(Note: My beloved husband read this post and encouraged me to share it.)
I have two illnesses.
I am not defined by my illnesses.
But, at the same time, I am. Even though no one knows much about what is wrong with me.
I have been resistant to speaking out, because I am positive that it is easier to hide what is wrong. Social stigma about Mental Illnesses is really only growing. And I have a wonderful support person, a gentleman who suffers from one of the same illnesses, and while he is “public” with his struggle, I respect his privacy here on this blog. I have been to therapists, three different ones over my adult life, to try to “fix” the disease, and developed my coping strategies.
The most basic thing is that my illness does not respond to any medication. Recently, I was doing more reading on how research had progressed, and found out that the two illnesses I suffer from have been moved to the same category in the 2013 “Big Book of Mental Illness” (that is not the proper name, but it’s close enough for the diagnostic book that is used as a tool by doctors).
In light of that move (I never would have seen the connection myself), my encourager gently prodded me to speak out. To make my illness known, if not for me, then for others who suffer from both.
I have OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Not the joke “oh, I have to have my closet organized” kind of funny OCD. The kind of OCD that can leave me paralyzed in my bed – only getting up because I HAVE to get GO to school on time.
I have both obsessive and compulsive tendencies.
I cannot walk on paint in a parking lot. Not painted lines, not painted curbs, not those GIANT blue painted handicapped spaces. It’s not a joke, I will have to force back crying and throwing up. I can’t tell you why. Home Depot parking lots FREAK me out – with all the spilled paint on the lot.
I have to wash my hands in the bathroom and then use three paper towels. Not two. Not four. Three. I have to make myself wash my hands in a bathroom with no paper towels (only hand dryers). I actually know the Health Code Regulations (if the door opens inward, so you have to use a hand to pull it, then the place of business MUST offer some time of paper towel, not just air dryers – that is usually why you see both in a restaurant/store). If I have to use an air dryer, I have to count by threes until my hands are dry...3…6…9…12…15…
Those are the two easiest ones to explain. There are so many more. Rituals that govern my every move. I have obsessive tendencies that make things worse.
Most of my obsessions are private, things I am not willing to share – things that can take over my waking moments and creep into my dreams. It is mostly people close to me getting hurt, coupled with my irrational belief that if I do the right thing, I can take on the pain for them. (Like, if I had loved my grandmother more, God would have given me her cancer, and let her live.) It’s not rational, but I can’t make it go away. I think about it on a weekly basis for hours. So many things like this.
I was convinced for years that if I could keep my eyes closed for the entire time my preacher was praying at church, God would heal my mum of her medical issues. I can remember doing this as far back as 4th grade, if not earlier. The amount of guilt when I would open my eyes was overwhelming. (Especially since I went to a VERY traditional Baptist church…prayers were about as long as sermons. And it only counted if it was the Senior Pastor.)
OCD is a quiet illness. As long as I keep my thoughts to myself, I look like I’m taking a bit longer in the bathroom or at the water fountain (swallows have to be in multiples of the number five), no one really notices.
I also suffer from BDD: Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It is this disorder that in 2013 was reclassifed as a being on the Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum.
In some ways, that simple reclassification has made a huge difference to me. It makes me feel less crazy, that my problems are not only real, but may have something to do with one another.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is when you have an unrealistic picture of yourself in your mind’s eye (simply explanation).
I have BDD. I cannot stand to look at myself in the mirror. I believe I have a huge witch nose and a horrible chin. I can’t UNSEE that.
When people act oddly towards me. Or, in reality, are over talking to other people, and not me. My first (and most overwhelming thought) is that they don’t want to be seen with someone so hideously ugly.
I also believe myself to have problems in my waist. Not like other people think they are “fat”, but in my stomach, I feel like people are staring at me and seeing my belly poke out and are horrified. I have to forbid myself to step on the scale. My brain knows my weight is fine (and perhaps even a little low). That does not change what I see when I look in the mirror. I don’t suffer from anorexia. It’s not “fat” that I’m seeing, it’s “ugliness”… I have thrown out clothes, because I feel so grotesque with my stomach making me look pregnant.
I have the incredible opportunity to workout at a World-Class gym, with personal trainers for free, and I am scared out of my mind of what could happen if I allow myself to get involved with an extreme exercise program.
There is a bright spot. When I am pregnant, the BDD basically goes into a type of remission of sorts. I have no problem being a mother and focusing on my pregnancies (and ignoring my weight gain and how my stomach looks). And in that vein, while I still don’t focus on the mirror, I feel less hideous and more as though I am fulfilling my purpose as a mother.
There is no medication. Traditional Therapies didn’t work (I get it – it’s not real, talking about it ad nasum isn’t going to help). More recently, research is suggesting that OCD (and everything on that spectrum) are neurological, not psychological. I am eager to find out where this research goes (and what new treatment options might be in the future).
Until then, I am grateful for a fellow sufferer of OCD, who gave me the courage to speak out and step out. To my previous therapists, who have all prepared me for being public with my struggles. And I am infinitely grateful to my husband, who understands (or at least listens and wants to make it better, even when no one can).
~Mummy Butterfly )i(
For more information check out the links below. While I don’t always advocate Wikipedia, it does provide a helpful overview that isn’t bogged down with medical terms: