Hi all, I’ve designed a t-shirt for an OCD Awareness Fundraiser, and I will be sending all profits to IOCDF. The shirt is available in six different designs!
Too often we use the phrase “it’s all in your head” to diminish someone’s fears, to try to convince someone that they do not need to be afraid. We have to stop using that phrase in such a way. An internal battle is just as valid as an external one, and in some ways even more terrifying because it can feel like it’s just you against the entire world. It’s you against your fears and it’s you against all those that can’t see or feel those fears. The illness that I battle every day is invisible to others making it that much more isolating. My battle is “all in my head”, but that’s not to say that it isn’t real, or that I’m not brave for fighting it. I may be the only one fighting this particular battle in my mind, but millions of others are fighting their own invisible battles all in their minds too.
Battles are typically made up of two sides and this still holds true in the case of my mental battle, even though it may appear I am fighting nothing but myself. I have often used the words “invasion” or “imposter” when describing my experience with OCD. It’s the best way I can think to describe this fight in such a way that someone else can imagine it too. All the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and viewpoints that were there before my OCD are still there. The difference is that now they are fighting for space in my mind, fighting to be heard, fighting to be more important than the OCD thoughts that have invaded their home. OCD’s fears are not mine; when it’s scared it convinces me to be scared too because at the moment it’s louder than me. But there’s still a small voice back there in my mind, the voice that’s always been there, and it’s telling me that I don’t need to be afraid. For every time that OCD tells me to wash or avoid or perform some safety behavior, the other side of my brain is telling me not to. I feel frustrated, angry and beaten every time that my OCD wins, every time I perform a safety behavior. This constant battle between the two sides makes my mind feel too full, confused, like it’s not my mind anymore. The longer this battle continues, the more unsure I become of which side to listen to, which side is me and which is my OCD.
This battle that is “all in my head” effectively splits my mind in half. When I’m talking to someone they only have the “me” half. The other half of my brain, the half controlled by OCD, is focusing on everything that person is touching, everything I am touching, and all the steps it will take to “fix” things when this conversation is over. The truly disheartening thing about this is that this person does have all of me, but the me that’s left is half of what I used to be. All that I can possibly give to someone feels like half of what I used to give, less than what I want to give.
So it honestly feels like there is an imposter in my mind. A new voice that didn’t used to be there and that’s not mine. A voice that is always scared, always loud, and always present. That’s my battle. It is all in my head, but it’s so very real and terrifying. I’m exhausted from this fight that never seems to end. But I’m proud of this battle that’s “all in my head”, because even though I’m the only one that can fight it, I still haven’t given up.
So let’s stop diminishing others’ fears and mental turmoils simply on the basis that we don’t understand them. The mind is a vast and scary place, certainly a masterful foe, and a fight against the mind should not be underestimated. Let us be proud of our fight that’s “all in our head”. Because we are brave for fighting it.
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.