Mental Illness Comes with Emotional Baggage AND Carry-Ons!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2014 by chrissiehodges

When I graduated from college and moved on to a few jobs that I just needed to fill my time and my wallet, I desperately wanted to write a book called ‘The Terrible Twenties’. The years of my twenties were perhaps the most confusing and painstaking on my self-esteem that I have ever experienced, even compared to the torture of living with the mental illness OCD in my teens. I graduated from college—my celebrated accomplishment…and I graduated from Exposure Response Prevention Therapy—perhaps my greatest accomplishment to date. However, there were no parties thrown when I graduated from ERP. There were no ‘congratulations, we are so proud of you’. I never heard anyone say, ‘I cannot believe that you survived and now you are doing so well!’. It was an unspoken, ‘well, thank goodness the disorder seems okay now, let’s just pray she doesn’t fall off her rocker again.’ My successful therapy treatment was swept under the carpet, just like my disorder and my survived suicide attempt. I had just experienced one of the most tragic events anyone could experience over the previous year and a half and my family, my friends, and I just moved on without speaking about it, without addressing the underlying pain, and without processing the massive emotional baggage that I was carrying around on my back.

The 5-6 years following my successful ERP therapy in my twenties were horrible. I was just like everyone else that was looking to feel important and adjust in the ‘real world’ in a way that made it look like we all had it together. The problem is, there are not many people in their twenties that have it together. Why? Because, we are just breaking away from what we have always known. We are venturing out into a new world where we are defined by an identity that was told to us by our parents, family, or friends. We are learning who we are and what we want and that is a very difficult thing to do because change is hard. Learning that everything we are used to does not necessarily have to be the right way or how we want to live is challenging. The adjustment can take a toll on our personal selves, our families, and our relationships. We create a fair amount of baggage in those years just by learning from all of the mistakes we make. Unfortunately, when you spend your teenage years and part of your twenties dealing with a major mental illness, you not only have emotional baggage, you have carry-on’s as well!

You are dealing with everything everyone else is, but trying to balance the symptoms and treatment of an illness that can leave you debilitated can weigh on you negatively. You may have weird quirks, distrust in others, and massive self-esteem issues as a result of your experiences and the personal stigma that goes along with mental illness. You may have to take time off from college to get your disorder under control. You may have to drop out of college. You may have to take jobs that you are overqualified for because you cannot handle the load. You may have destructive and unhealthy relationships and friendships. You may experience extremely low times even after you have had successful treatment. And all the while, you are unable to let people know just how bad you are suffering. Sometimes, you don’t let people know out of shame, guilt, or even pride. Sometimes, you don’t tell people because you are afraid of how they will react. And sometimes, you don’t want to burden other people with your illness. That isolation can make us feel like our accomplishments—which sometimes are just getting out of bed in the morning on bad days—are not worthy of praise or adulation. This can be a lonely time. This can reinforce our emotional baggage and seriously damage our self esteem.

I am 37 now, and while I cannot offer any reassurance to y’all who are in the terrible twenties, I can tell you that you are not alone. The twenties are a difficult time for everyone, not just those of us with mental illness. They can be a time of fear, confusion, and low confidence. But, as I told an individual that I coach just the other day, one day you will look back and remember that I said that everything that you are worried about in this moment will mean nothing in 15 years and you will be a better person for having survived through this illness in the long run.

Do you believe that statement?

Here are a few reasons to convince you that I am not entirely wrong:

You will find out much later (if you have not already found out) that almost everyone is searching for meaning and to feel important, whether that is in their career, family, or spiritual life.

When I was in my twenties and trying to come to terms with the fact that I felt like damaged goods because of my mental illness, it never occurred to me that everyone else didn’t ‘have it all together’. I watched as my friends went back to grad school because they ‘knew exactly’ what they wanted to do with their life. I watched as people started careers that I assumed would be long-term. I watched as many of my friends got married and several had babies right off the bat. Just a few years earlier, I had assumed my life would end in suicide at the hands of my disorder—I didn’t think much past that! Now, here I am thrown into the world, with the idea that everything I had thought, worried about, and spent hours ruminating on did not really exist. Who in the heck was I? What in the world did I want? My entire life had been a lie! Now, I had to find out who I was and where I was going to end up and everyone else had a leg up on me!
It was shattering to my self-esteem. I entered a very long and very painful bout of anger. Why did I have to go through this and everyone else has it so easy? What did I do to deserve this? How will I ever be happy and be able to have a normal life like everyone else does?

If only I could go back and talk to Chrissie at age 25 and answer those questions!! Here’s the truth. Most people do not know who they are and where they are going at any given time. If they are lucky, they will keep learning, changing, and evolving without getting stuck into a rut of what they think they have to be. It’s one of the secrets in life I did not understand until my mid-30s (and I still think that is young!). Just because you have a mental illness does not mean that you are the only one that doesn’t have everything figured out. It gives you the extra carry-on’s in life, but it does not mean you are inferior, lesser of a human, or less intelligent. It may not seem like it in the moment, but there are many positive things that can and will come out of the perseverance and drive you have to manage your illness. These are real world qualities that many people do not experience until they are much older. Sure, you probably won’t put your brain disorder on your job resume, but just take comfort in the fact that you are clearing hurdles that in the long run will make you stronger, more courageous, and more compassionate of a human being.

If you are reading this right now and thinking that I am full of it, just take the risk and live with the uncertainty that there is some truth in this. Times can be hard during treatment and especially the years following, but trust me when I tell you that everyone is struggling with the same basic issues of who they are and where they fit in. You are unique because of your experience with your illness. It can turn into a positive if you let it.

     • Focus on having met your goals in treatment lay the groundwork for your real-world goals.

I can remember feeling a bit apathetic about my Statistics homework after realizing that the ERP for my OCD was starting to work. Who cares about Statistics, I don’t have to be bullied by OCD anymore! Well, that didn’t really work, and I ended up having to get tutored to get a decent grade in that ridiculous class. Before therapy, I did not understand how to make goals and accomplish them. I had a monster of OCD in my head that told me every step of the way that I was worth nothing and was a horrible person. Anything that I did good in my life I attributed to chance or luck. I could never see that I had any will to do good or be a good person. When I went through ERP, I started to see that when I made goals and accomplished them and could eliminate the bully’s voice in my head, it was no one but ME that was making this happen.

I could accomplish things!!

I spent months in extensive therapy and there was not a goal that I did not meet. Sure, I was terrified at every new goal set because it seemed way harder than the previous one, but I pushed and persevered through and sure enough, I could make it happen.

The best thing I did for myself during this time was to take notes on how this process worked for me. Write the goal down, freak out a bit, doubt myself, read the goal again, and commit to doing it no matter what. Each day, I would reluctantly aim for the goal and I would be terrified that I couldn’t do it. But, each day it would get easier and I would get closer to making my therapy goal for the week. All the week through, I’d document my hesitance, my fear, and my doubts. They were always the same with the same intensity even though the goals were different.

I took this type of response, reaction, and commitment into my real life outside of therapy goals. I needed to start believing that I could be responsible for good things happening. I started with my cross-country goals on my collegiate team. I thought it was a long shot, but I could not believe that if I wrote the goal down, worked very hard, never gave up and persevered that the goal could be met. I would push through the fear, the doubt, and the hesitation and each time I was meeting the race times that far exceeded the ones from the previous years. This set the tone for me thereafter. To this day, I set goals and I wait for all of the negative feelings, I make sure to commit and persevere, and the goals can be met.

Therapy goals may seem like a different world when it comes to goals in jobs, careers, family, etc., but your strategy in creating the goals and achieving them lay the groundwork for how you will operate in the world. This is something to evaluate closely and to take seriously when setting goals other than therapeutic goals. Chances are, you have spent time beating yourself down about accomplishments and your ability to be successful because of your disorder. Being able to create goals in therapy and meet them can give you the opportunity to learn strategies for success. Also, accomplishing therapeutic goals can help you to feel proud of your success. You are working at and managing a serious mental illness—this is something to be proud of and to make note of the strength and determination it takes to do this!

Therapy is so much more than getting you healthy, it will lay the groundwork for you to be successful in your relationships, career, and your life.     

     • Learning to live and manage a mental illness will give you a depth of empathy that is immeasurable.

Empathy may not be your biggest goal in life at the moment, but trust me that it is one of the most precious attributes you can attain. Majority of individuals with a mental illness develop the symptoms early in life. A vast array of emotions in response to these symptoms in the early years may include confusion, isolation, anger, shame, and judgment. And throughout the course of your journey of onset to diagnosis to treatment, at some point you may come to the realization that you know things about life that so many other people never will.

When I first realized this as mentioned above, it came in the form of anger. WHY does everyone else have it so easy? Over the years I have realized that the benefit of going through my struggle with OCD at such a young age has helped me to develop intuition, empathy, and compassion. It may sound paradoxical, but I believe that individuals with mental illness have insight into surviving pain and suffering on a level that others will never be lucky enough to experience. I do not wish the misery of a mental illness on anyone for any reason, but given my life with OCD and the lessons I have learned and the person that I have become, there is not a day that goes by that I do not feel grateful for my journey.

There are so many people who have lives that are content, but that do not understand the depths of emotion because they have not had the opportunity to struggle or work through something so terrifying that it tested every ounce of their being. There are days where I could read that sentence and throw my computer across the room in sadness and anger…but overall, it is a truth. Working through something as complex and frightening as a mental illness and being able to learn to manage it and love yourself despite takes courage, brevity, and strength beyond measure. You learn lessons about the hard realities of life. You get to experience lows sometimes that are so deep that you cannot fathom how you survived. But, the contentedness and the love and respect for life afterward soaks into your soul. A true nature of empathy is created if you allow it to manifest out of the depths of your illness.

I have never said that it is easy to live with a mental illness. Some days, I wish I could be someone else…some days, I wish that I had never been born…but some days, I have an overwhelming appreciating for the hand I was dealt. As I get older and learn how to manage the pattern of OCD, those days become more frequent and I am grateful for that.
There is much reason to celebrate your recovery. There is an absolute reason to throw a party when you graduate your ERP therapy. There is an incredible amount of respect that you deserve from battling a mental illness every day. You are stronger than anyone will ever know, maybe even stronger than you will ever know.

 Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever think that you are less than anyone because of your disorder. Try to see how you can benefit from what you have learned by managing the disorder. Never stop celebrating your victories over the disorder no matter how small they may seem. And, remember that the gem of knowledge you possess is that you understand human suffering to a degree that almost no one will ever be able to grasp.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges
Mental Health Advocate, Public Speaker, The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio, Mental Health Peer Consulting, Effective OCD Treatment/CBT & ERP Coach

5 Things Never to Say to Someone with Pure O/Intrusive Thoughts

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 by chrissiehodges

Let’s face it, all forms of OCD are tough to deal with for the sufferer. There is no one form that is worse or easier than the other. An OCD specialist that I work as a coach for here in Denver always says, ‘be careful what you wish for’ whenever I comment how much easier it would be to have any other obsessions than my own! The type of OCD that I have has some pretty specific triggers that are not necessarily shared amongst all forms of OCD. This can be tough on the individual who suffers, as well as the people around them in their support system. We are all sensitive to people’s words and comments when it comes to our illness no matter what form it takes, but here are a few triggering statements that you should always avoid when you are talking to someone with Pure O/Intrusive thoughts.

1. I don’t see you doing compulsions…you must not have OCD as bad as other people I have seen who have it.

This one is tough to take when you have ‘Pure O/Intrusive Thoughts’. First of all, it probably took us a long time to figure out that we even had OCD because we did not have outward compulsions that would help us identify that we have OCD. We just got these weird and horrible thoughts that we believed for so long were a reflection of our own character. Our rituals took place in our mind, and most of these rituals do not even feel compulsive. Next up, trying to communicate our disorder to others. People do not understand OCD in general and usually identify it with hand washing or checking doorknobs. Our explanation can be terrifying because we have to divulge some huge secret of a horrible obsession that has ruled our life for so many years. Our ultimate fear is that the person we are telling it to will not believe we have OCD and they will think that the obsession is real. (which I will elaborate on later in this blog). We feel the need to have to go into drastic detail about our mental compulsions in order to stave off the idea that people may not believe we fit the OCD profile because of our lack of outward compulsions. Mental rituals are absolutely exhausting. People who have Pure O/Intrusive thoughts have usually mastered the ability to ruminate and perform mental rituals for more than 12 hours per day while maintaining a life that looks just fine to the outside world. We do whatever we can to not allow our rituals and obsessions to be viewed by anyone around us. When we are told that we must not have OCD that bad because we don’t perform outward compulsions, it makes us feel like everything we have done to hide the shame and guilt of our obsessions from the world was actually a bad thing. It also makes us feel that maybe our disorder is not that debilitating and perhaps we do NOT have it that bad. We don’t have xrays, surgeries, or physical treatments to prove how bad we have suffered. It is scary to try to explain a disorder to someone that brings so much shame and guilt only to feel as if it is being minimalized in return.

Keep in mind that every person’s battle with OCD is different. OCD takes on many different forms in regards to obsessions and compulsions, but the commonality amongst all sufferers is the shame, guilt, and embarrassment. When talking to someone with ‘Pure O’, try to do your best not to exacerbate those negative emotions.
2. ‘Pure O’ doesn’t exist!

Believe it or not, I have had several people say this very thing to me. The reason why someone would insinuate that ‘Pure O’ is not a form of OCD is because there is a large gap in communication on what to call this type of OCD between clinicians and the Pure O community. Clinicians and professionals do not like the term ‘Pure O’ because it implies that this form is purely of obsessions and not compulsions. As stated above about our mental rituals, this is just clearly not the case. The obsessions and compulsions are strictly carried out in the mind by ruminating and/or rituals that can be hidden from others with repetitive thoughts. OCD is comprised of obsessions + compulsions, so it seems that if someone only has obsessions that they would technically not have OCD. I understand their point in not wanting this type of OCD to be called ‘Pure O’. The discrepancy lies in that most individuals find out about this type of OCD through websites and articles that originally referred to this type of OCD as ‘Pure O’. We are so relieved to find out that we have an actual diagnosis and that we are not just insane, that we immediately identify and label ourselves as ‘Pure O’s’. Whether or not the name is accurate, it doesn’t matter to us. Our community of OCDer’s know exactly what it means to have ‘Pure O’ and we feel connected to others that understand that title.
Other than the flaw in the name, the reason why the statement that ‘pure O doesn’t exist’ can be damaging is because of a secondary fear that we don’t really have OCD and we are just mutants. It is inevitable that when I am confronted with an OCD relapse or episode, I will ruminate for a time that perhaps I don’t have OCD and these horrible thoughts are in fact real. Mostly, I will go into some cycle where I worry that I’m ‘lying’ and ‘faking’ the disorder only to hide the fact that I’m capable of conjuring up such disgusting thoughts. This is completely normal for individuals with Pure O, however at the time, it feels very real and scary. So, anytime anyone questions the validity of ‘Pure O’ or says that they have heard that type of OCD doesn’t exist, it can send me into a tailspin of guilt and doubt that someone along the line has lied to me and made up some disorder to cover the fact that I am a horrible person. Now, this may seem dramatic…but trust me, I am not the only one that responds this way.

Please make sure you never question whether or not ‘Pure O’ is real. You don’t have to agree about whether the name makes sense, just please try to never insinuate that that type of OCD does not exist.

3. ‘Do you really believe that you are <insert Pure O obsession>?’

For the love of everything that is holy, please do not ever ever ever ask someone with ‘Pure O/Intrusive Thoughts’ whether or not they believe they are what they worry about or are capable of the act they are worried about! I would have to say out of everything that you could say to someone, this would be the most likely to send someone straight into relapse. A ‘Pure O/Intrusive Thought’ obsession has nothing to do with the individuals’ character. There is no truth whatsoever to what the person obsesses about for months and sometimes years at a time. ‘Pure O’ OCD floats around from topic to topic that may make someone’s life hell and then hooks onto something that causes the individual to question everything about who they are morally and ethically. In my lifespan of having ‘Pure O’, I have worried that I was gay, a violent murderer, a rapist, a molester, a road rage-aholic, racist, sexist, an animal abuser, wanted to partake in incest, a Satan worshiper, wanted to partake in beastiality, a cannibal, worried that I have AIDS, worried that I wanted AIDS to spread it to others, and many more things that have nothing to do with my actual wants and desires. I have gotten to the point now in my journey with ‘Pure O’ that I can see the thoughts pop into my head, but I can recognize them as OCD and not react with anxiety and worry that they are real. This has taken years of practice. Sometimes I will get hooked into a cycle, but not as often anymore. The thoughts are heinous. They surprise me that I could be such a disgusting person to think such things, and that is what the Pure O wants me to feel. I have to remember that having OCD is an illness and it has NOTHING to do with who I am as an individual. Chrissie does not want or desire those things, but Chrissie’s OCD wants her to believe that she does.

I have had several occasions where I will tell someone about a specific obsession and they will look at me questioningly and ask…’well, do you think you are gay?’ or ‘do you feel like you want to hurt people?’ Of course, the rational side of Chrissie thinks, ‘well no…duh!!’

But the ‘Pure O’ side of Chrissie is saying this:

Oh my god why are they questioning me, did they not just hear that I have a disorder, do they not believe that I have a disorder, do they really think that I am like that, do I need to explain further, no if I explain further they will think I’m trying to cover something up, do I need to direct them to a website that will prove that the type of OCD that I have is really for real and it isn’t just something that I want, are they looking at me funny, oh god they are not going to talk to me anymore because they think I am a raging and violent girl stuck in the closet and they are going to be my next victim, I’m trying to act calm but I don’t think they fully understand how this has nothing to do with me, but didn’t they hear my explanation of OCD or do they not remember what I said, maybe I should explain it again, but then they may think I am using it as an excuse…..OH MY GOD, AM I USING IT AS AN EXCUSE MAYBE I DON’T REALLY HAVE OCD AND THE DOCTORS JUST LIED TO ME TO GIVE ME SOME SORT OF FALSE SENSE OF HOPE OR TO COVER UP THAT I AM A RIDICULOUS AND HORRIBLE PERSON THAT JUST CANNOT ADMIT THE TRUTH ABOUT WHO SHE IS!!!!!

….okay, so I think you get the point.

Please don’t question people about the validity of their obsession. If they tell you what it is that they are obsessing about, they are trusting you much more than you could ever imagine. Believe me, we all wish we could hand-pick our obsessions in order to make ourselves feel better about having them, but OCD does not work that way.

4. I saw this 20/20/Dateline/Dr.Phil episode and those people with OCD seem REALLY sick…you seem pretty normal, maybe you just don’t have it as bad as other people.

This is one of my favorites. I would like to share my disdain about 20/20 and any other show like it. These shows are the best at showing the extremes of anything and everything to invoke fear and misinformation into their viewers. I have seen plenty of shows about OCD in that format and can barely sit through them. They probably shot hundreds of hours of footage and then decided to play the few clips where the individual looks completely insane and cannot function. Sure, it is good to see that side of OCD, but that side is rarely shown by an individual to the public. In fact, OCD is such a silent disorder because we are so ashamed and embarrassed about our symptoms that we do whatever we can to cover them up. Yes, panic attacks are ugly and we do not ever want anyone to witness us when we have one. But, that is a perfect scene to blast all over the television to show you how severe OCD can be. You watch these scenes and think, ‘wow, those people cannot function at all in real life!!’ This is simply not true. Most of my panic attacks and anxious moments have occurred behind closed doors. This is how I know most of my fellow OCDer’s to act when they are experiencing heightened symptoms as well. Out of view of the public. These shows are sensationalized and do not necessarily portray what life really looks like for someone with OCD, especially for individuals with ‘Pure O’.

Why is it any different for ‘Pure O’ sufferers? Most of our obsessions are gruesome and horrible. We cannot believe that we are capable of producing such horrendous thoughts. A common compensation is that we build our lives up on the outside as flawless and perfect as possible. I was so mortified by the idea that I could not control my thoughts when I was a teenager that I did everything I could to portray the life of a successful and driven young lady. I figured as long as I could cover up that I was a horrible person and keep those thoughts to myself, I could at least try to buy some time before suicide would become my only option. And yes, I knew at a very young age that if I ever had to confront and admit my thoughts to anyone, my only alternative would be to kill myself and not think twice. Individuals with ‘Pure O’ are so tortured about who they think they are according to their OCD, that they will do anything and everything to the outside world to convince others that they are the opposite. It isn’t as if we are putting up some fake front, either. I like to describe it as becoming larger than our personality in order to compensate. The individuals I meet with ‘Pure O’ are usually intelligent, driven, successful, funny, personable, popular, and down-to-earth. These traits are part of who they are, but can also be exacerbated to make up for the doubt, guilt, and anguish about what is going on inside of their head.

When anyone mentions to me that they saw some Dr. Phil episode about OCD, I usually stop them before they can talk further. If you meet someone who is diagnosed with OCD, chances are they have suffered more than many individuals will in their entire lifetime. Even though you may never see their scars and wounds, their battle with OCD deserves much respect and honor. These sensationalized shows do not even scratch the surface of what majority of people who have OCD’s lives are like.

5. Well, if you know that you aren’t or you won’t <insert Pure O obsession>, then just stop worrying about it!
Gee, is THAT ALL? Why didn’t I think of that!

I know people just like to offer obvious advice, but when was the last time you were upset about something and someone told you to just ‘get over it’ or ‘stop worrying about it’?  I bet that made you feel annoyed, right? Now imagine that you have had the same irrational, ridiculous obsession stuck in your mind for 3 years and someone says, ‘why can’t you just stop worrying about it if you know it’s not true!?’. This makes me have violent, intrusive thoughts toward that person that are unrelated to OCD. Just kidding, I am not violent (I’m reassuring myself now.) When you tell us to ‘just not worry about it’, it makes us feel like every person in the world has this capability to stop worrying at the drop of a hat and we are just weak and stupid and cannot get a grip. It actually perpetuates the cycle by encouraging thoughts such as, ‘well, why can’t I stop worrying that I had sexual thoughts about a religious figure?? Since I just cannot stop worrying easily, does that prove that I could turn into a pedophile one day? If I didn’t want to scream those racist and derogatory comments to my coworkers during the meeting today, then why can I not stop worrying that I did?’.

I look at this statement as the equivalent to someone going to a paraplegic and saying, ‘oh, it’s just your legs that don’t work, just get up and walk! It’s mind over matter!!’. That seems ridiculous, right? Well, this is what it feels like when I am told to stop worrying about something that is not under my control. We cannot just stop the cycle without applying therapeutic tools and/or medication. You cannot outthink and outsmart OCD while giving into the obsession. I can tell my sister all day long that I am worried that I wanted to run over kids in my car earlier and I know it isn’t really me, it is my OCD—however, that doesn’t make the thought and the worry stop. The more I try to convince myself that it was OCD and not the fact that I am a violent driver that likes to maim people with my vehicle, the stronger the thought gets. WELL, YOU WOULDN’T STILL BE THINKING IT AND WORRYING ABOUT IT IF YOU REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO, RIGHT? MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET IN YOUR CAR NOW AND DRIVE THROUGH THE PARK AND SEE IF YOU REALLY DID FEEL THOSE URGES OR IF YOU MADE IT UP?! MAYBE YOU REALLY DIDN’T WANT TO AND YOU JUST THOUGHT YOU DID? Thus, the argument continues.

The therapy designed to relieve and treat OCD is the exact opposite of ‘just don’t worry about it!’. It is called Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). This therapy teaches you to invite the worry and learn how to sit with the anxiety that the worry causes without reacting. If you do not react to your own brain as it is running wild with the horrific thoughts and are able to tolerate the crippling anxiety, it will begin to lessen the effect the obsessions have on you later. Each time you invite and allow the thoughts to provoke the anxiety and are able to sit in it without reacting, the effect it has on you will get lesser and lesser over time. It is a very difficult and painful therapy. Individuals with ‘Pure O’ are confronting fears that they have been ashamed of and afraid of for years. They have spent and designed their entire life around avoiding these fears. Even the idea of trying to face them can cause debilitating anxiety. However, the therapy is extremely effective and can teach sufferers to manage and live normal lives if they are willing to take the risk.

If someone trusts you enough to disclose their OCD obsessions, instead of offering them solutions, ask them what you can do and say that will help them to get control of their OCD. Now, there is a fine line between helping someone with OCD and furthering their disorder by giving them too much reassurance, but that is a topic for another blog! For now, remember never to use the 5 phrases I have listed above to someone who is battling or may be struggling with OCD.

Each one of us will struggle with something that causes us strife at some point in our life, and I believe that the more knowledge we can have to help each other, the better equipped we will all be to become better friends and supporters. I hope that this blog helps you to feel better equipped to talk with individuals who have OCD.

Please feel free to share other things that people say to you about OCD that you wish they wouldn’t in the comments below!

Thank you for taking the time to read!

Chrissie
Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker/The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio/Mental Health Peer Consulting/CBT and ERP Coach: Effective OCD Treatment

Hate the Disorder, not Yourself

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2014 by chrissiehodges

One of the hardest things to do when living with OCD is to separate yourself from your symptoms. The complexity of OCD symptoms is that they are entrenched in our everyday thought patterns and behaviors, so they seem like they are part of who we are. But they are not, and it is an important distinction to understand when moving toward recovery.

I live with Pure O/Intrusive thoughts. The thoughts that I have are heinous. I hate the thoughts. They are perverted, blasphemous, violent, and disgusting. Sometimes I will have a thought and I will visualize it and then I will feel my body have a visceral reaction in disgust. My snap OCD reaction is, ‘well, if you weren’t such a horrible person, you wouldn’t have these thoughts’, followed by a zing of anxiety. WHOA, NOW! I see what is going on here…this is an OCD thought. But, sometimes if I am tired or distracted, I may second guess….Or IS IT an OCD thought or do I really feel that way? GAH! Stop it! As a almost 30 year veteran with my OCD, it is still amazing to me that it can make me do a double take.

The way that I view the thoughts now and my body reacts to them (which can be equally as unpleasant as the thoughts) is that they are all symptoms. It is hard to think of anything and everything related to OCD as just a ‘symptom’ because it all feels so real. That is how OCD cleverly designs it. It is not called the ‘doubting disease’ for nothing! OCD not only makes you doubt reality, but it makes you doubt yourself. This is a key component that is not always addressed and talked openly about enough. I have had someone describe it best as ‘being OCD about my OCD’. My OCD makes me question my character and my integrity as a human. Well truly now, what sort of person WOULD think these thoughts and have a reaction to them and not be a bad person? The answer to that is: Someone who has Pure O/Intrusive thoughts with violent, sexual, and blasphemous obsessions, that is who.

Oftentimes we forget that just because we have OCD, does not mean we are OCD. When someone has cancer, they may go through chemotherapy. There are symptoms to the treatment of chemotherapy that are universally known and quite horrible. (especially for someone like me with a throw up obsession). When a person is experiencing these symptoms, they are not worrying that they are sick and tired because they are a horrible person. When they are experiencing symptoms as a result of cancer and chemo, they don’t feel guilty and shame about having cancer. They accept the symptoms as side effects of a disease and the treatment.

Because the symptoms of our OCD are so closely tied to our psychological state of mind, we have a tendency to believe it is a reflection of who we are innately. The ‘well if it isn’t true, then why would I worry about it’ state of mind is exactly where OCD wants to keep us. When we are OCD about our OCD, we stay pigeonholed in a state of mind that holds us back from living in full acceptance and recovery. We have to keep the mindset to hate the disorder and not ourselves. WHO WE ARE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR SYMPTOMS OF OCD.

I deal with the intrusive thoughts almost every day. I like to look at them like clouds floating through my mind. Some are big clouds that block the sunshine and make me doubt for a minute, some are dark and scary thunderstorms that may keep me trapped for a few hours, and others just pass by and I can get a chuckle out of what an imagination my OCD has to try to tempt me. I understand the difference between my real thoughts and my OCD thoughts because it is like clockwork how my OCD works. My body has the same reaction, my mind has the same reaction, my racing and ruminating thoughts surrounding the obsessive thought are always the same. I have learned to recognize that all of those are ‘symptoms’ of a disorder. Once you pinpoint the ‘symptoms’, you are able to separate yourself from them.

OCD does not want you to succeed. OCD does not want to you live happily without it having control over you. It will manipulate every situation to get you caught back in the obsessive and compulsive cycle. But, you are smarter than OCD. You know that who you are as a person has nothing to do with the symptoms of your OCD.

RECOGNIZE ALL OF THE SYMPTOMS

RECOGNIZE YOUR PATTERN OF REACTION

BE AWARE OF WHEN YOU ARE REACTING

SEPARATE YOURSELF FROM YOUR DISORDER

MOST IMPORTANTLY, DON’T EVER HATE YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU HAVE OCD, HATE OCD BECAUSE YOU HAVE IT.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio; CBT/ERP Coach/Mental Health Peer Consulting

Mental Illness is the new NORMAL!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 8, 2014 by chrissiehodges

I had no idea that I was not the only one until one of my clients in my Mental Health coaching practice told me their experience about dating with a mental illness.

‘Well, no one ‘normal’ is ever going to want me, so I guess I just have to take what I can get’. And then the conversation continued on about how there have been certain patterns of behavior developed in order to try to maintain some sense of control and dignity in romantic relationships where we know we are doomed from the start because of our ‘mental illness baggage’.

I sat there feeling my heart breaking for that sentiment, but I also sat there in awe that someone just actually voiced what I have felt almost my life when it comes to dating and relationships.

And it felt good to not feel alone.

I consult and coach individuals who are dealing with the aftermath of a diagnosis and treatment for mental illness. This is often a stage that is overlooked and not prepared for but is crucial when moving toward recovery. It is during this time that ‘stigma’ can be the most rampant and dangerous. The personal stigma we feel when it comes to having a mental illness can wreak havoc on our emotions, our relationships, and our self esteem. And we can go to extremes and not even know it when we are battling stigma. We can stay comfortable in anger or sadness, we can sabotage relationships or cling to relationships, and we can put ourselves in a position to be prone to relapse because of it. And, romantic relationships have a tendency to suffer the brunt of the force when we are saturated in stigma.

I have been thinking about the sentiment this week of ‘no one normal is going to want me’, and have been reflecting on my own romantic relationships. I see this way of thinking intertwined into almost all of my relationships, not because my partners weren’t ‘normal’, but my behavior with them was skewed and not always representing who I want to be as an individual as a result of how poorly I thought of myself…or how terrified I was of losing them as a result of the stigma I felt from my mental illness.

I don’t want to give the impression that dating is easy for anyone—personally, I hate it! I’d rather be single than to be in a relationship that is unhealthy. I have many friends who are single and date often and I don’t think it is any easier for them than for someone who has a diagnosed and treated mental illness. The problem is, we have that added fear of always being inferior in the relationship because of what we are bringing to the table…..which we perceive as ‘bringing crazy to the table’.

As a woman, the last thing I want to be labeled as is a ‘crazy girl’ or a ‘psycho’—it is the worst rational fear for me to think that I could be that girl. That would mean I had no control over my actions and could not recognize the repercussions of my actions. To me…that is the real definition of the ‘crazy girlfriend’. But does everyone really know that? How do you really break the ice about your mental illness on a romantic date? Do you do it quickly?—-maybe if I say it really fast, he won’t understand the magnitude of the statement and then I can ask for him to pass the bread. Maybe if I preface it with a bunch of psychological explanation, he will understand before I drop the OCD bomb? Or, maybe I just don’t tell and hope that I can keep it a secret until he falls in love with me and nothing–even mental illness–will make him want to drop me like a bad habit?

There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer and never really has been. In my younger years, I turned to manipulation and control tactics which are horrible ways of coping and obviously reasons why those relationships did not work out. But, those were times when I was saturated in stigma and I was terrified that I did not deserve to be loved because of my illness. Many people stay in abusive relationships because they don’t believe they deserve anything better because of their illness. Some people sabotage relationships and never allow anyone to get close to them because they are afraid they do not deserve something good because of their illness. It is scary how easy it is to fall into this trap because of the stigma we stay saturated in.

As a 37 year old single woman who lives in recovery with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there is one thing that I know for sure after being in many relationships—some for the right reasons and many for the wrong reasons: At least I own being the ‘crazy girlfriend’. I don’t mean the one that cannot control emotions or being oblivious to other people’s reactions….I mean the girl who has no issue standing tall and proud of the individual she is WITH her mental illness. What I have learned in my 29 years of living with a mental illness is that there really is no ‘normal’ for anyone. ‘Normal’ is some ridiculous median that we base each of our lives off of that does not exist—and therefore we will always fall short if we continue to believe that ‘normal’ is realistic.

Every single person brings their own individual challenges to a relationship—if it is a healthy relationship, you work with each other and through the tough times without controlling or judging or sabotaging. I believe this state of companionship is ideal and difficult for any person regardless of whether mental illness is involved.

The only thing that I know for a fact is that for ME normal means who I am with a mental illness and managing it successfully—so I guess that means that moving forward in relationships—Mental Illness IS the new normal for my companion.

 

What Voice does your OCD have?

Posted in Uncategorized on August 1, 2014 by chrissiehodges

As an Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) coach, I have found it fascinating how much I relive my experience of going through treatment with my OCD while helping individuals work through the different stages of learning and healing from theirs.

There is an interesting component that comes with learning what OCD is and what OCD isn’t that I couldn’t put my finger on when I was in the midst of treatment and even in the aftermath of trying to navigate ‘normal’ life afterward with OCD. But recently, I was able to conceptualize it and give it an identity.

The OCD Voice.

I’m not implying that there is a specific voice in my head that speaks when OCD is talking—however, when I think of my OCD, I believe that it sounds a lot like what Satan would sound like!! What I am trying to convey is that instead of using our sense of ‘hearing’ to recognize OCD, we have to use our sense of feeling and response to recognize it.

Here is a good way to understand it. I have a  close friend that I typically call when I am in crisis, need rational advice from, or need to just feel comforted by his unconditional love and acceptance. Even just the sound of his voice can set my entire body at ease. For instance, I may have had a very stressfull day/situation happen and I need to talk things through to feel better or to make a plan on how to remedy a situation. Well, when I connect with this friend, it is not the advice or conversation that helps me to calm down, but just the sound of his voice that lets me know that I am going to be okay. Do you have any friends or family members like this? If you have a go-to person that just makes you feel better in their presence or in conversation, then you know what I mean.

Then there are many other people in my life that evoke other emotions when I hear from them or talk to them. Each person that we know on a regular basis has a specific effect on how we act or react to them. Some people you just know when you talk to them, you are going to be laughing and cheerful the entire time. Some people you know that you will be a helper for them and YOU are their ‘go-to’ person for comfort. And, some people you absolutely know that everytime you hear from them or see them, you get a visceral reaction of dislike for them. This is just the nature of human encounter, but as we encounter these individuals over and over, we began to recognize our reaction and react accordingly. We make time and effort for those we like and are helping, and we avoid or can feel combative with those that we do not like. This is an easy thing to see and rationalize when the situation is right in front of us. Our reactions are a reflection of our level of comfortability and happiness and we act accordingly.

So, why is it so hard to apply this to our OCD voice?

When I hear what my best friend has to say no matter if it is agreeable or something I disagree with, I know that it is coming from a place of love and compassion, so my reaction never wavers and I continue the relationship because it makes me happy. Almost all of my other acquaintances/relationships are the same as well…I give a specific amount of energy to them based on how I feel when I hear their voice. We predict the future on past actions so it is rare that I am wrong about my reactions and feelings in long term relationships.

So, what about the OCD voice?

My OCD voice always begins the same way and I always have the same reaction to it. It always begins with ‘What if’ or some variation of that question, and my immediate reaction is ALWAYS an isolated moment of panic. The kind of panic where the world stops for a second and my eyeballs bulge wide and still. But for some reason, in all of the years I have known OCD (which would be around 29 right about now), if I am not vigilant, I choose to ignore the voice recognition of who I know is calling me. The reason why is because I cannot put the physical recognition to the voice and so it pulls me into the cycle of ‘maybe I am making all of this up’. This is another one of OCD’s tricks of the trade. The voice is never disguised. The voice is never different. The voice never evokes a DIFFERENT reaction. But, we always seem to doubt that the voice may not be OCD. And the reason is because we cannot SEE it.

As a sufferer of OCD and an ERP coach, I advise individuals in their journey to recovery and living successfully with OCD to learn the OCD voice through all of the senses other than with vision. OCD always hooks us because it KNOWS that we understand the irrationality of it’s claims, so as rational people we can only be hooked if we cannot see it. Therefore so many of our other senses are triggered and put under scrutiny to test our ability to recognize and fight back.

What can we do?

Learn how to recognize your OCD Voice. How do you feel when you hear it? How does your body react? What sort of questions do you start to ask yourself? What rituals are you drawn to immediately to remedy the voice? Are you uncomfortable when you are responding to the voice? Are you experiencing anxiety? What is the degree of urgency in answering the voice?

All of these questions are pertinent. But, what also is pertinent is to be able to identify the other voices that you respond to. I have anxiety when I think about getting my taxes done…but is that the same anxiety I have when the OCD voice is telling me that I want to hurt someone? No. Tax anxiety does not bring my character into question. It does not make me question everything about my belief systems or whether or not I am a bad person the way that the OCD voice does.

After so many years living in recovery with OCD, I realize that my gauge is set for recognizing my OCD voice. I know that there are voices that I hear from people like my best friend and things that happen in my life such as normal stressors that make me respond very differently than the OCD voice. Once I learned to recognize the OCD voice and the reactions of almost all of my senses to it’s call, that was when I was able to control how much power it’s voice had over my ability to control it and my rate of relapse.

Thank you for taking the time to read.

Chrissie Hodges

Public Speaker/Mental Health Advocate; ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness’ Radio; CBT/ERP Coach; Mental Health Peer Consulting; ocd.chrissie@gmail.com

The First Thought is the Weakest

Posted in Uncategorized on July 24, 2014 by chrissiehodges

I was browsing facebook today and as usual, all I was seeing were pictures of how great everyone’s lives seem, inspirational quotes, and rants against the government, and then I came across one specific quote that made me stop my down cursor.

It was something reposted via reposted via reposted from some site I had never heard of, but the quote read something along the lines of ‘Negative thoughts can be easily defeated by recognizing when they first pop into your mind…the first thoughts are always the weakest.’ I wanted to like it for what it was originally intending—to combat negative thoughts—but for those of us who suffer with OCD, we understand the ‘bad thoughts’ as something entirely different than the average individual and their daily struggle to ‘be more positive’.

I thought about the depth of that comment as it relates to spikes and trigger’s associated with my form of OCD. Matty Myles, the OCD Specialist that I work as an ERP coach for always talks about OCD as being a ‘bully’. The bully taunts you all day long and as long as you are aware that you are being hit with irrational and ridiculous taunts, it is easy to not get hooked. Unfortunately, OCD is so intelligently warped (which I like to attibute to how intelligent I am, since it IS my brain!!) that its taunts get dirtier and nastier until you are appalled by your own twisted thoughts and the initial taunt (which is usually in the form of a ‘what if’ question) finally stops you dead in your tracks.

What if the vision of me putting on the gas at a slowed intersection REALLY means that I want to hurt all of those pedestrians and the stopped cars?

OF COURSE the answer is NO, but all of a sudden I can feel a tingling sensation in my lower leg and into my foot…does that mean I could accidently lose control of one of my limbs?

Oops…I think I may have just gotten hooked into the cycle!

WHY is it that I was able to laugh at and stave off the thoughts of worrying that I wanted to scream out obscenities in the coffee meeting I had with a colleague earlier—some of the foulest names and slurs I could think of—but all of a sudden NOW I cannot let go of this worry that I take pleasure in wanting to slaugter innocent bystanders???

Because I gave it a second thought.

I get bombarded with thoughts every single day that can potentially get hooked. Usually they are violent or sexual or both. I don’t bother to worry WHY I have these thoughts…I already know the answer to that. I HAVE OCD! What I do bother to do is to recognize that they are meant to trigger me. They are the bully in my mind waiting silently and patiently all day, everyday looking for the moment when I am tired…when I am stressed…when I am vulnerable…to pounce on me and continue the dance that makes him rejoice. So, I take very seriously the one-up I have on the bully. I already know they are going to happen and I usually KNOW they are going to happen at inopportune times. I know walking into an important meeting that I am going to have thoughts about screaming out obscenities, interrupting people with rambling thoughts unrelated to the topic, or sexually grabbing someone beside me. I wait for them to happen and the bully sulks and pouts when I giggle as they come through my mind at their absurdity and at my ability to control them.

Lee Baer who wrote ‘The Imp of the Mind’ gave a talk at the International OCD Foundation Annual Conference in LA last weekend and I was lucky enough to attend. He said in his talk that the more times that we perform compulsions…the more times that we go back to ‘make sure’ or ‘prove or disprove’ something, the less sure we will be….the weaker we become in the face of that fear. In logical world, this does NOT make sense….but our minds exist in OCD world. The faster we can recognize that our type of ‘logic’ is driven by a bully in our mind when it comes to irrational thinking, the faster we will be able to recognize when the bully is tempting us and never give it’s taunts a second glance.

The difference between individuals who have OCD and individuals who just have quirky obsessions or habits is that people with OCD RECOGNIZE that their obsessions are irrational and they do NOT take pleasure in the ritualistic behavior that accompanies the obsession.

We have OCD. There is no cure for OCD. But what we do have is therapy that works (ERP), medications that aid in our depression and anxiety, and we have the ability to educate ourselves. Never forget that the bully will taunt you all day and everyday until he gets you to give his fears a second glance. The first question—the first doubt is the weakest—once you give in, the power starts to slip out of your hand and the fear becomes stronger with each compulsion.

Learn the voice of the bully. Learn the reaction you have to the bully. Learn the absurdities of the taunts. Learn the irrationality of the thoughts. And learn how to NEVER give them a second thought.

Thank you for taking the time to read and good luck in your fight against OCD

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker, CBT/ERP Coach, Radio Host ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness’ Radio, Mental Health Peer Consulting, OCD: Outreach Community in Denver

The Pure O’s Secondary Shame

Posted in Uncategorized on July 10, 2014 by chrissiehodges

When I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I was shocked, relieved, and pissed off all at once.

Shocked because I could not believe that I had a diagnosable and treatable disorder.

Relieved because it explained what I had been suffering with for years and confirmed that I was actually not the ‘evil’ person that I believed could think such horrible thoughts.

Pissed off because what the hell did I do to deserve this and how am I suppose to go back out into the world and act normal now that I know?

Those seemed like rational reactions at the time and for many years to come they seemed pretty justifiable. However, nothing prepared me for the double dose of shame and embarrassment that I have experienced through the years as a result of having Pure O/Intrusive thoughts.

The shame of the obsessive thoughts has always been there even before the diagnosis. When you have Pure O, you usually feel like ANY other obsession would be better than the one that you actually have. Mainly, because you subconciously believe that the obsession is a reflection of you, your character, and that there could perhaps be some potential truth behind it. If there wasn’t some sort of truth, then why would I worry about it? Annnnnd, that’s where the cycle can start all over again.

I’m going to put it to you plain—doing my best not to be reassuring if that’s what you are looking for:

Pure O obsessions have NOTHING to do with who you are as an individual. If you could control it, it wouldn’t have become an obsession in the first place. It isn’t some deep, dark, unexplained secret you have always had that finally manifested in the form of anxiety…it is the thought that got stuck among the many MANY weird and random thoughts that every single person on the planet experiences.

So, you believe me…but you still feel shame, right?

Of course you do! If you didn’t feel something, it wouldn’t be an OCD obsession. This is the vicious and debilitating cycle. Don’t I wish I could just have an irrational fear of spiders sometimes—at least my CHARACTER wouldn’t be called into question!
Here’s one for you—-if you DIDN’T feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt (etc) surrounding your Pure O intrusive thought, then chances are it would NOT be OCD related and would have virtually no anxiety about thinking it. So, in a twisted way–the feelings you hate to have are the same feelings that can alert us that we are, in fact experiencing OCD.

But, then there is the secondary shame. In my career and advocacy, I am very open about my obsessions. It took many years to be able to say them out loud without crying or waiting for some horrendous reaction from the listener afterward (which NEVER happened). But, one of the things that I have noticed since then is that while I do not have shame anymore about having OCD and the suicide attempt and living with a mental illness, I have started to feel the need to apologize to others and explain in detail why I have the obsession so they won’t have an opportunity to doubt that I have OCD and/or think that I am just ‘lying to myself’.

Once I noticed I was doing this—and doing this often—I realized I needed to figure out where this need was coming from. I quickly discovered it was the secondary shame of trying to predict and control what others will think of me and my OCD. I am STILL trying to get others approval and acceptance before I drop the bomb on them about my disorder–I am just doing it sans tears now.

I needed to figure this out because what happens is that this is the OCD Demon’s manipulative way of throwing me back into the cycle of the dreaded ‘What if’s.

What if people don’t believe I have OCD and they just think I am perverted or confused or a bad person?
What if they walk away from me and laugh at how screwed up I am?
What if I lose my credibility as a speaker/radio host because people don’t understand OCD and think I am just lying?

Sound familiar?

So, what can we do about this?
Well, I hate to say this because it is OCD individual nightmare to accept this…but we have to give up the control. ERP teaches us to take the risk and live with the uncertainty with ourselves. This is what we have to do when we encounter the shame associated with our Pure O thoughts.
Maybe others will think I want to be a murderer…
Maybe others will think I may turn into a pedophile…
Maybe others will think I’m secretly in the closet…
Maybe others will think I want to commit incest….
Maybe others will think that I like beastiality…
Maybe others will think that I worship Satan…

What if people think these things about us if and when they find out what our obsessions are? Then they do and there is not much you can do about it. There is no point in ruminating over whether or not you can be convincing enough to reassure someone else! We have enough on our plate trying to manage our own thoughts…let’s not waste any time trying to manage what other people may think about them!

Treat this secondary shame the same way you deal with the shame associated with your own obsessions as a result of Pure O. I have to take the risk that others may judge me and even reject me if they find out and live with the uncertainty that they may not believe me. It can be JUST as scary as facing your own obsessions, but it is JUST as liberating when you learn to disassociate from the shame and guilt.

I have rarely encountered anyone who when they have found out about my obsessions, they actually question whether or not I ‘really’ feel like that. Just like the shame associated with my personal Pure O obsessions, I am only reacting to the anxiety of the unknown…and I quickly learn that the unknown is never as bad as my OCD mind expects it to be.

Understand why the shame is there, embrace it as a side effect, let it go, and move forward. You are not alone.

Stay diligent in your treatment and recovery, friends.

Chrissie Hodges

Public Speaker/Mental Health Advocate/Radio Host ‘The Stigma of Mental Illness’ Radio

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