnosed in 3rd grade, I wanted to do something to help. It wouldn’t be until 8th-grade when I learned specifically how I wanted to help.
After receiving treatment at UPENN’s Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety, I knew I wanted to be just like my doctors. That dream pushes me forward every day. Now, as I’m just over a month away from graduating, I realize how close I am to that goal. I am SO close and I want it SO badly. I’ve always known I would reach it one day, but it never felt truly real. I couldn’t imagine it becoming a reality. I have trained myself to live in the moment. The choices I make all lead towards that dream, but I didn’t allow myself to think about me actually reaching that goal. The times that I did, I was immediately overwhelmed by the thoughts that I could never reach it. I mean honestly, if you think about it, a girl like me who would have a panic attack at the mention of school one day receiving a bachelor’s degree. Attending the one thing that tortured my mind every day for four years. On top of that, going on to graduate school, receiving a Masters and then a Psy.D (Doctorates in Psychology), having an office and being healthy enough to actually help others instead of myself. It just wasn’t realistic…yet it was the ONLY thing I wanted to do with my life. I had to do it. The only option was to succeed. Here I am, already accepted into a graduate school and one month away from walking down the isle in my cap and gown led by the sound of bagpipes marching in front of me. Do you hear that? That’s me checking off a few more things on my checklist to success with Pomp and Circumstance playing in the background. Listen to it here 😉
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.