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.
I have been "blessed" with the beauty of Generalized Panic Disorder (GAD) and now panic attacks. I think I have them under control, for the most part, but I know I'm not the only person in my family to suffer from them.
I have a cousin with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and agoraphobia. My mother has been on anti-anxiety medication since I can remember and refuses to leave the house 90 percent of the time. And they aren't the only ones. I don't worry so much about them; they're adults and know of the wonderful resources available to them.
What I do worry about is my precious daughter. She had her first panic attack at age six when she realized that her daddy and I weren't going to be in the same house anymore. My ex decided that it was an isolated incident and would go away without medical attention. It did not. We took her to see my therapist and psychiatrist. The therapy helped, and the doctor put her on a low dose of anti-anxiety medications. Of course the ex didn't feel his daughter needed to be a junkie (his words) and we discontinued them.
Things were alright for a while, but every now and then she would have such severe anxiety that nothing could calm her down. She didn't want to go to school on PE testing days or days when she had to do an oral report. She didn't want to go to school if there had been an incident the day before. After months of dragging her to school, I finally had to sit her down and share my experiences. My mother had never done this with me and I thought if my daughter knew she wasn't alone, she would feel better.
So I told her how my heart would race when I thought of meeting a new person. How my legs would get all wobbly if I had to walk up to a podium or speak in front of people or run a lap with everyone watching. I left nothing out. And my precious ray of sunshine said to me, "I'm sorry you're hurting Momma, how can I help you?"
No honey, I'm here to help you, so that you don't have to be alone or afraid. I want you to know that you are normal! Everyone has anxiety! Just not to the extreme that we sometimes have it.
Since this time (about four years ago) she still experiences the anxiety, but we talk through it. We take a time out in a quiet room and I bring her cold water or a snack or just sit at the bed and listen. We are open about it. I know I can't be with her all the time, and I know that there's always a monkey wrench thrown into the mix, but we're teaching her to cope with things as they come. That she is not a alone, and that there is an end to these feelings of anxiety.
Most people look forward to their birthdays.
Although I'm turning twenty-two in a few days; this is supposed to be a happy time, my birthdays over the past few years have been uneventful or just upsetting.
When I was younger, I loved my birthdays. I had parties with friends. Like all children, I looked forward to each birthday party. But my last real birthday "party" was my Sweet Sixteen.
Ever since, my birthdays haven't been happy or eventful.
I attended three different high schools growing up. I didn't want to, but I had no choice. I actually enjoyed my first high school - for a few months, I had the quintessential high school experience.
However, things took a dark turn at the end of my freshman year. I was diagnosed with teenage depression. I never believed the diagnosis and didn't like my therapist - he was very passive-aggressive. I told my parents I couldn't deal with him, so they said it was okay to stop seeing him. I attended counseling sessions with a psychologist while we looked for another therapist.
I didn't think I had teenage depression because I wasn't particularly sad. Instead I felt worried, nervous and anxious. I told my psychologist that I felt like I had teen anxiety. Due to the anxiety, I had trouble with keeping up in school, so I decided to take time off. My school counselor recommended a youth program nearby that allowed students to catch up on school while getting treatment. I went for three weeks.
When I finished my stay at the program, I went back to my high school. It wasn't easy - I'd missed out on so much; normal daily school activities were overwhelming. I got into a lot of fights with other people, which increased my anxiety.
After much consideration, my parents and I decided that it would be best to switch schools. As much as I didn't want to leave my friends, I thought I needed a new environment; I hoped a new school could give me a fresh start.
My second high school was near my home, which made commuting easy. I loved this school. I spent sophomore and junior year there - I made friends easily, my teachers were kind. My grades even improved.
Once I turned seventeen, things started going downhill. I was sexually harassed and assaulted by someone I trusted. I was scared for my safety, felt helpless, and defeated. The only way to escape seeing this person every day was to stop going to that school.
So I switched schools, again.
I registered at a new school for my senior year. It was boring - the school had no sports teams, no prom, not even a gym. It was just a small community school.
Switching schools lead to broken friendships and short-lasting relationships.
My seventeenth birthday was the first birthday I didn't celebrate with friends. Instead, I had dinner with my family, went shopping and watched a movie with one friend. While I appreciated this, there's nothing like celebrating your birthday with a bunch of friends that care about you.
My eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth birthdays have been the same: no big party, no clubbing adventures, nothing like other people my age do for their birthdays. On Facebook, I see photos of my peers celebrating their birthdays with fabulous parties and I get jealous.
And it sucks.
I wish I had that. When I was sixteen, my friends and I made plans to go to Vegas for our twenty-first birthdays and Europe when we turned eighteen. It never happened. I think it's because anxiety took over my life. I had symptoms of agoraphobia at seventeen.
I shut down at my third high school - I just went to finish high school. College was around the corner, and I looked forward to a better experience.
Today, I'm in my senior year of college. I've made some friends, and last year for my twenty-first birthday, I celebrated at a restaurant with a close friend from college. It wasn't a party or a big celebration, but it was something. It was the first time since seventeen that I had someone other than my family to celebrate with.
I don't know if it's because I had fun parties as a child that I feel like I'm missing out now. Back then, I had big celebrations with a bunch of friends which made me feel loved and appreciated, whereas now - I celebrate with my family. It makes me feel lonely.
My plans for my twenty-second birthday are up in the air. Usually, my family takes me out to a restaurant. I'll be seeing only a few friends on my birthday, but I'm not planning a big party.
According to my psychologist, my trust issues stemmed from my assault, so I've become wary of who I let into my life. I have difficulty forming new friendships because fear and anxiety get in my way. So even if I could throw a big party, I don't really have anyone to invite aside from my family and very few friends.
I want to throw a big party and have a grand celebration, but it's something that may never happen. It's been five years since the assault, but I still feel the pain of a helpless girl in high school.
Each birthday is just another reminder of how lonely I really am.
This is a follow up to the post "Hoping this Year Will Be Better than the Last."
I wanted to give an update two weeks after I began school, but I waited in case things changed or anything significant happened.
I'm surviving for now.
My first day was awkward, yet some things did surprise me. If you recall my last post, I was afraid that people would question why I was there or why I didn't graduate last year. Everyone always questions the new girl - that's understandable.
However, the response I got from my class was unexpected. While I was scared and anxious about their questions, that didn't happen. In fact, they don't question me about anything. Or talk to me. Or try to befriend me.
In fact, I might as well be invisible.
Isn't this what I wanted? I didn't want anyone to pry into my personal life or ask what happened last year or why I had to take time of school. Did I get what I wished for? I certainly didn't to be interrogated with questions, but I didn't want to be completely ignored, either!
It's not all bad, though.
There is one person in my class who is kind enough to sit with me in one of our classes, and talks to me a little about homework or class projects. We aren't friends necessarily just yet - like we don't hang out outside of class - but she's nice enough to get to know me.
On my second day, when I told her I had to take time off because I got sick (I'm sticking with the vague responses here, like The Band suggested), all she said was "Oh that's understandable. There was a person in the class last year, too, and they had to take time off." I liked that she respected me and my privacy enough to not ask me further details.
If I'm trying to be optimistic - I can appreciate that there's ONE person who seems to be genuinely kind. All it takes is one person; I know that's a cliché, but for me it's absolutely true. At least having someone in my class who can help me makes each day a little more bearable. There's another person, too, who I am working with on a team assignment, and he's nice enough to say hello to me in the hallways, unlike the others who just walk on by.
The other students, though, have been unwelcoming and cold. I knew there were going to be established cliques as everyone already has a close group of friends. But I didn't expect it to be this horrible.
I wonder if they think I'm a bitch because I'm quiet and keep to myself - but that's not it. I'm quiet because I don't want to draw attention to myself. I just wanted to blend in. It's not like I'm 100% silent; I actively participate during class discussions. I don't hesitate when I have to speak publically. I'm not shy and I never was. I'm just a apprehensive and closely guarded because I'm dealing with teen bipolar disorder. When I was manic, I was too talkative, hyper, and outgoing.
I've not experienced the depressive phases of teen bipolar disorder, though I do have short moments where I feel down.
Like on the bus home yesterday, there were two people in front of me (the only people talking on the bus) talking about their friend who was dealing with some issues. I didn't know these strangers, but the way they were describing their friend sounded eerily like me. They said their friend was afraid to trust, had issues with her parents, was left heartbroken last year and still unable to heal from it, emotionally mistreated, and a bunch of other things. I don't know why, but these two strangers describing their friend made me sad because I knew exactly how their friend was feeling.
Then, when I was shopping yesterday this song came on that reminded me of my childhood friend, Jason*. Our families were friends, so we grew up together. When we went off to college, he choose a school very far from our hometown.
I haven't seen him since last year over dinner when I visited. I got nostalgic, hearing that song, since most of my childhood memories involved him. I wished those times still existed. Though we rarely see each other anymore, our families still keep in touch.
Will Jason accept me if he knows about my illness? I never told him about it - when I was diagnosed, he was already away at college. I don't want to tell him because he’s the one person I’ve been friends with longest, and I don’t want him to look at me differently.
I wish I had a friend like Jason at school. Instead I'm constantly feeling excluded - my last year in college wasn't like this. The first few days, some people introduced themselves, and were cordial and seemingly friendly.
Most of them are okay, it's just this one girl that really made me upset, which is probably what's clouding my judgement; making me wonder if they're all like her.
This is what happened.
Our class was divided into groups to do a project. As the people in my group were comparing notes, I saw one of the papers in this girl’s binder. Something big was written across one of the pages, but I couldn't make it out, because I was sitting across from her, but I thought I saw my name. What she scribbled down was "Crazy Heather."
It seemed a little suspicious because she sort of tried to hide the paper after she saw me looking at it.
I thought, "Why did she write my name? And why did she write 'crazy'?" I've been keeping to myself, not drawing attention to myself, and being nice to everyone so I can make a good impression. Is being a little shy considered crazy nowadays?
I overanalyzed, then I tried to rationalize the situation. Did she really even write my name? She may have written Carey & Heather because Carey was the other person in our group - maybe she was just writing down the names of our group.
If not, why did she write my name like that? I pictured her talking to her friends about me, laughing behind my back because they thought it was pathetic that I hadn't made any friends yet. How could I make friends with these people if they don't want to be friends with me? Why would I even want to be friends with people who act this fake?
When I first met her, she acted all nice, so I thought she was a nice, genuine girl, but now I know it was insincere - she was putting on a front.
Besides the few people I mentioned and maybe a few more others, the rest of my class couldn't care less about me. It really sucks because it's making me miss my wonderful, supportive class from last year.
I'm not going to confront her because I don’t want to cause unnecessary drama that would add more disconnect between me and my classmates. As much as I say I don’t care what they think, it still hurts.
So I'm trying to focus on finishing this semester so I can finally leave. I look forward to the weekends where I can sleep and rest.
I am challenging myself to be more grateful so I can concentrate on the good things in my life. Every night I try to write down things I'm grateful for before I got to sleep. It's a practice I learned from my sister, and she's the most at-peace person I know. I tell myself I'm lucky to have a good family and a roof over my head.
I'm trying to get some perspective.
I suppose it helps to just write everything out. Thank you The Band for being supportive of my last post - you're all awesome. And many thanks for listening to my ramblings.
*names have been changed
You, The Band, have been nominated for three Bloggies (kinda the Oscars of blogging).
If you'd like to vote and read some of the other blogs that are also nominated (tons of great ones!), you may do so here. But no pressure.
Tomorrow I am going back to school. I'm really scared, apprehensive, and worried because I will not know anyone.
You see, last year I was supposed to graduate with my friends from college. But I have bipolar 1 disorder, and I had an episode. And my parents insisted (forced?) me to go to a short-stay treatment program at the hospital's psych unit. It mostly consisted of me getting therapy and back on medication. I resented them for it. I kept crying and blaming them, saying, "If you had never put me here I would've been able to finish school!" I was only a few months of finishing my semester at the time.
Now a year has passed, and I look back at what had happened. I guess I really did need help. I was imagining things that weren't happening - people waiting for me outside that weren't there, thinking my friends were mad at me when they weren't, spending money/shopping recklessly. Though at the time I didn't realize it, I was indeed a little manic. I hate calling it that, though; I hate having a diagnosed mental illness.
While I was gone from school, which was approximately one month, my friends were worried about my whereabouts and sent messages of support. I really appreciated them and was grateful for their concern. I didn't have good friends like them back in high school, so I was happy that my college friends were different. But while I was gone, they were finishing our final semester at school. And then they graduated. Then they got jobs.
Meanwhile, after finishing my stay at the hospital, I focused on getting my life back. I took my medicine. I got unwanted side effects such as weight gain, which I hated. Since I was not in school, I focused on getting a job. I couldn't go back to school until 2012 because that is when my program resumes, and it is limited entry. So the spring of 2011 I went to employment training programs; by summer, I got my first real job which was related to my studies. I was quite happy I was hired even though my education wasn't complete yet. My boss was wonderful and even promised me the job again for next year. Overall, it was a great summer.
When autumn began, that's when I started to worry again. I wasn't going back to school in September for the first time - ever. I spent fall and winter volunteering to keep busy, and I met nice people along the way. Apart from volunteering, my social life was non-existent. Some friends moved away for their jobs, went to other schools, and some just drifted apart from me. It was much easier to hang out when we saw each other every day at school and made plans since we had the same schedule. When I wasn't out and busy, I was lonely at home. I continued to go to therapy, but I knew the next year was coming soon, and I dreaded it each day.
When I go back to school tomorrow, I will be finishing up the incomplete credits that I would've finished last year. What I'm worried about the most is that I won't make any friends. Since my program is a limited entry program, you are in the same classes with the same people for your entire time at that school. The people I'm going to meet will already have established friendships, will not know who I am, will ask me "Why didn't you graduate last year? What happened?", might not like me, might hate me - all of these thoughts are occupying my mind.
I have my outfits ready, my textbooks and school supplies, and everything I need. They will meet me, but they will not know the real reason I was unable to finish my studies last year. They will not know that I have a mental illness. And I don't want to tell them. I won't tell them. I didn't even tell most people last year except my close friends. For others I gave a vague answer such as, "I was really stressed, so I went to a therapy program" and didn't elaborate. I say to myself it's none of their business, but mostly I don't tell them the whole story because I know they will look at me differently if I say I have bipolar disorder.
Band, I'm sorry for making this a super long post. I'm new, and I guess I have a lot to finally let out. I've forgiven my parents for making me miss school and being unable to graduate with my friends because I know they meant well and were looking after my well-being. I understand that what they did, they did because they were worried about me and loved me. I am in much better health now for sure.
I am worried that I'm going to be alone while at school. I'm scared they won't like me and will ignore me. I'm mostly scared they will be suspicious of what really happened to me last year and question me. I'm afraid of how I'm going to reply to them when they ask me questions. I know I'm over-analyzing it and being too anxious for my own good. I guess I'm just looking for support. My parents don't really understand what I'm worried about - they just say to focus on finishing school and not the people. But I loved my classmates last year; they were supportive and truly cared about me. Now I'm facing it all alone, and I don't know how I'm going to do it.
And in the back of my mind, I'm scared that I'm going to be alone forever because I choose to hide my disease, fearing it will push people away from me. I was never a shy person; I was always outgoing and talkative and loved to meet new people, but when I was diagnosed when I was 18, that's when my personality changed. I decided to put walls up and be less trusting of people because I was afraid they'd discover I was bipolar. And since I gained weight from medication, my self-esteem became low. I'm no longer the energetic, happy-go-lucky person I was.
Not to say I am a moody, dull person now, but my fleeting moments of happiness are definitely a little different, and feel a bit - not genuine, you know? Like even when I'm happy, I always feel a little empty. I'm scared nobody will ever want a meaningful relationship with me if they discover I have this illness. I know I don't have to announce it to everyone I meet: I know it's my own business, but I feel like I'm living my life hiding a secret, and all I want is not have ever had to deal with this burden at all. Does that even make sense?
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