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.
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.
It has been way too long since my last post. Five months too long! A lot can happen in five months. For me, almost everything that happened was completely positive. I guess I’ll start with my most exciting experience since my last post. January 5th I left for an amazing trip through my college. I spent ten days in London and 9 days in Germany and one day in Austria learning about World War II, the psychological effects, and the countries. I couldn’t have had a better time. It was my first time overseas and I feel in love with all the different cities! On top of enjoying a once in a lifetime experience, I definitely overcame some self-image issues. When I started falling backward about two years ago, I gained over 40 pounds in a matter of months. Many psychological issues arose with the weight gain such as disordered eating and obsessions over the need to be thin. I was disgusted by how I looked and was ashamed to see myself in pictures. I didn’t feel pretty anymore. My first couple of days in London, I refused to take pictures of myself. I realized when my mom complained that she didn’t see any pictures with me, that I was letting this self-consciousness affect this once in a lifetime trip. These pictures were supposed to capture my memories of the trip and I was going to let my embarrassment take that away from me? I finally took the step and had my friend take my first picture. It was in front of a fountain on the way to the HMS Belfast Navy Ship. It was hard for me, but after taking those first few pictures, my self-confidence has definitely risen! I still feel heavy, I don’t like the stretch marks on my body or my fuller face, but I’m feeling much much better. In the end, I enjoyed an amazing trip, added three countries to my passport (four including a layover at the airport in Amsterdam) and I overcame one of my internal battles.
After returning home, I enjoyed two days of relaxing before going to New York City to see Josh Groban in Natasha and Pierre and the Great Comet on Broadway. Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely adore Josh. With a little help from my grammie, my cousin and I purchased seats on stage. My heart stopped when Josh was singing right in front of me. I don’t think my heart even recovered from such a severe case of melting. January was definitely the Month of Chelsea. Because school wasn’t involved in a way to trigger my OCD, I didn’t have too many mental battles to face. It was a well-needed break. February came as well as the start of my last semester at Hartwick College. This is the last semester of my senior year! I can’t believe it. What shocks me even more, is the fact that each semester I’m getting better and better. I overcome one challenge and face another which is slightly easier to manage. Of course, there are bad days, which I think too many people (including myself just a year ago) don’t expect. They expect after overcoming a challenge that it’s a fresh start. From here on they can handle everything. The fact of the matter is, life is always going to be two steps forward one step back. Every once in a while it may even be two steps forward three steps back. Although this post is 99% positive, it’s important to realize that there are struggles I face every day. I still have OCD, I still have Anxiety and Depression. That’s okay. It’s part of my life just like any other disease or disorder. The important part is that each day I’m learning new things about myself and my disorders that help me to manage it.
Classes have been going well, I’ve missed more classes than the average student due to Depression rather than OCD. I feel different. Especially when I’m alone. There are days I just have no motivation to leave my bed. In all honestly, it’s not too severe. I just feel it stirring inside of me. For the most part, I’m doing great. Much better than last semester! The fact that I graduate May 20th blows my mind, and the fact that I’ve been applying to Psy.D and Masters programs are shocking. Nobody could have imagined I would be where I am today. To be able live independently, to care for myself, and to be so close to the future I’ve always dreamed of. It makes me tear up every time I think about it…which is often. I’m just so thankful for this life I’ve been given, for the people in it, and the obstacles that have made me stronger.
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?
Tomorrow is a big day! I will be speaking on a panel for the Greater New York State Tourette Syndrome Conference for Educators Day. Although I am no longer a Teen, I will be speaking on a panel for teens with Tourette’s. I have always been outspoken about my illnesses and have wanted to take it the next step further by making a difference. I’m hoping this is the first of many panels to speak on. School would have been impossible if not for the amazing support my school district gave me. They were so willing to learn about my illness and accommodate to my needs. Every teacher, nurse, and principle in my school went above and beyond to help me, so now, I’m able to share my experience with educators who are willing to listen. Maybe my experience will help the students in which these educators will be assisting. I’m excited! As for an update, I’m in my final year of undergrad. Can you believe that? Two years ago I couldn’t see myself here. I was immobile and trapped in my house. Even last year, I didn’t allow myself to get my hopes up on returning to school. OCD is very present in my day to day life, but I’m making my way through. I shower once every five days, which is not ideal. Weekends are unproductive thanks to my avoidance issues, but my new plan with my therapist is to make myself go to the Library on weekends. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve had a few all nighters because of avoidance with writing papers. I realize that if I can’t stop this avoidance of papers on the weekends, then I would not have a change in Graduate School. That’s my current long term goal. Go to Grad School. During the week the Library is where you can find me. I get my work done and honestly, I enjoy my library time. I listen to my study music which consists of the one and only Josh Groban and I easily get my assignments done. It blows my mind how far I’ve come. Barely any OCD with school during the week. It’s truly a miracle. I’m only taking four classes this semester, but in the spring I will be taking five in order to graduate on time. I’m nervous about that. That also means that I have no choice but to pass my hardest class this semester…Experimental Statistics. *cue dramatic music* I have a tutor and I meet with my professor, so we’ll see how it goes. All-in-all, I’m very optimistic about how life is going right now. I see a bright future ahead of me. Life is not an easy road, but with a chipper attitude, you’ll get through it one way or another. Even if that means recalculating and taking a different route.
If there was a way for me to share every detail of my mental health journey, people wouldn’t believe me. They would think I’m exaggerating. I’ve been to countless numbers of doctors in all different states and I’ve been admitted to hospital after hospital which insurance wouldn’t always cover. When I was eight, doctors diagnosed me with a severe case of Tourette Syndrome and OCD. There was no way they could prepare me for what was ahead, there wasn’t even much they could do for me besides prescribe pills. As a child, I didn’t realize how sick I was.
I knew I wasn’t like the other kids. I knew they didn’t have to leave the classroom multiple times a day to tic in the nurse’s office. I understood that they didn’t breakdown with body convulsions after a long day of holding them in at school. I knew they never felt so much emotion trapped inside them that they needed their mother to push them over the edge just to feel a release. Did they cry almost every night? Did they hear their parents cry over them at night? Did their parents sit for hours at a time and watch them when they were asleep; delighted that for once their daughter’s body wasn’t twitching? I knew the answers, yet somehow I always had hope that I would overcome it.
Doctors didn’t expect me to complete school, heck, neither did I. I couldn’t eat without gagging, shower without screaming. The mention of homework put my body in a state of paralysis which we later found out was called a Conversion Disorder. Any act of cleanliness such as brushing my teeth or brushing my hair was impossible. Sometimes after two weeks of no bathing or brushing my hair I’d feel strong enough to have my mom try to free my knotted hair. She’d sit me down and spend an hour or two brushing my hair so we wouldn’t have to cut it off. I took life one day at a time. My parents were lost as to what to do. I was days away from going into a group home for the disabled. They couldn’t keep me living the way I was. While researching my father found The Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. They slowly helped me get better, but I needed more intensive treatment. That’s when I went to Rogers Memorial After my time there I was doing better.
After coming home after 3 months of living in Rogers back in 2010 I did pretty well. I managed to make it into high school out of pure determination and help from my school and family. My senior year I even did the early admittance program to the local community collage. That June, I walked down the isle in my high school auditorium with my cap and gown and graduated from high school. Nine years of somehow making it through grade after grade with what I had gone through was shocking. Nine years of working twice as hard as the other students to not only attend class, but do well in them. Nine years of proving to the world that I could do it. My school had always recognized my struggles and they awarded me the Triple C Award for Character, Courage, and Commitment. The three C’s reminded me of how strong I was and I decided I wanted to continue my schooling.
August 21st 2013 I left for college. I did pretty well the first semester. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the signs of my OCD were showing up. The spring was hard. I didn’t understand what this internal resistance towards school was. It didn’t click that something was wrong. On top of that I started getting dizzy and had passed out a few times. I managed to make it through that spring semester and then spent the summer with my family figuring out why I was dizzy. The Cleveland Clinic diagnosed me with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) I went back to college for my Sophomore year but was struggling too much the first few weeks. I had brain fog and felt weak. I thought it was my POTS but would later realize that it was my OCD making me feel this way. My brain was manipulating me and I didn’t even realize it. I took a medical leave from college and things quickly crumbled. I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t think about school, nobody could even say the word around me without going into a panic attack. I started getting disgusted by my body. I felt like it was wrong to eat and when I did that I had to get it out. I purged often and binged every once in a while. I was paralyzed and trapped inside my home once again. We made the call to Rogers Memorial Hospital once again and I was added to the waiting list. The two and a half months of waiting were awful, but I finally got the call that it was my turn. It was 1 and a half weeks in the eating disorder center and three months of the OCD program. Months of fighting against every instinct my brain told me. Facing everything that scared me and having a panic attack after panic attack until my brain started to become retrained. I learned tools that would change my life…but just because I knew how to use them didn’t make it easy. In fact, it is very, very hard. They are tools that I have to use everyday, and most likely will always have to use. Although they are hard, they are the reason I’m able to function in everyday life.
After my time at Rogers came to an end, I got to go home. I was home for exactly one week before I was back at college…the very thing that is the root of my OCD. It was a hard semester. I missed quite a few of the classes because of the anxiety and ended up failing one of them. I received two C’s and a B in the others. I wasn’t too upset, I made it though my first semester back at college! January Term (a full class squeezed into the single month of January) I retook the class I got an F in. I missed more classes but ended up getting a C- in the class….sadly, I needed a C+ in order to continue in my major. Now it’s the Spring semester of my Junior year and I’m doing beyond amazing. I haven’t felt this good since July when my parents came to visit me at Rogers. I’m retaking the January Term class and haven’t missed a single class. In fact, out of all of my classes this semester I’ve only missed one because of my anxiety. I’m honestly thriving. Not only am I thriving, but I found out I will be graduating on time…I’m going to graduate next June. I’m going to accomplish my dreams, I’m going to prove to all the doctors that couldn’t see me going to college that I did it. The girl that was days away from going into a group home for the sick, with people with Down Syndrome and debilitating diseases is going to graduate college. It is so close. I’m almost there, and it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. This week has been everything I dreamed of, and everything I never thought I’d feel again. I know in a few weeks I’ll fall back, but you know what? I’ll rise back up again. I have the tools, I have the strength, and I have the motivation. I’m going to be okay, and that single thought makes me cry with relief.