Tag Archives: OCD

The Psychological Purgatory of Depression

I’ve heard depression described as walking towards a sunset. You can see the light ahead of you, but even when you’re basking in the warmth of the light, you’re always aware that the darkness isn’t more than a heartbeat away.

sungirl

That sounds pretty accurate, but what makes depression so hard for those on the outside — and even those on the inside — to understand, is that being depressed and being happy aren’t always mutually exclusive.

People with depression can be happy, sad or funny just like anyone else. And while we’re all aware of the dangerous places depression can go, what no one seems to talk much about is that there’s a kind of psychological purgatory that exists somewhere in between the high points and the end of your rope.

When you’re having a good day, no one can tell you’re depressed because the symptoms aren’t as obvious as we think they should be. You might not be feeling that miserable “I can’t get out of bed” type of way, but your internal dialogue and view of the world is pretty similar.

There’s relief in knowing that you appear normal until one little thing sets you off — a comment, an obstruction to your routine, maybe nothing specific at all — and down that slope you go sliding again.

These are the times I sit at my desk at work, feeling panic and claustrophobic with a need to literally go run away from myself.

These there are the times when I’m at home on the couch, mindlessly flipping through the same websites, the same channels, feeling nothing but a need to not think.

These are the times when I should reach out, but the world I created is so narrow that I retreat back into my head, to distractions, to exercise to numb out the pain. These actions become habit, the habit then becomes an obsession and from there I’m stuck in a vicious cycle again.

But in some ways, as miserable as you — well, that I — can feel, you get used to it.

Depression doesn’t ask much of you other than to suffer, whereas happiness — in as much as you can remember it — simply can’t be trusted. It’s undependable and often fleeting, and while depression saps your energy, happiness is exhausting in a different way.

Even though you know there are people willing to help, you can never tell them everything. Revealing the plot of your story would give away that tiny shred of control — or the illusion of control — that you so desperately feel that you need just to get by.

Plus, seeing happy people makes you feel as if you have some kind of obligation to get well, and you don’t want to have any obligations or distractions that you don’t invite yourself.

So instead you avoid people when you can so you don’t have to make yourself vulnerable to questions, to wondering if everyone knows that you’re really a big jumbled mess, unable to figure out how to get back to “happy,” or at the very least, back to “content.”

That’s why it can be such a dangerous thing.

You can appear absolutely normal and functional to the outside, but be silently screaming on the inside. And when you’re down, you wonder why you can’t just “be happy” again, and when you’re happy you feel guilty for those times you’re stuck in the dark.

Then there’s the middle — that psychological purgatory — neither way up or way down.

These are the times to remember that isolation is a symptom, not a solution, and that flowery language aside, there still are those small shards of light. For me, sometimes it’s sitting outside. Sometimes it’s trying to be funny to people I see. Sometimes it’s getting lost in a book or emailing someone I trust.

Those things can spark the good days.

Of course you have to sift through the muck and the mud, but it helps to just enjoy the good days for what they are and not question why. Life isn’t easy all the time, even to the most well-adjusted individual, and the dark times aren’t a reflection of weakness or selfishness or anything you might tell yourself.

In other words, just because you deal with depression doesn’t mean that you are depression. A bad day/week doesn’t mean a bad life. After all, it’s not sunny every day but we know the clouds won’t last forever.

Enjoy that light when you can.

Originally published on The Huffington Post

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This Isn’t About Robin Williams

“Many who try to bring joy to the world are often the same people who fight a great war within themselves. Every fight lost is a tragedy.”

The death of comic genius Robin Williams spawned thousands and thousands of (well-deserved) tributes and blog posts about not only his career and his life, but also his mental health struggles.

I don’t want to read them.

I don’t want to watch them.

I don’t want to hear about depression and opinions from people who just have no clue.

That’s selfish, but I don’t want to deal with it because I live it every day of my life, a life that I’ve questioned the value of more often than I care to admit. While I would like to think that I would never go to that extreme, I’ve thought about what the world would be like if I were no longer in it, if I could never get “better.”

Because of that, Robin Williams’ death wasn’t surprising to me. Tragic? Yes. Surprising? No. Addiction and depression are equal-opportunity destroyers, regardless of age, sex or class. And the thing about addictions are that they’re all just a slow suicide, no matter your weapon of choice.

So why do some people make it while others lose the fight? I don’t think anyone knows.

What I do know is that for me, it’s not about lack of resources, because if I want to get help there are a million places to get it.

It’s not about people not doing enough to help, because I know you have to want and accept that  support in order to pull yourself out.

It’s also not about attention. My dark thoughts aren’t about death but rather the fantasy of finding some peace—any peace—to quiet the storms in my head.

That probably doesn’t make sense, but I wrote a piece for Huffington Post about my OCD that I never shared on this blog because I didn’t want to be misunderstood. Plus, sometimes I just don’t want to deal with that reality.

But it is reality, and so are suicide and depression and all those things I don’t want to read, hear or talk about a lot of the time—all those things I am forced to think about all the time anyway.

Yet that’s probably part of the problem.

After Williams’ death I posted that quote above on Facebook and linked back to a post I wrote on depression.

The response was huge, both on that older post and to the simple quote. People sent me emails sharing their stories, and someone commented, “Thank you for things that you write. You have a medium where you can reach out to other people and truly help them with your own experiences.”

Whether he liked it or not, Robin Williams had a platform to talk about mental health, and maybe in some tiny miniscule way, so do I–whether through humor or sharing my struggles. If nothing else, I need the support myself on most days.

Of course, there’s no magic cure or easy answers. But what there is is support if you accept it, people who care and a dialogue about mental health that has been reopened up with another loss of life.

This time it wasn’t you.

It wasn’t me.

And if it was, it’s safe to say the whole world wouldn’t be mourning our passing. But somebody would. Somebody cares. And every fight lost is a tragedy.

Keep up the fight.

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That Sinking Feeling

Despite what this post might suggest, I’m not high-maintenance. I just have severe OCD and like my routine, not to mention a house that functions as it should and remains rather clean.

With that said, any disruption to my basic necessities — water, food, Internet, baseball, power, mostly food again — are classified as mini-catastrophes in my world, a world where I’m not proficient in plumbing or electrical work where hummus flows freely like water.

hungry

So when I walked into the kitchen the other night and noticed my previously functional faucet releasing a small but steady stream of water, I started to lose my crap.

After taking a deep breath, I called an old handyman friend of my uncle that sometimes helps me with things and found out he could stop by the next day. I knew this was good, but I also knew this meant tons of more stress for my dysfunctional mind.

If I don’t have a sink, how can I make my tea? Use my steamer? Would he take so long that my normal dinner routine would be shattered? And what about my semi-clean floors? How am I supposed to survive?!?

Part of my frustration with these things comes from not being able to fix them myself, but 99.9 percent of my frustration comes from the series of events that follow after someone comes over to fix them.*

*Yes, I am most appreciative, but I am also OCD with no patience for putzing or lack of respect for the Lysol.

So without further putzing, let’s take a look at how this went (all times are approximate, as I’m still recovering from the trauma.)


9 pm—Enter kitchen and notice sink is running. Push on all the handles and scream at it to stop.

9:01—Express puzzlement over said dripping to inanimate objects within earshot and then try to will it to stop streaming down.

9:05—Call old handyman guy and learn a) he really wants to engage in a “to make a short story long” type of discussion and b) he can come by the next afternoon around 3.

9:25—Call mom and ask her to meet him at my house until I can get home from work.

9:26—Ignore problem for the rest of the night.

Next Day

5:30 am—Enter kitchen and notice sink is still running. Push on all the handles and scream at it to stop.

5:31—Express puzzlement over said dripping to inanimate objects within earshot and then try to will it to stop streaming down.

5:35—Leave for work and stress about sink.

4 pm—Arrive home, find mom in my garden and give her a 6-pack as a thank you.

4:05—Full of dread, enter the house and notice he didn’t heed the “Please take shoes off. Thanks!” post-it note I so carefully placed on the door. And that he moved the blanket I had down over the kitchen rug. And that he was using my favorite coffee cup and dish towel to catch the dripping water OH MY GOD!

4:05:10—Remind myself he’s helping me out. Deep breaths are taken and possibly exhaled as a loud sigh—this part is sketchy.

4:10—Make small talk and pretend to care what plumbing parts are called while discreetly moving the blanket over the rug and his tools onto paper towel.

4:15—Learn he’ll be done in about half an hour and decide I’m pretty much a revolutionary for my survival skills in times of such stress.

4:16 to 4:45—Distract myself in the form of preparing soon-to-be used cleaning products and plan how I can clean and get dinner ready on OCD time.

4:46—He’s still putzing. Start freaking out and immediately change my mind on revolutionary status.

4:55—While searching for Xanax salt lick, I’m informed it’s fixed. Pleasantries and payment are exchanged, as is the information that his wife read my first book after my uncle gave him a copy.

4:56—Feelings of annoyance wane as I gently lead him outside my house.

5:00—Begin manic Lysol/Swiffer sweeps of the counters and floors while prepping dinner at the same time, once again applauding my survival skills.

5:05—Enter bathroom. Notice the toilet seat is up, meaning his dirty shoes and everything attached to them paraded throughout my house and used my toilet.

5:06—Manic feelings return. Cleaning commences.

5:15—Smoke detector goes off, signaling that dinner is done.

5:20—Revolutionary status restored, but my sanity? Still MIA.

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Kanye West: “Weed Digger”

It’s been awhile since I’ve serenaded you with veggie verses, so it’s my pleasure to present to you my take on Kanye West’s Golddigger,” with a gardening spin.

 Weed Digger”

weeddigger

She gives me veggies, when I’m in need

Yeah she’s a gardening friend indeed

Oh she’s a weed digger, way over town

That digs on me.

Chorus:

(She gives me veggies.)

Now I ain’t sayin’ she a weed digger (when I’m in need)

But all these plants are getting bigger, bigger.

(She gives me veggies)

Now I ain’t sayin’ she a weed digger (when I’m in need)

But all these plants are getting bigger, bigger.

Get down girl go head get down (I gotta leave)

Get down girl go head get down (I gotta leave)

Get down girl go head get down (I gotta leave)

Get down girl gone head

18 plants, 18 plants

She got one of every kind, about 18 plants

I know somebody putting stakes up for all of those beans,

Her green thumb mamma helps secure it so that it never leans.

You will see her there outside on any given day

Digging up the dandelions out from the clay.

She was supposed to buy some new clothes with some of her money

But went down to the greenhouse and got seeds with that money

Now she keeping her plants safe from that meddling bunny,

So that it doesn’t eat the greens she bought with all of her money.

If you ain’t no punk, holla “We want turnips!

WE WANT TURNIPS!” Yeah.

It’s something that you need to know

‘Cause what you’ll see when you go to her home.

18 plants, 18 plants

And in her flowers you can find a happy little gnome.

Chorus:

Now I ain’t saying she’s a weed digger (she got needs)

She don’t want her yard to suck, so she pulls those weeds

Her OCD compels her every day to rake up the leaves,

There’s green beans in the back, so she rolls up her sleeves

She got that ambition, baby, look in her eyes

This week she’s picking peppers you would normally buy.

So, stick by her side

I know this girl is crazy, but the garden is nice

And she gonna keep weeding and trying

But you stay right there

‘Cause when you need some good tomatoes she is willing to share.

Get down girl go head get down

Get down girl go head get down

Get down girl go head get down

Get down girl go head

(lemme hear that back)

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A Light In the Dark

As a writer, I try to write about everything.

It’s basically all that I know how to do.

But the thing about writing humor is that it sometimes makes me feel like I’m hiding behind a mask and pretending I’m something I’m not. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a person who loves to laugh—who loves to make other people laugh even more—but yet most of the time that’s not me, or at least that’s not how I feel.

But it’s hard to ignore what goes on in my head and even harder to write about depression. For one, there’s the fear that writing about it makes you look weak and turns people off because it’s not funny or light. Most people have their own problems, so why would they read about mine?

The other trouble is that it is often incredibly difficult to articulate just how I feel.

Deep depression is hard to understand, especially if you’ve never been there. It has manageable days that for me usually include writing something I don’t hate or spending time outside. In other words, I function and appear to be fine.

But then there are days—sometimes even that same day— when like a virus it flares up and all I can do is remind myself not to swerve my car over the center line or walk a little too close to the edge.

These are the times that I should reach out, but the thing about depression is that it comes with the sense that you shouldn’t have it to begin with, that it’s a bunch of self-indulgent navel gazing and not an actual illness like those that everyone can see looking in.

And so I swallow it down and isolate more, feeling that talking about it at all with people will only make me sound whiny. It’s hard to explain that depression isn’t like being sad and OCD isn’t just “needing to clean,” but rather that they are entirely crippling.

Unfortunately for me, it has crippled me both physically and mentally.

My concentration is barely existent, and more times than not I alternate between staring at my computer and feeling trapped behind a curtain too heavy to lift/inadequate in comparison to everyone else and doing unhealthy amounts of exercise in an attempt to distract myself and feel something, anything other than flat.

At least the exercise—the slow self-destruction in part because of my OCD —gives me some false sense that I’m coping or in control…until my body can no longer take the brunt of my mind. But no matter what I do, it’s never enough, and the addiction can only temporarily serve as distraction before my body literally breaks.

The effects devastate me not because of what they’re doing to my body, but because they take away the only coping mechanism that I feel like I have when everything feels like too much and yet not enough. The immediate consequences don’t matter because at that point, nothing really matters.

But that’s what depression does.

It twists things around in your mind. Any activity takes many times more effort, like trying to run through quicksand. Work is boring and intolerable. What felt joyful feels dull and what felt sad feels unbearable. Everything seems meaningless, including previous accomplishments and anything you used to like.

Depression is truly the absence of hope.

So why am I writing rambling this post?

Because May is Mental Health Month and ignoring that fact is ignoring what I deal with each day. But more importantly, maybe it’s because what you deal with, too, and hearing that others are in the same boat can be something you didn’t even know you needed to hear.

sky

After all, words have power. But this isn’t a motivational speech with a happy ending or solution, as I have neither of those things. It’s simply a reminder that you’re not alone. You’re not defective or broken or dealing with what you “deserve.”

No, you’re simply human.

You’re doing the best that you can with the strength that you have. You’re choosing to hold on to hope and to fight, and as much as I feel like I can’t on some days, I choose to keep fighting as well.

It’s basically all that I know how to do, but we don’t have to do it alone.

And hopefully at the end of the day—and most certainly in my next post—we can find something that makes us smile. Sometimes that’s all—and everything—that we might need.

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A Moment in the Sun

We were lucky that Easter Sunday this year was picturesque in terms of weather. For the first time since October we reached 70 degrees and had sun, something we could only fantasize about during the harshest winter in history.

I took advantage of the opportunity and spent part of the afternoon working outside before sitting in the sun on my deck, listening to the ballgame on the radio and watching the squirrels perform Cirque du Soleil moves on my half-empty feeder.

squirrel

As I sat there, I remembered scraping the ice off my windshield on those subzero mornings, driving 20 mph to work on icy roads and shoveling feet of snow. At that time, all I could think about was a) where I could move and b) how much I would appreciate days like we were having that day—warm, sunny and safe—if the frozen ground ever thawed.

But then eyes closed, sprawled out in a chair like an albino lizard on a heat rock, I found my mind going right back into my routinely obsessive thoughts on work, money, food, writer’s block, exercise, what I “should” be doing that day and in life, etc.

That moment in the sun with no obligations had suddenly turned into the storm in my head that so often clouds up my mind. And in some ways I was more present in the middle of winter fantasizing about the warmer weather than I was present in that moment actually sitting in the warmer weather.

It was then I overheard the neighbor kids say, “Poke it and see if it’s dead.”

 At first I thought they meant me, but since it came from the other side of the fence I assumed it was a small woodland creature. And while I’m sorry it took it’s probable demise to  bring me back to the present moment, I’m kind of glad that it did.

Because I do this all the time.

Part of me gets excited for or works towards something, and then when it happens I’m already moving on, dismissing it as something to check off a list instead of enjoying that moment. I don’t feel accomplished or calm, but rather wonder, “Okay, what’s next?”

It’s easy to fall into that trap in today’s society of “more, more, more.” Sitting around reading or listening to the ballgame isn’t always as “admirable” as doing, doing, doing all the time. There’s that constant need to know just what is next.

But as one warm day in the sun reminded me, I don’t have to fall into that trap.

I can choose where to place my attention and my intention by saying “yes” to a moment and “no” to worrying about that next thing all the time. If my mind would get out of my way, maybe I could relax and remember this more.

After all, the temps are back in the 40s with rain this week—Mother Nature is a cruel, cruel shrew at times—which proves how fast moments can pass.

Just ask the critter cadaver next door.

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Who I Am

About eight or nine years ago I was in a group therapy session with 10 other women when the doctor had us go around the room and do a seemingly simple exercise: tell the group about ourselves.

Now keep in mind the setting—it was a hospital and not a wine bar—but one by one we went around the room. In the span of 10 minutes I learned among other things that one woman had severe depression, one was bipolar, one was struggling with bulimia and self-harm while another was checked in for a suicide attempt after a brutal sexual assault.

The doctor sat back with this look on her face and was quiet for a minute before she looked around the group and said, “You know what I find interesting? I see something entirely different.

“I know that you are a retired opera singer,” she continued as she shifted her gaze over the group. “That you graduated from dental school with honors, that you are a nationally published writer and that you have three children under the age of five. I don’t see your circumstances. I don’t let them define you.”

That really stuck with me.

It’s natural to identify ourselves using our circumstances, our struggles or how others perceive us. There’s an odd sense of comfort in being able to fall back on those things—more as a justification than an excuse—but none of those things are truly who we are. And the problem with latching onto these identities is, in addition to limiting our growth, we start to let them define us.

Why so serious?

Because this month’s “League” question as posed by Noa is: “Identity. Who are we? How did we get to the realization of who we are?”

I hate the “Who am I?” question myself, in part because it’s something I’ve struggled with now for years. It’s been a decade of survival, of retreating into intellectualizing everything and just being a quiet observer of life rather than fully immersing myself in it at times.

The problem is that through all my searching, I never found that “one” answer I needed, but rather the answers for somebody else.

It’s not so much that I don’t know who I am—I think I’m actually quite self-aware—but that I don’t know how to align where I am with where I want to go and how I want to live my life. And as much as I wish someone would just tell me what to do and how to get to that point, I also know it’s a journey.

Identity is constantly changing, and authenticity can’t be intellectualized or wrapped up in a neat little bow and printed on high-gloss business cards. But I’ve learned that it’s vital to be more concerned with how my life feels, rather than how my life looks. This is much easier said than done at times, but most valuable things often are.

So in response to Noa, I would have to say that among other things, I am a writer, a daughter and a loyal friend. I’m funny and grateful for humor, but introspective and complex as well. I’m someone who struggles, but I’m doing the best that I can and am unapologetically myself.

I am not my circumstances, but rather a survivor.

I am a constant work in progress.

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How would you answer the question?

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