Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Sometimes, we at the Band know that part of owning who you are is admitting it to the world.
It's one reason why we at The Band work tirelessly to break down stigmas and find the ties that connect us all, the ties that remind us that we are none of us alone. Please join us in standing tall and proud as we tell the world who we are.
What are you, The Band, The Face Of?
I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
You wouldn't think so, just by looking at me. Hell, most people in my daily life don't know. Surely you can't tell by looking at my home. It certainly doesn't look like the stereotype tells us it should. (Thank you, Hollywood.)
I have not always had OCD tendencies, I wasn't born this way.
I developed OCD as a coping mechanism for dealing with my untreated anxiety when I was a teenager.
In my family, we don't talk about mental illness. It's not okay to talk about needing help or that something might not be right in your head. I was raised that if the doctor said I had anxiety, well then, I just needed to pull on my big girl panties and deal with it. Having a mental illness meant I was just being a sissy.
So when my doctor did tell me that I had anxiety at the ripe old age of 15, my parents looked at me with exasperation and left me alone. There was no therapy or anti-anxiety medication. I was just supposed to deal.
I tried a number of things that failed before falling into a nasty neurotic spiral. I can't pinpoint exactly how it happened but I can distinctly recall spending an entire weekend deep cleaning my parents' house. I scrubbed the grout in the bathroom with an old toothbrush until my hands were blistered from the bleach. I cleaned the stove inside and out. I even alphabetized and cataloged all of our VHS movies. (We had over 500.)
Of course, no one said anything of my weird behavior. My family turned a blind eye as I tried vainly to exert control over my surroundings.
In hindsight, I know I did it because I desperately needed something I could control. My mind was spinning, reeling, and I was lost. Since I couldn't control my thoughts or the paths they took me down, I cleaned. I organized. I mated all the unmatched socks in our laundry room.
So why doesn't my house look clean and organized now?
A number of reasons, really.
I have RA, which makes deep cleaning difficult. I also have a lot of stuff. Or rather, my fiance and I have a bit more than our one-bedroom apartment should be able to hold.
But mostly, I have a slightly better grasp on my anxiety. I don't have huge tailspins anymore. Well, not often.
When I do? I have a few other coping mechanisms in my arsenal to employ.
I sing. I craft. I write.
But sometimes, I clean.
I am the face of OCD.
In the course of the last four days, I have read every post on this site (thank you OCD). I was searching for resources regarding mental illness deriving from childhood sexual abuse and Google was kind enough to direct me here.
I've always thought that my issues were inconsequential. That I have had no worse experiences than any other soul on this earth. I've shared some of my experiences with a select few people, and the look on their faces has always puzzled me. This is my life, what is there to be shocked about?
Back on point. Spending these last four days reading about all of your joys, heartaches, pain and recovery has jostled a few memories of my own. Some things are always at the back of my mind, but others have been dredged from the depths.
Let's start with my diagnoses.
I've been diagnosed as Bipolar twice (but I contest it), Anxiety and OCD. The Bipolar was diagnosed during two full fledged breakdowns. The first was after a half-assed suicide attempt during a bad marriage at age 24 and the second during the first five minutes with the WORST PSYCHIATRIST EVER. Seriously. This guy grandly announced I was Bipolar after I mumbled it was a previous diagnosis.
But that's a story for another day.
I feel it's time to finally tell my story. I've avoided seeing this information in print for years. I've carried so much shame, self-blame and self-doubt that my soul is weary. While I'm not yet ready to delve deep into my experiences, this is a good place to start.
I was sexually abused by our 16 year old neighbor and his 15 year old sister somewhere between the ages of two and four.
My parents separated for work for six months and I witnessed my mother's breakdown when I was eight.
When I was fourteen, I had my first suicide attempt which was, thankfully, a rather pathetic one. When I was fifteen I had my first attempt at therapy but I did not say one word for the entire six sessions.
At seventeen I was raped for the first time at gunpoint by a "friend." The same year, one of my best friends committed suicide. I was the last person to speak with him. He told me that he was going to do it, but I did not take him seriously.
I made a second suicide attempt at age nineteen. Swallowed over 400 aspirin and ended up in the ICU for four days. There was some limited therapy to follow but I don't remember much about that. I told my parents at this point about the sexual abuse. It was the worst thing I have ever had to do in my life and 20 years later my mom still cries. It kills me.
When I was 24 I got married for the first time, and at 25 I had my first affair. I also tried to commit suicide for the third time. I was driving my car over 100 MPH on curvy back roads and attempting to run it into something. This landed me in a psychiatric ward for two weeks, with a Bipolar diagnosis. My marriage ended two years later.
At age 28 I was raped a second time by two men while I was drunk and in a foreign country.
When I was 29, I found out I was pregnant and had an abortion. The man that I assumed to be the father threatened to kill me if I even thought about having a baby while the man I am dating tells me that he will leave me if I have this baby. I was wrong. About it all.
I got married for a second time when I was 32, and it took all of three days for it to go to hell. Three years later I began having daily panic attacks, and within two months I am unable to leave the house. I developed paranoia and severe depression. I started seeing the WORST PSYCHIATRIST IN THE WORLD. Because of this man, I lost my job.
Shortly after losing my job, my husband told me that he really never loved me and that he just used me to get our house and the money I made. This does not assist with my recovery. He raped me. I moved back in with my parents.
After three more years, I was finally free of that man. I was broke as hell, and my credit was ruined but I was extremely happy.
Now at age 39, I have been out of work for two months with an injury. I am thankful that I have support, but the depression that started last April has blown up. I feel lost.
There is more, if I only could remember.
Thank you, all of you, for inspiring me to start this.
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Dear 14-Year-Old Me,
Right now, you are a in a lot of pain; you are confused and your life appears to have been dismantled as you helplessly looked on.
You are about to deal with your fear and confusion by becoming angry. You will rationalise this in later years as 'taking control of your life' but I am telling you now, that this anger is driven by fear.
You will not accept or understand this for 35 years, unless you listen to me now.
If I was standing in front of you now, I would like to take you in my arms and talk to you about how you feel and explain a few things. Why have you always felt that you are a loner? Why has your family looked different from others, with you never seeing any affection between Mum and Dad, the constant rows, the underlying tension?
You should know that it is not okay to be hit and humiliated. It is not okay to see the same thing happen to your brother. It is not okay to see it happen to your mother. You should accept that your father is a very scary man. But to do this means that you will have to accept that your family is abnormal and you can't stand the stigma.
It has been drilled into you that things are "okay."
I should tell you that your mother will show you all the love that she can but that she is not capable of proper parental nurture. You will feel loved by her one minute and humiliated by her the next. She only sees you as a reflection of herself and will control everything that you do in order to feed her own needs. This will not stop, even in your adult life but you can't accept this because you are terrified of losing her because you already sense that she has abandoned you.
Your fear means that you will reject anything that confirms your subconscious terror.
I might be able to get through to you if I could explain that Mum and Dad had real, genuine problems. However, the terms Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder had not been coined then. Any suggestion that your parents or you were suffering for a reason will be rejected as pathetic and weak. And you must not be weak. However, you have inherited and learned elements of the same problem.
By now, you have defences. From an early age you have cycled alone for miles, for no apparent reason. You have cut yourself, developed OCD type rituals for every aspect of your daily living and have had a tic. In the past two years, you have started to run obsessively and coupled this with anorexia.
But, Little Me, you have never asked yourself, why the fuck has nobody noticed that you have a problem? It is because they are all too immersed in their own drama and handicapped by their own sickness?
You are there as a part of that and there is no help coming.
You have just been told that your mother has left home with another man. You have just seen your father break down and you have now been sent back to boarding school. In addition, you are just about to learn in a very violent way that your brother is actually your half-brother and that your mother has been persistently unfaithful. To add icing to the cake, within 4 years both your parents re-marry partners with NPD.
The only recognition at school from your house master is when you say that your fortnightly grades were down because you had had a hard week, he replied "I will accept that this time but I never want to hear that excuse again." He never did. From that day on you never cry, you never complain. You cope.
As a new (and probably) ultimate defence mechanism, you are on the cusp of throwing yourself into study. You decide to study medicine despite everyone telling you that you won't make it. Well, you say, "fuck them." I wish that I could make you see that you are doing this to ease the pain, to hit back at your Dad (a doctor) and to go for the hardest thing you can, to gain some self -esteem.
Guess what? You succeed. Everyone looks on in amazement as you transform from a lost academic second rater to a top-stream player.
You have never worked so hard and you don't stop for years.
I am sorry to tell you that this anger and fear will blight your relationships, especially with women and especially with your sons. You should know that it has taken the failure of your second marriage to force you to confront these issues and begin a process of recovery.
You will look on me with scorn, because you think that to acknowledge the suffering that has occurred is weak but I am only trying to spare you pain.
Together, you and I must stop this cycle of behaviour, because you will enact much of your parents behaviour. You must see that if you don't deal with your pain, you will pass it on. I am dealing with it now and it's very hard.
In truth, I'm a little pissed off with you!
By the way, you will have your heart badly broken by your first love and make no connection to our mother.
So, Little Me, I find it hard to see what I can do to help you. I can see what is going to happen but I know that your determination and defences will stop me getting through to you. Nevertheless, here are some gems of advice and if you can, please heed them.
- Please try to understand that all of this is not your fault. Also, it is not your job to make it all right.
- 99.9% of your suffering belongs to others, mainly the adults. You have been and still are a child. Hand this pain back to them and make them be responsible for it, if you can. Let them know how you feel, try to make yourself heard.
- People do care about you. Please, please let them in. Open up to them. Your running coach will approach you in a few weeks and ask you what is wrong, tell him, he is a good man.
A girl who you are chasing after at university will turn to you and tell you that you are great but she can't get close to you, listen to her and open up. Andy and Ian are the best friends you will ever have, they love you and care about you, don't leave it 35 years to let them see you for who you are.
- Know that you are a good person, you are quite clever, you are not bad looking, you are not, never have been and never will be fat.
- Cutting is not the only way that you self-harm. Over-exercising, over-working and eating "control" are just different faces of the same thing.
- When your defences are overwhelmed, you will rage and scare people. This is unacceptable. The earlier you can accept why this happens, the less damage you will cause to yourself and others you love.
I am not sure how this will get delivered to you.
Perhaps in a dream, from which you will wake up from in the morning. If that is the case, that residual "I have had a dream" echo should leave you with the feeling that there are some hard times ahead but that we will have the courage to accept the past and to walk the hard, challenging but wonderful and enlightening path of recovery.
I hope that you will start your day in the confidence that someday you will make sense of the madness and show that the hideous cycle of dysfunctional behaviour does not have to happen. This will be a gift to your children and theirs and you will be proud.
I wish that I could walk with you now, as you walk with me always.
Your 49-Year Old Self
We all have letters we'd like to send, but know that we can't. A letter to someone we no longer have a relationship with, a letter to a family member or friend who has died, a letter to reclaim our power or our voice from an abuser.
Letters where actual contact is just not possible.
Do you have a letter you can't send?
Why not send it to The Band?
You don't like me and I don't like you. I love you; I'll help you in any way that I can (within reason), but I can't spend time around you unnecessarily.
You were so anxious to have a child that you could mold into a mini-you that you even named me after yourself. When I was a small child, you were so very fond of me. You spoke to me ever-so-gently, kindly with a note of genuine concern. You cuddled and held me.
Somewhere around middle school, when my father became sick, the constant yelling and mistreatment began. You'd wake me out of a sound sleep on a school day, screaming my name, demanding to know where your hair comb was. Eight times out of ten, you'd misplaced it yourself.
One of the few times I'd misplaced your comb, you threatened to kick me out of the house. Imagine a middle school student lying in bed terrified that she may no longer have a home. Could I move in with my 80-year old grandmother who had no means of transportation, in a different school district in the middle of the school year? You still gloat about your threat to evict your minor child over a one dollar comb.
You fed off of my fear and misery, then licked your cruel fingers clean. I've been screamed at so often I've considered changing my name. For years, I took the abuse - I thought it made me the more mature one by not engaging in your yelling matches.
Long periods of "the silent treatment" were regular and particularly hurtful for a sensitive only child who'd already endured bullying at school only to come home to a vindictive, mean, 40-year-old with all of the couth and sensitivity of a 20-year-old tenth grader.
Over the years, bouts of depression occasionally seeped in.
You didn't notice.
When I'd endure the embarrassment of telling you something personal, regardless of what it was, you deemed it "all in my head:" the bullying, the leaking bladder, the classmates talking about me behind my back, and the depression. That would have had to be one hell of an imagination!
During my teen years, I began to fight back. I was expected to speak to you respectfully despite the way you treated me.
That just didn't make sense.
I began to yell back with all of the pent-up force I could muster. It felt good to stand up for myself. I'd never tolerate such treatment from anyone else, why should you be the exception? I've never cursed you or put my hands on you, but I defend myself verbally and I do it very well.
You are saccharine sweet; you bow to lick the anuses of friends, strangers, even my husband. He's definitely noticed your harsh, vindictive ways, and is concerned by the way it angers me and causes me great anxiety.
My husband is a God-send. He is patient, kind, gentle, and I've never heard him raise his voice. He knows about my past and encourages me to let go of the anger because I'm the only one suffering. I even sent you an email asking, "At which point did you come to the conclusion that you no longer liked me and refused to speak to me kindly?"
You didn't even have the courtesy to respond.
You had no business birthing a child. You did not have the temperament, attentiveness, or the patience for the job. You preferred spending your days immersed in the lives in your precious romance novels.
I was left to fend for myself - most times you had no idea where I was. Unfortunately as a result, I prefer my own company. I'm intolerant to the smallest of distractions from another.
You're 62 now; if you'd birthed me two years ago, maybe we'd have stood a better chance at having a loving family. I see you interact with small children and wonder where the hell was that lady when I was in need of being loved.
As a child I had to pick up on your every nuance and vocal inflection to determine the best way to avoid your wrath. That over-analysis is now making communication with my beloved very difficult. I can pick up on a sigh, the emphasis of a certain syllable, and his body language in an attempt to read him to make sure he isn't displeased.
I have you to thank for that.
My husband recommended therapy to help me release my hurt, but it's useless if you aren't there to participate. I didn't get here alone. You'll never admit your part in the decades of abuse simply because I had a home, food, clothing, and most of the extras I wanted. Those things are long gone. What I'm left with is OCD, GAD, panic attacks, and mild agoraphobia.
I once considered crawling into your bed with you only to wake you up so that I could put a gun in my mouth, pull the trigger, then collapse into your lap with my cranial bits all over you. I realized you'd be viewed as the victim, surrounded by attention, sympathy, and lackeys attending to your every need. Then you'd win.
I am contemplating breaking all means of communication once I no longer live in the same state as you. You'll finally get what you've always seemed to want: to be alone. Just as I finished typing this letter you walked by wishing me a Happy Birthday with all of the enthusiasm of a prison inmate eating a bologna sandwich for the 2000th time.
I’m still here and I have someone who loves me, baggage and all.
I don't like that label, but that's what I am. It has such a negative connotation. I'm a normal person just like you. I work. I go grocery shopping. I'm married. From the outside looking in, I appear to be just like anyone else.
And I am...I'm just sick.
It may affect my life differently, but my illness is real illness like any other disease that affects the body -my illness just affects my brain.
I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and I suffer panic attacks, all of which I was diagnosed with at age fifteen.
I've had times when my illness has been under control, and times when it's been really hard. Recently, it's been really bad. I was briefly hospitalized earlier this year after I spent three days laying in bed staring at the wall or crying.
Being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital is much different than being in a regular hospital. You have very few personal freedoms and must follow a very strict schedule, and the staff aren't always as compassionate as they should be. I don't understand why they treated me - or anyone else there - differently than they would anyone else who was very sick. I had committed no crime and I created no trouble - I was just broken and deeply in need of help.
I stayed there for two nights while my doctor got my medication straightened out. I wasn't suicidal, but the medication that they put me on makes certain people suicidal so my doctor wanted me under observation for the first 36 hours. They also had to get my sleeping medication straightened out as I hadn't been sleeping well for many months.
This severe bout of illness that I've been going though was brought on by a really stressful life situation; my husband and I have been going through fertility treatments. It was after my fifth failed round of a fertility medication that I was hospitalized. Stress definitely aggravates mental illness.
The new medication I'm on is helping, but I'm having to slowly taper off some of the medication I take for panic attacks and insomnia because I can't take them while my husband and I do our first round of IVF. I'm scared to come off of those medications - I don't want to be where I was earlier this year; depression, anxiety, and OCD are pure hell.
Imagine being shut in a room completely alone. Room is empty - you and your own thoughts and fears. You don't feel like there is any way out of that room because you've been locked in and you just have to wait for someone to let you out. That is my depression, anxiety, and OCD. The room isn't an actual room; it's my own mind, and I'm trapped there.
You can run from a lot of things in life, but you cannot run away from your own brain.
I'm very lucky that I have a wonderful support system. My parents and grandparents are incredibly sympathetic and understanding. My husband is my rock. His love for me has never wavered, he simply wants me to be well. I feel so fortunate to have such an understanding husband, but it's no surprise.
He grew up with a father with bipolar disorder.
My husband knows that I can't make myself better if I try hard enough. A lot of people think it's that simple: be positive and you'll be okay! It doesn't work that way, I have a chemical imbalance; no amount of positive thinking can fix that. If it would, trust me, I'd have done so.
If I could tell people just one thing about how to look at and treat people with mental illness, it would be this: love me until I am me again.
People with mental illness need support, not judgment. We don't deserve to be abandoned because we are sick. Plenty of people abandon a mentally ill person when their illness is at its worst - don't do that to the people you love.
Love them until they are themselves again.
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