… is this thing still on?

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I’ve started this post or attempted to, seven eight times.

I just haven’t been able to find the right words to begin again. Which is why this space, so crucial to my self-care, has gone silent. I’ve decided to stop trying to find the right words, and instead to write this with the wrong words, if that’s what they are. Any words would be preferable to none at all. Words are what I do. Writing, speaking, storytelling; these things unlock something inside me. They open the pathways that flow from my brain to my heart to my… I don’t know, spleen. The point is, I need to write. Even if what I’m writing is garbage. This is particularly important as I have recently gone through a difficult time in my life. Writing helps me process. It may be the only way that I process. Maybe I should just text with my therapist…

So here we are, after many months of silence. I’m back, baby. …Probably.

I was going to catch you up via a neat, little chronological timeline of posts, but every time I think about doing that, I want to throw my computer out a window and just sit in my garden instead… so something tells me that’s not the way this is going to go. I’m going to catch you up, because sharing my narrative has always been something I’m passionate about doing, in hopes that it will help others to feel less alone. I just might not be sharing it in a pretty, chronological fashion. Cool? Cool.

I guess I’ll start with the elephant in the room.

2017 has been an asshole.

I started 2017 locked in an obsessive episode, and though I thought I was doing better, by mid-March, I was worse than ever. Worse than I have ever been, in fact. I wasn’t exactly suicidal. I struggle with health OCD (aka hypochondria) and have some pretty serious fears about death, so I’m the opposite of a harm risk. However, I was spent. I was not functioning. The best way I know to describe it is like this- on Monday, I was nervous about things that probably weren’t going to happen. On Tuesday, I was calling my mom every couple of hours to tell her how nervous I was about things that probably weren’t going to happen, like how I might have cancer or a heart attack in my sleep. On Wednesday, I was calling my mom and my husband every couple of hours from work to tell them how I was nervous about things that probably weren’t going to happen, like how I might have cancer, a heart attack in my sleep, and also the fact that I felt like there might be some numbness in my feet and hands and legs and so I was checking them every 15 minutes or so to see if they felt numb. I cried to my husband that I hadn’t gotten any work done yet, and it was lunch time, because all I could do was check to see if my extremities were numb and then Google diseases online. On Thursday, I was researching in-patient facilities. On Friday, I checked into one.

I just couldn’t find the strength or tools to fight what felt like an OCD steamroller, moving slowly over my life. It flattened me, and I was terrified.

I should say that I have never before been hospitalized for mental health issues. This was new and scary, and despite my work in the mental health community, despite my beliefs about stigma-smashing, this felt shameful. I felt like I had failed somehow. And I guess, truthfully, I did fail. The thing that I have come to realize is that failure isn’t a disqualification. It doesn’t mean you can’t get back up and try again. It isn’t a stamp you wear on your forehead or a label that defines you for life. It’s a moment, it passes, and you take from it what you can.

Out of this particular failure, I have learned some of the most significant mental health lessons of my life. I am more equipped than I have ever been to maintain good mental health. I am more in tune with my brain. I know where it gets tripped up, and I know the things that help to get it back on track.

That’s what I’m hoping the next several posts will be about in this space. I want to talk about where I struggled and what has helped me get out of that place. I want to share what works for me. I want to process it all, in hopes of understanding it better myself.

So, expect to see me back here on a (hopefully) regular basis.

Lastly, I want to send out a massive, heartfelt beam of gratitude to those of you who reached out while I was struggling. Many of you noticed the silence and sent me personal emails and Facebook messages, and I just cannot tell you enough how much that blew my mind and bolstered my spirit. Community is a lifeline when we are in trouble, and I’m so thankful to have this one. ❤

I’ve got several posts on which I am working. I’m not sure which one will be finished next (I write what I’m moved to write, when I’m moved to write it), but be on the lookout for posts about – my stay in in-patient, program lessons, value-driven behavior, and more!

See you soon!

All my love,

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Through the Door and Down the Hall

I’m not really sure when the thoughts began, or the headache either, for that matter. All I know is that by January 3rd, 2017 I had an appointment with my primary care doctor, because I was convinced that the headache, which had been lingering for a few days, was symptomatic of a brain tumor. I just knew it, and I had already been revolving the idea in my brain for days.

Zero to sixty, I know. The best way I can describe my experience with health related Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is like opening a door which leads to a hallway and feeling as if the only way to go is forward. When I stand at the threshold of an obsessive episode, it never seems possible to simply step back and close the door.

After examining me, my excellent doctor did her best to reassure me that I was not in danger. She is infinitely patient with me, and this is not the first time she has had cause to show it. I left her office with a prescription for a medicine commonly used to treat migraines. A condition which I have never had with any sort of regularity in the past.

That. Right there.

Do you see what I did? ” A condition which I have never had with any sort of regularity in the past.” That, my friends, is OCD talking. It seeks to disprove anything a doctor tells me, and it told me exactly those words when I left my doctor’s office on January 3rd, clutching my prescription like it was some sort of holy text.

OCD whispered to me- You’ve never had a migraine like this before. This is different. This is something else. You know it. You can feel it in your gut. Trust your instincts.

I listened. I walked through the door and down the hall. And I spiraled.

By Thursday, January 5th, just two days later, I was lying in an MRI tube receiving a brain scan from a very kind technician who asked me to tell him a band I liked (I said The Head and The Heart) and played it loudly in the room, in an attempt to drown out the panic-inducing sound of the MRI machine whirring around my head.

How, you might ask, was I able to get an MRI when my doctor clearly did not think it necessary?

OCD. That’s how.

OCD, in some ways, is like a super power. It affords me razor sharp focus. When OCD decides that something needs to be done, I will exhaust an alarming amount of physical and mental energy to make it possible. I made phone calls. I researched. I put pressure on people. I hounded doctors and insurance, nurses and imagining centers. I was relentless. This super power, however, comes at a cost. When the OCD focus is on, everything else is off. My children, my husband, my hobbies, my friends, my family, my passions, my home, my dog, my job, my writing, my life. OCD brushes it all to the side, in pursuit of the object I am obsessing over.

The only silver lining to this entire situation was that, by the time I was pursing an MRI, I knew it was OCD. In between seeing my doctor and getting the scan, I saw my therapist. I have not yet perhaps conveyed how, during this entire episode, I was distraught. I didn’t worry that I had a brain tumor. I knew I had a brain tumor, and I reacted accordingly. Panicking,  I was crying more often than I was not, and even though I was legitimately terrified for my life, I also recognized the likelihood that this entire situation was being driven by my mental illness. My therapist agreed, and we worked hard to stop the episode in its tracks, but we both recognized a raging inferno when we saw one, and our little buckets of water were simply not cutting it.

So, I made her a promise. I would get the MRI, because I didn’t know how to say no to the OCD which commanded it, but afterwards I would check myself in to my local behavioral hospital for evaluation. I did this knowing that there was a chance I would be admitted, because I knew that I was in far too deep and alarmingly over my head. I have never been so controlled by OCD as I was that first week of 2017.

I kept my word to my therapist, and immediately after leaving the imaging center, before even receiving the results of my MRI (all normal, in case you were wondering), I drove directly to my local behavioral health hospital.

I am fortunate, in that my local hospital has an excellent Behavioral Health facility, with a nationally recognized Anxiety and OCD Program. They have an intake evaluation process which determines an approximate diagnosis and plan of action. I was referred by the intake eval for a Partial Hospitalization Program, but elected to participate in the Intensive Outpatient Program instead. The IOP only met from M-Th weekly and since my eval was on a Thursday evening, I did not begin the program until the following week.

To be continued…

I’ll be back next week to pick up where we left off, with the beginning of the IOP.

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