Happiness

I think that I am afraid of happiness. It’s the one thing that I desire most, the thing I am constantly fighting for. It’s what OCD holds over my head, the possibility of happiness in the future, as long as I live by OCD’s rules. But somewhere along the line my fear of not reaching that happiness transformed into a fear of that happiness itself. It’s like the carrot dangled in front of the donkey; the donkey never gets closer to the carrot, with each step it takes the carrot takes one too. I’ve let OCD convince me that I can’t reach it. So when I see something happy coming along in the near future, my mind immediately starts back tracking and second guessing. Do I deserve that happiness that is almost within my reach? What if I can’t get to it? As soon as happiness becomes possible my OCD tightens it’s grip around me. Using that light at the end of the tunnel as a bargaining chip. “You can have it if you do this and this and this…”. And every time I do what it says I get more and more miserable and that glimmer of hope gets further and further away. I begin to believe my OCD when it tells me that I don’t deserve happiness.

I think it’s easy for OCD and Depression to convince us that we don’t deserve happiness because we as humans tend to fall into that trap innately. We tend to value success, jobs, education, titles, possessions, etc. more than we value our own happiness. We’re taught that we’ll be happy once we graduate college, once we graduate grad school, once we get our dream job or our dream house. But what I am learning is that I can be just as happy if not more, without any of that. Without the job, without the fancy initials at the end of my name, without the fancy clothes. I can find happiness in simply being with the person I love no matter where that is. And I can find happiness in drawing and writing. I wish I had learned that long ago. I let go of grad school out of necessity for my health. But what I couldn’t imagine at the time was that I would be happy anyway. If we start measuring our success not by our job titles and the price tags on our clothes, but by how simply happy we are, I think we could all feel much more content in ourselves. We could retrain our minds to accept happiness, and to expect happiness.

All I need to do is let myself walk through the tunnel and reach that happiness. And once I get there, accept it; don’t live in fear of losing it, because then I never really had it. I deserve happiness.

Within Us

I often find myself asking “how did I get here, why am I like this?” I think it’s a dangerous question, and almost definitely the wrong question. But it is an interesting one. I wasn’t always depressed, I didn’t always have OCD. I was however always an anxious child; I have always felt guilt and responsibility to an extreme degree. And I often wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t nursed those qualities the way that I did. If instead of sticking to my comfort zone so much of the time, I had pushed myself to experience a wider variety of emotions, of safe and purposeful discomfort. Do we all have a different cache of possibilities within us, a multiple choice question of who we will be and what we will feel? Do our decisions, the paths that we take, make us more susceptible to mental illness? Was this something that was always in me, that always had the potential to take over if I just gave it the opportunity, if I gave it that power? I wonder if the choices I made, the events that happened to take place in my life, led to option C. If I hadn’t lost my mom so young, if I’d relaxed more and studied less, if I had taken a year off between college and grad school, or if I had followed a completely different dream, would it have led to option A? Would I be happier?

It isn’t good to dwell too long on what-if questions such as these. Even so I catch myself dwelling, unable to wrap my mind around the fact that I went from a happy, relatively carefree child, to someone afraid to leave the house. The same dark curiosity I hold surrounding death and loss; how things can change so quickly and unexpectedly. Darkness takes ahold of us so much more easily than light, than hope. There seems to be an innate quality in humans to expect the worst, and this quality has conditioned us to almost welcome the bad and be wary of the good. Being aware of this, I can see how that quality affects my recovery. In such a way that I almost fear getting better because I don’t expect it to last. That’s not to say that I don’t want to be better, but the idea of getting better and then falling so hard once again is almost unbearable. My mind accepts the depression so much quicker than it ever accepts the fleeting moments of happiness, as if it’s suspicious them.

In my less tired moments I try very hard to fight that quality, to retrain my mind to expect happiness, to demand it. To believe that I deserve it. And every day I feel myself getting better at this. It’s like learning any other skill, like learning a new habit. Yet the question remains and I am not the only one asking it. It’s one of the many questions we still have about mental illness. And while I think it is important to find the answers to these “why questions” for the purpose of developing a more well-rounded understanding of mental illness and treatment in general, in terms of my personal recovery I am finding that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why or how I became so depressed. Dwelling on that will only convince me further that this is my fault; that feeling less than happy is something to be ashamed of. But it isn’t. And whether I got here because of genetics, or because I circled multiple choice C instead of choice A, I deserve to be happy. It doesn’t matter how I got here, this is my fight just the same. I am here. The power is within me to feel sad, hopeful, depressed, dark, twisted, happy. And it is okay to feel all of these at once.

I have spent so much time mourning the loss of my happiness when it was never really lost. I just forgot that I deserve to feel it. I didn’t lose my capacity for happiness, it’s just been waiting for me to open that door again, and I think I’m finally ready.

Voice

“OCD wove that uncertainty into my mind so intricately that I can no longer tell where my mind ends and the uncertainty begins.”

I grew up listening to one voice. Throughout my childhood this was the voice that I could blindly trust, the one that meant I was safe. Her voice acted as a guide, gently telling me where my decisions were taking me yet giving me the space and courage to make those choices myself. Hers was the voice that I could recognize better than my own. Hers was the voice that when I felt lost or scared, I listened for. And when I heard it, I believed it, and believed that I could find my way out of whatever darkness I had found. Because I always knew that voice was waiting for me, and that it would venture into that darkness again and again to find me, for the rest of my life. Hers was the voice I never thought I would forget.

But when that voice got lost, I did too. It was as if my mind was scrambling, grasping for anything to hold on to, anything that it could trust as much as it trusted that one voice. It felt like if I couldn’t find that voice again, I would never stop falling. And I think I’ve been falling ever since.

I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was 23, but if I look back honestly I can see that my mind began questioning my voice, and the voices around me, long before that. My mind took the loss of her voice, took the loss of that certainty that her voice brought me, and began to weave that uncertainty into my mind so intricately that I can no longer tell where my mind ends and the uncertainty begins. Without the guide of her voice I began to question my decisions and my own logic. This doubt grew and grew until I began to even doubt what I was seeing or touching without someone there to confirm what my own mind was trying to tell me. OCD corrupted all of my senses, convincing me that I’d lost the only guide I have, and that without it I can’t be certain of anything ever again.

And OCD didn’t stop there. Each time I found another voice, OCD would slowly poison their words until what was finally processed by my mind didn’t resemble what I had heard at all. Until every time this person said I was safe, all I heard was that we can’t know that anymore, and sometimes I don’t even hear their voices at all.

What I haven’t been able to accept is that I stopped needing her voice a long time ago. Her voice and her words had already given me the strength I needed to hear my own voice. She had already given me all the guidance that I needed, already taught me how to trust my own mind. Because her voice had always been there, had always been heard and had always picked me up, I learned how to find my own voice without ever realizing that it was really my voice I was listening to and not hers. It was like she had stopped holding on to the back of the bike and I was peddling on my own without realizing it. I just needed to look behind me and see that she wasn’t holding me up anymore, because she’s taught me how to do it on my own and she believed that I could.

I hadn’t been able to get my head to turn and look behind me, couldn’t see that she had let go because I didn’t want to see it, didn’t want to say goodbye to her voice forever. But it’s not saying goodbye. Because her voice built mine, my voice comes from hers. And I think that if I can accept that, and find the strength that her voice once gave me and know that it’s been here all along, then I could be louder than my OCD. If I can do that, I can find my voice again. I can honor her voice again.

Keep Fighting

What makes you who you are? What defines you as an individual, what is it that you recognize when you see yourself in pictures or look in the mirror? What if those things disappeared; who would you see then? Who would you be?

An illness has taken over my life; well, maybe it took it, maybe I gave it away. But a numbness, a sense of loss has been spreading over me these past few months. Illness, whether it affects your heart, lungs, or your brain, it changes your world, and it changes you. This feeling of numbness has accompanied a thought that everything that once made me me, is gone. Taken or at least tainted by an illness. And with those things, I have disappeared too.

What makes you who you are?

Is it your smile? The way that the corners of your lips turn up, your lopsided dimples, the way it is reflected in your eyes; all of the quirks that make it truly yours, all of the things happening on your face that you are not even aware of in a moment of pure happiness.

Is it the things that make you happy? Your hobbies, your favorite books? The way that playing music takes you to another quiet world, all your own.

Is it your dreams and goals? The way you go full steam ahead, tackling every milestone, every deadline. The way others see you as successful, hardworking, how you contribute to the world around you.

Is it the way you laugh? Or the way you make others laugh?

Are you the funny one, the helper, the quiet one, the loud one, the clumsy one, the popular one, the know-it-all? What is it that others recognize in you as purely you?

What do you see, what do you feel, when you look in the mirror? Is it you? Or is it a look-a-like?

What would happen if your smile wasn’t yours anymore? If the odd dimple above your lip no longer formed, and nothing was reflected in your eyes. It’s an odd feeling to be so numb to your own outward emotions, that you can no longer recognize them as belonging to you.

I have become so tired, and so drained by this illness that I no longer remember what it feels like to be human. When I look in the mirror, I feel nothing. I don’t remember what it feels like to smile or laugh without it hurting. It hurts to smile, knowing you won’t feel it; that the smile isn’t for you, but for the benefit of those around you. I no longer remember what it is to truly relax in a moment without some unwanted fear lurking in the background. Every moment that I spend doing something I used to enjoy, is given to me by OCD. Every moment is on loan. But OCD is there, waiting on the sidelines, reminding me that this is just a gift and can be taken away with any small twitch of my muscle.

What if you were to look in the mirror, and not see anyone that you recognize? Does that thought scare you? It scares me. I disappeared. I’ve gone on autopilot. My body moves, breathes, eats, based on muscle memory.

What if you lost yourself, and were then told that the only way to find yourself again is to go further into the darkest depths of your fears? The ones that chased you into autopilot in the first place. That you had to purposefully add to your discomfort in order to drag yourself back out of this robot shell. Could you do it?

Most of the time I want to say no, that I couldn’t. That I’m already too tired, too scared, hurt too much to push myself further. But humans are remarkably resilient, so I know that we can do it. I’ve done it before. I just have to remember how, and I can do it again.

“You are Remarkable”

If you find yourself staring at a stranger in the mirror, convinced the fear is too big, too great, please remind yourself that if you’ve come this far, fought your illness this long, you are remarkable. You are strong. You’ve done something that many can’t do. And you can win.

You’ll find what makes you who you are. That list will have lost some, gained some, but whatever remains on that list of You, and whatever is added will have been made stronger by this fight. You will find a resilience in you that you didn’t know existed.

So fight back at that stranger staring back at you. Regain your place in your reflection.

In Honor

This week we again celebrated your birthday. Without you. For the past nine years on that day I have tried to think of some way to honor all you gave us, but every year at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve fallen short. There is so much that I still need you for. I’m sad, angry and confused that I have to battle this illness without you, when I feel certain that just hearing you say “you will be okay” would fix everything. When the full force of your loss finally hit me, it hit me in such a way that convinced me I somehow had the power to make sure I never had to feel that way again, and that it was my responsibility to make sure that I, and those around me never had to feel such a great loss ever again. But in trying to do so, I actually created another loss. Made them experience that sense of fear and uselessness one faces when you can see a loved one diminish before your eyes. And this time what I took from them, was me. This year on your birthday I wasn’t able to honor you like I wanted, I wasn’t able to feel anymore sadness, gratefulness or simply just remember, because I couldn’t feel any more. I already feel so much that my body feels full with it. Every inch of my body feels the weight of it, even my fingertips feel heavy and useless with it. All of the many fears and emotions filling me up as a result of my OCD and depression, make me feel almost numb to everything else. And I realized this is the same heavy nothingness that filled me the last time I experienced a huge loss; the loss of you. Because I am, we all are, still in denial of the loss of me. It’s time to accept and mourn the loss of the person I used to be before my illness took over. That doesn’t mean I have to accept who I am now, but to accept and understand that I need to find my new self. Time to say goodbye and honor the person I once knew, the person that looked back at me. Here lies her, and now here stands me.

“I need to find a new way to survive, a new way to love, a new way to be.”

But this year on your birthday as I’m finally realizing it’s time to say goodbye to who I once was, I also realized that the girl I’m saying goodbye to is the one that knew you, was raised by you. And I let that girl down. She fought hard after she lost you, but I took her down with OCD. But it’s okay, because some form of her will survive with me, and she will be made even stronger for surviving this loss too. Because you taught me that I’m ready for anything whether I realize it or not, and that even when you’re not expecting the disaster, you can still survive it.

It’s not going to be easy, moving past grief and loss never is. And maybe we never totally move on. But I think this is one of the hardest things to understand and accept about mental illness, that it does change who you are, there is a loss although not a physical one. I know that I don’t feel the same, see the world the same, or interact the same as I did before. But holding on to that, and trying to fix everything and make it the same as it was, is what is actually holding us back. I need to find a new way to survive, a new way to love, a new way to be, while still honoring who I once was. And you taught me how to do that.

Being Present

“Only I can hand over the control to OCD, and only I can take it back.”

OCD makes it hard to be present, to give my undivided attention to what’s happening around me. Making me feel isolated not only from the people and events in my life, but also from myself. From my own life. Even in the moments that I want so badly to be a part of, even in the moments I know I wouldn’t want to miss, I have to fight to feel present. I have to push back the fear and the nagging thoughts of OCD that are desperately vying for my attention.

Last weekend I had to drive back home to say goodbye to my sweet kitty who had been with me through all of my ups and downs since I was in elementary school. But for the past month, just getting out of the house for something as simple as going out to dinner has been exhaustingly difficult and sometimes impossible. In the past month, I’ve only successfully gotten out a handful of times. And each time my thoughts were consumed by OCD. I wasn’t present. And now I needed to drive for hours, go back into a house I had practically run from in fear. Even if I could get myself there, I had no idea if I could get through the doors, let alone be present enough to say goodbye.

In the face of all that, I did it. At least the best that I could. I did more than I thought possible, and I got to say goodbye. But even in those last moments, as I’m trying to honor a friend who was so much more than a pet, who always loved me no matter what, who was one of my last connections to home, OCD still found a way into my thoughts and pulled me back, even if just a little. I had to consciously fight to not allow OCD into the room and let it taint everyone else’s experience. As I was stroking her head and saying goodbye, OCD was telling me how to stand, what to avoid, to watch what I was touching. In this moment, one in which I should have been totally present for, I wasn’t. She deserved all of me, and I couldn’t give it.

I am proud of what I was able to give, as it was no small feat, but it wasn’t as it should have been. And after I finally got home, I was flooded with anger. I am so mad at OCD for yet again taking something from me. And I felt so angry and guilty for allowing OCD to change that moment for me. To take that from me.

Maybe something can come from this. Maybe this anger can drive me to fight, maybe it’s what I need. Because the truth is, only I can hand over the control to OCD, and only I can take it back.

Angry

“I keep fighting with everything I have, putting all my weight behind every hit but never making contact.”

I really am trying the best that I can in this moment. I’m not sure when I fell so completely under OCD’s grasp again.

I have been at a loss for words lately. I have all these emotions and these things that I want to say, but I have no idea how to get them out.

I feel angry. But that word doesn’t seem big enough. I am full of burning hot fiery fury that feels like it’s about to burst out of my chest like some sci-fi alien-ghost movie. I’m not even sure where to place all of this anger which is almost the hardest part. Because that means it’s stuck on me. I am so painfully angry at myself. I can’t seem to forgive myself for letting it get this bad, for having OCD. Because not only does my OCD tell me that I could cause horrible things to happen to my loved ones, but it tells me that it’s my fault I have a mental illness. I’m mad at myself for giving in. I’m mad at myself for feeling sad, for feeling frustrated. I’m mad at myself for being mad. I’m mad at OCD. I’m mad because no matter how hard anyone tries, I feel so alone in this, and it’s easier to be mad at them than to put more madness on myself.

And I am so fed up with the amount of unforgiving attitude surrounding mental illness in this society. The countless times I have heard or read uneducated, thoughtless, insensitive, diminishing comments about OCD, they hurt me to the core. I’m mad at those people and I’m mad at us. Because it’s not entirely their fault that they don’t understand.

I’m tired. So very tired. I’m exhausted from fighting, from punching at nothing. I keep fighting with everything I have, putting all my weight behind every hit but never making contact. Never even making a dent. I feel like I’m running in place and getting nowhere, completely terrified, exhausted and stuck.

I’m sad. So deep down sad. It feels overwhelming and endless.

I hope soon to be able to better put into words what I’ve been feeling. But this rant has allowed me to breathe a little and given me the room I need to figure out what I’m feeling.

The World I Live In

“I have everything I need, but I still feel like I’m fighting for my life.”

I’ve been re-watching The Walking Dead and it reminded me how I felt the last time I watched it. That this world that the show depicts, one of hopelessness, unimaginable darkness and loss, fear, constant fighting, a world of deep despair and uncertainty, that this world is one I almost long for. That feeling made me uncomfortable and confused then and still does now. But this time I decided to pause and think about why I want that broken world instead of the safe and privileged world I live in now. And it’s because they’re fight makes sense. They’re fight is so simple. Everyone is fighting the same fight, just trying to survive. Everyone there has the same enemy, a visible enemy that they all fear equally. They can see what they’re fighting and they can fight back. If I lived in that world there would be no space for the fight that is constantly in my mind. There would be no time for my OCD. Because it would be simple. I wouldn’t have to wonder what I was fighting anymore, it would be clear. I wouldn’t be fighting myself anymore. And most importantly I wouldn’t be fighting by myself. Because I wouldn’t be the only one that can see the danger, the only one that can see the enemy. I wouldn’t feel like I am all alone in the apocalyptic world that my mind has created that’s only visible to me, punching at the air while my mind retreats further and further back. I wouldn’t feel like the only crazy person in this sane world fighting the invisible. I would have a purpose; every morning I would wake up knowing exactly what I had to do, survive. And I would know how to do it. Instead I wake up every morning, afraid to move because what I fear I can’t see coming, and I can’t escape it. Because what I fear is all in my own mind, reading my thoughts and constantly adapting, staying one step ahead of me and changing the rules. So this is why it’s possible for me to want this other world that no one would ever want. Because I have a lovely house, a wonderful family and everything I need, but I still feel like I’m fighting for my life.

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