Archives for posts with tag: worry

‘If anyone doubts that you have OCD, they can talk to me.’ -my therapist

Remember that post I wrote almost a year ago called ‘A Confession :/’? It was a rough, stitched-together, binoculars-from-the-wrong-end account of how I worry all the time about bad things happening to me and the people I love.

[obsessive] To recap: I worry constantly about freak accidents, not-freak (regular?) accidents, illnesses; things breaking, things falling, things burning; cars crashing, planes crashing, storms taking down trees on top of houses with people inside. When I pick up a kitchen knife to cut an onion my thoughts go directly to my wrists and before I can stop myself I’m suddenly, irrationally scared I’ll cut them. When my mom goes on a business trip and texts us that she loves us, I immediately see myself in thirty years having written a chapter in my memoir about the last text my mother ever sent me before the plane crash. And it isn’t ‘normal’, quiet, banishable worry. It’s loud and it doesn’t go away. I try to rationalize away the likelihood of planes crashing, and tell myself that there’s nothing I can do even if it does crash, so I should just continue living my life normally goddamn it, but it doesn’t help. Because for a fraction of a hundredth of a second, I experience the reality of my mother’s death, or whatever it happens to be at that time. And then, when I can force my brain to think of something else, inevitably something pops up again and the process repeats.

[compulsive] In order to cope with this constant stress, my brain has come up with various superstitions, including never telling anybody ‘goodbye’ without saying ‘see you later’, or ‘goodnight’ without ‘see you in the morning’. Another superstition is that if I visualized the word ‘no’ that would negate whatever ‘bad’ thing I’m thinking. There is a special image of the word that I use (it’s red and white) that I came up with when I was little and have been using ever since.

[disorder] This happens all my waking hours, since as long as I can remember. It’s exhausting, actually, and it sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate or enjoy things.

It wasn’t always this bad. I’ve been using the ‘no’ image for as long as I can remember but I would only use it for very bad things—like whenever I heard the word ‘death’, or ‘illness’. I was sure I could stop anytime I wanted to. Gradually I started worrying more, though, and my worries became more subtle, and more terrifying. I started using the ‘no’ image more often. The ugly mental dance took up more and more of my thoughts until they defined my mentality.

I’d been living like this for years, until suddenly, one night in India, I stood in my pajamas in the dark next to my bed, hand on the light switch, trying to convince myself I wasn’t going to die in my sleep.

It was that night that I decided that I couldn’t let this continue. It was no different from the hundred nights that came before it, or the hundred afterward, but for some reason something, well, snapped, as they say. It wasn’t the first time I had wished I didn’t worry so much, but it was the first time I realized that maybe this was something to take seriously. That maybe there was something more than just wrong here, there was something broken . . . and that maybe could be mended.

When I got back to America, and to school, I sought counselling. Even then I didn’t seek a therapist, because I didn’t think my problem was severe enough. I could still function, after all. My grades and friendships weren’t suffering. Everybody worries. But the more I spoke to my counsellor, the more she became convinced that I should see somebody who specialized in anxiety disorders.

And so I finally told my family what was going on and they set me up with a highly specialized therapist in the city.

He gave me terrifying assignments, like to say ‘goodbye’ to everyone I parted with for a week, without saying ‘see you later’. When nobody died, my brain was supposed to learn from the experience and realize that my saying ‘see you later’ has nothing to do with whether anybody dies. These assignments were very difficult, and I struggled with them.

But I did them. Today I’m in a much better mental state than I was at the beginning of this year. I’m not cured—you can’t cure OCD, but you can manage it, and channel it into ways that are not destructive. I still have a long way to go but honestly I’m proud of how far I’ve come. When I think that I’ve been entangled in this for as long as I can remember, and how utterly, deeply lost I felt that night in India, I’m amazed. So much for something I never took very seriously at all.

I’m telling this story because it’s about my struggle with my mental health. If, instead, I told a story about how I walked around with a broken arm all my life, but I was afraid to tell anybody until one day I realized I should probably get a cast, you’d think that was ridiculous, and you’d be right. Instead, it’s a story about how I felt so ashamed, frightened, and just generally weird about my mental health problems that I lived with them for much longer than I needed to, and caused myself much undue stress.

I couldn’t even tell my parents, the ones who care about me the most, about this thing that had pretty much defined my mental landscape for as long as I can remember, until about four months ago.

I thank God, Buddha, the ancestors, and whomever else it is that I’m supposed to thank that, after all, my problems weren’t so bad as to truly interfere with my life. Bajillions of people have OCD, anxiety disorders, depression, and other nasty things so bad they literally can’t do anything else. I also thank all the aforementioned that I am lucky and privileged enough to have a family with the means to support me, and the caring to do so. Gazillions of people with mental disorders have to struggle alone, or with inadequate support, because they simply can’t afford help.

Finally, millions of people struggle alone with their mental disorders but don’t call it that, because they don’t take their own minds seriously. For those people, I’m telling my story. For almost my whole life so far I’ve lived with a problem and didn’t do anything about it because I didn’t think it was a ‘real’ problem. I had never met anyone who talked about their OCD or anxiety, or heard about any symptoms of OCD that were less than extreme.

The idealist in me likes to imagine a world in which mental health is no longer a taboo reality, and is treated with the respect and honesty it deserves. The cynic in me doesn’t see this happening for a long time. But one way we as a society can bring that vision closer is by telling our stories, and being frank. The more stories that are floating around out there, the more likely it is that some little girl in the future might recognize herself in one of them.

Consider this my contribution to bringing that vision closer.

P.S. Here’s a link to a blog called ‘Hyperbole and a Half’, by Allie Brosh, who wrote (ironically?) a comic about her struggle with depression. The comic is so good it’s scary; it will make you laugh and cry at the same time. Make sure you read Parts I & II!

In high school, I was in the drama club and we were doing All Shook Up. The director, a slow-moving, obese but cheerful woman with whom I never interacted very much (I was in stage crew), had a heart attack at a local diner and died a week before opening night. The show, of course, went on, but every student in the drama club learned how fragile life was and how it could be drastically changed–or taken away–in an instant.

When I was younger, I read a small story in a newspaper about how these two little kids went out to play soccer; they were struck by lightning and killed instantly. The reporter quoted the mother weeping something like, ‘You never expect it to happen to you, you just send your kids out to play soccer and it’s just raining and you think they’ll come home’.

My best friend in middle school told me once that her uncle died one night for no reason at all; he just stopped breathing in his sleep.

Life is fragile. I could think of a hundred good stories that begin with, ‘and those were the last words I ever said to my father’. We love those stories, where someone dies or loses a limb or gets otherwise life-alteringly hurt–and it only ever takes a second, and it could happen to anybody. In fact, it usually happens to those who least expect it, or deserve it. These stories remind us to live our lives to the fullest, and enjoy your loved ones while you have them, because you never know when that could change.

But all I learned was to worry.

Every moment my loved ones spend out of my sight is a moment they could choke, have a heart attack, get hit by a car, get struck by lightning. It only ever takes a second. And myself, every waking moment I spend is a moment my heart could stop beating, my lungs deflate, my brain swell, the earth quake, the house crumble, a tree fall on me. I find myself imagining scenarios in which I die, or worse, someone in my family dies–what happens next? Who is the first to know? Do I go back to school? Do I go to India? What about my other family members? What is the funeral like? In other words, my mind is like an out-of-control car that I am constantly trying to wrench back to rationality: calm down, this isn’t happening, how can you be thinking of this, it’s just making you upset.

I used to be afraid of feeling my pulse in case it stopped; now I can’t go ten minutes without checking it for the same reason. I now know more ways of checking my pulse than any health class could have taught me. I try to do it discreetly so I can do it anywhere. I am hypersensitive to the workings of my body: if something feels even vaguely wrong, or ‘off’, or even different, it consumes my thoughts. If my heartbeat is irregular, it’s about to give out. If I feel dizzy for no apparent reason, something must be seriously wrong with my brain and no amount of normal MRIs will convince me otherwise. If my feet feel tingly it’s because my circulation is poor, which means I have a weak heart or diabetes and will probably die soon. If every time I thought this, of course, something actually was wrong, I would be an invalid by now. So I wrench the car back on the road. Sometimes I wish I could go to sleep to stop worrying so much but of course the idea of sleep is worrisome for obvious reasons–what if I don’t wake up?

Perhaps what is ironic about all of this is that usually, once people realize how fragile life is, they are supposed to live life to the fullest. But I don’t. I am overly gentle with my body; I hate exercise, because when I exert myself my heart starts pounding and I think that’s bad. So I do no more than what I need to in order to function and convince myself that I’m still alive physically okay.

Every night, I tell my family, ‘goodnight, see you in the morning’, because I’m superstitious enough to believe that if I say I’ll see them in the morning, then I will, and if I forget to say that, then I won’t. Same for ‘goodbye, see you later’. I don’t remember the last time I told anybody just ‘goodbye’.

This is not an easy post for me to write. It took me a long time to decide to write this. I’m probably not going to proofread it. I must have checked my pulse at least ten times so far.

I have never been formally diagnosed with anxiety, or OCD, or anything of the kind. I wonder, does everybody feel this way? My mother tells me she worries about me all the time, because that’s what mothers do. Do mothers always feel like this? If so, I don’t know why anyone would want to be one.

I read today: ‘A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.’ Well I do want to live life to the fullest and stop living in fear. I don’t want to be anxious like this any more.

 

 

 

I have to apologize for not having a post for last night. I sat down to write and suddenly I was invited to an emergency jam session! And that’s why I didn’t have anything. So here’s the one that should have been last night’s; stay tuned for an extra post tomorrow or the day after.

Anyway, methinks it’s time for a return to stories, don’t you?

—~

 

I arrive, of course, ten minutes early.

I park my car in the lot right in front of the restaurant. Premium spot, in the shade–this is why it was a good idea to leave home early, I think, smiling to myself. I leisurely put the brake up and sit in the car for a few minutes, adjusting my seat, knowing I have some time to kill, unwilling to leave the icy air-conditioning. I glance at the digital clock on the dashboard, just to make sure I still have plenty of time. 1:51. Oh, only nine minutes, then.

There’s not much to look at, parked facing the wall of the restaurant, so it occurs to me to check my cell phone. What if Kate had texted me while I was driving that she couldn’t make it after all? That would be terrible! But there are no messages, so I lock my phone and check the clock again, sure at least five minutes have passed, only to find the digits stubbornly the same as they were the last time I checked. I begin to wonder idly if the clock is broken. Wouldn’t that be just great, if I’d been working on a broken clock all this time, and Kate was already sitting in the restaurant, waiting for me, all because my stupid clock was slow. I check my wrist watch instead, and then my cell phone. They all agree; it is only 1:52.

I sigh. Make myself relax in the air conditioning. My eyes wander out the windows into the heat and onto the highway from which I have just come. I examine intensely every single car that comes racing down the road, scanning, searching, hoping for that sunny flash of beige. Every car that slows at the entrance to the restaurant I stop in its tracks, interrogate, search, and, disappointed, send on its way. One of these cars has to be Kate. She’ll be here any minute. Maybe she got a new car, and I won’t recognize it.

No, you dumbass, she didn’t get a new car, and even if she did, so what, just wait, you have almost ten whole minutes before she comes! She might even be late. That makes fifteen minutes. Do you realize how long fifteen minutes is? It’s a quarter of an hour. A whole quarter of an hour. An hour! When you were little, an hour was forever. So calm down, stop worrying. You have time.

I look at the digital clock again, staring at it, willing it to go faster.

Why would you do that, come on, most of the time you’re begging time to slow down, huh? What if it listened to you and from now on you’d never have enough time to do things you want to do? What if the Time gods decided to heed you now and your entire life would go rushing by before you knew it, just because one day you were impatient to meet someone for a lunch date?

I turn the keys. Enough of this sitting in the air conditioning. At least I can be standing outside, so when Kate comes she’ll see me right away and won’t possibly miss me. I gather purse, my sweater, and the little wrapped box with a bow I have for Kate, extract myself from the now sleeping automobile, and arrange myself so that it looks like I’m leaning nonchalantly against the hood.

I’m not going to look at my watch just now, I’m going to turn it right side up so that I can read it just in case I decide to later. I make it look like I’m adjusting my bracelets, then cross my arms. I can’t help tilting my arm just so, and inclining my head just enough to read my wristwatch–1:55.

Excellent. Only five more minutes to wait.

A red sporty-looking car slides into the restaurant’s entrance driveway and careens around the parking lot until it finds an empty space in the sun. A man jumps out, spins his keys and blips his car shut, heads into the restaurant. Now there is a man with a mission, I think. He knows what he wants and he’ll go get it. Huzzah.

I won’t look at my watch again. Instead, I keep my eyes on the road, vigilant for a sign of familiar golden metal slowing up at the driveway. Instead, a grayish minivan pokes its nose into the driveway as if to ask permission to enter, and, sure that it’s welcome here, nudges its way along until it pulls into my row. My eyes follow it until it finds a spot of its own and carefully edges into it.

1:58.

I shift my weight. It’s such a nice day out today. What a lovely breeze. I should wait in the sun. No, I should stay by my car. Where else would I stand? I’m not going to just stand randomly in the middle of the parking lot. I’ll look like a weirdo. Not to mention be in the middle of the road.

Oh my goodness. I forget if I locked my front door or not. I hope I have. Jerry was sleeping when I left, so maybe when he wakes up he’ll realize and lock it. Or not. I’d better remind him. I take out my cell phone to text him, then put it back. Don’t be silly, I’m sure I did remember, and even if I didn’t, so what?

So what? What if today someone decides to break into our house and they can because I left the door open and they steal all our stuff and kill Jerry and burn down our house? All because I forgot to lock the front door? I could never live with that on my conscience. I finger my cell phone.

Swallow it. You’re being stupid. Your mind is racing. Jerry and the house will be fine. Put away your phone, don’t worry about it, and just have fun with Kate. That’s all you need to do.

Speaking of Kate, it’s 2:01. A honey-warm feeling of accomplishment flushes through me (I made it. It’s two. I thought it would never be two), followed by an instant, vague nervousness. It’s after two. We were supposed to meet at two. Where is she? Weren’t we supposed to meet at two? I take out my cell phone and scroll through my text history. Yes, it was definitely two, and this is definitely the place.

Maybe my watch is fast.

Fine, I’ll wait until my watch says 2:03, and then it’ll actually be two, and then I’ll be allowed to panic.

Ahem. Not panic. Be just a little worried.

But what if Kate got into a car crash? What if she’s in some horrible accident, being rushed to the hospital right now, and I’m standing here like an idiot waiting for her? I’ll be waiting here forever. And what kind of lousy friend would I be if she was dying and I didn’t know.

It’s 2:03. Nothing’s happening, she’s probably on her way, maybe there was traffic, maybe she hit a pothole, maybe she’s getting dressed, maybe she’s just late, maybe a thousand things could be the case that aren’t horrible and don’t mean that she won’t be sailing into the parking lot any minute now, and you’ll be on your way, having a nice lunch with her…

Lunch with Kate. What a concept. I haven’t seen her in about two years, but when she called me the other day to tell me she was in town it was like no time had passed between us. I worry what we’ll talk about over lunch today, but there was no radio silence to speak of during our three-hour phone conversation. Well of course we’ll have to talk about what we’ve been doing for the past two years. That’s as good a conversation starter as any, I guess.

If she ever gets here. Calm down, it’s only 2:05.

And then–could it be?–at last, glory to the high heavens, a familiar gleam of sunlight on beige–a car comes zooming up the driveway–a familiar golden head inside. The honey feeling comes back again, even warmer than before, swelling up from my stomach and into my smile. The sandy-colored car bounces around the parking lot and lands in my row. It’s over. I’ve made it. It’s 2:05 and Kate is here, and all that worrying was for naught, and I’m glad I came early and got a spot in the shade after all.

Quickly I try and make it seem like I haven’t been standing there doing nothing for ten minutes; I play with my purse and gather my things and adjust my shirt. She parks and floats out of her car, as golden and pixie-like as ever.

‘Hey!’ she greets me. ‘How’s it going!’ She beams and comes toward me, arms open wide for a hug.

‘Hey, Kate,’ I say, hugging her. ‘It’s been a while. It’s good to see you.’

‘You too. I hope you haven’t been waiting long?’ she asks as we head into the restaurant.

‘Not long,’ I say.