A Day in the Life of Mental Illness and How You Make it Worse.

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2017 by chrissiehodges

I open my eyes today and something is off. It’s Sunday. The room looks the same, my alarm sounds the same, my coffee tastes the same, but I feel like I’m not here. I do my morning routine; scroll email, social media, check the headlines, play bejeweled blitz, but I can’t shake something. Somethings off. Maybe I’m tired? No, I slept for nine hours two nights in a row. Maybe I’m hungover? No, I barely had a buzz last night. Maybe I’m dehydrated? No, that’s not it. So, what is it?

My partner tries talking to me, but I can’t focus. I can’t hear him. I feel no connection to his words. I’m confused. I don’t want to engage because I don’t know what’s happening. I’m not going to look at him. I’m being an asshole. Is something wrong with us? No, I adore him, but I’m not connecting with him. What’s wrong?

A workout will help. I don’t want to eat, but I need to force it. I need the track. That is my happy place. I lace up my sneaks and stand up. I see myself in the mirror and I look weird. I don’t recognize myself. I can’t connect to my reflection. I need to hurry to the track. A workout will stop this.

I open the front door and the heat hits me like a mack truck, and usually I’d bitch out loud about it, but today I don’t even flinch. What if I get overheated? For some reason I don’t care today. I’m usually strategic about time and temp on big workouts, but today I don’t seem to care. I crank my car and remember the anxiety I felt last time I was in there from my brakes grinding. But today I shrug it off. Maybe they’ll give out and I’ll crash and die…..

ALARM BELLS.

What? Why would I think that? Why would I even consider that? What kind of fucked up thought is that?

Just GET TO THE TRACK.

I’m stuck behind a couple on a motorcycle, keeping the standard, safe distance from behind. The guy is pointing to things as they are cruising. They seem so happy. I try to look at what he’s pointing at, but I have zero peripheral vision. I wish I was them. I wish I could be on a motorcycle, feeling the wind, casually taking in the sites. I feel jealous.

I follow them for 5 miles when I realize how hard I have to concentrate to keep the safe motorcycle distance. I don’t feel connected to my feet on the pedals. I hear cars around me, but I can’t connect with the sounds or the humanity of the people driving.

I HAVE to be hungover. Please be hungover. WHY didn’t I have more wine last night so this could be something I’ve done to myself? Maybe I really am and I’m just not feeling it yet?

The deep numbness absconded with my usual anticipation and giddiness of pulling up to the track. I feel pins and needles all over my skin, but it isn’t positive. It feels like my emotions are trying to ignite and crank up, but keep stalling.

I close my eyes and walk toward the entrance. I see the grass on the football field. There’s my connection. I will sit on the grass for a while. The smell of grass and the feel of its morning moisture always brings nostalgia for my college running years. Those memories are so potent, they always pull me in.

I bend over and run my fingers through the blades. The water left on my hands is hot from the sun already. It feels invasive. The heat isn’t soothing, it matches the numbing heat pulsing through my veins. I pull back, alarmed and scared.

Just get your heart beating fast.

Lap one, I feel nothing. I hear my feet hitting the asphalt, but I can’t feel it on my feet. I start to panic. My heart is racing. My breathing is too quick. Maybe I should stop? No. Don’t give in.

Lap two, I catch a glimpse of the church across the street. The large glowing cross cuts right into my chest like a shard of guilt bringing back all my old ways of combating the numbness. Maybe you did something wrong and this is your punishment? I start to think of what I could’ve done. NO. Stop, now. Don’t go there. What if your scrupulosity wasn’t real and you really are a horrible person and this is why you’ll never be free of all this? I can’t. I won’t. How does this feel so real? I believe NONE of this, but all of a sudden it is like I slid right back into the clothing I wore when I was 21, knowing it doesn’t fit and isn’t who I am anymore but the familiarity is too hard to resist.

I decide not to give in. I commit to not doing any compulsions. Just let the thoughts be here, swirling and torturing, but not reacting. But, I’m still numb. I feel like I’m running 3 feet off the asphalt. Maybe I’ll trip and fall on my elbows to feel pain and see the blood. I need to feel grounded. Maybe I trip and run into the fence and can cut myself deep enough to go to the hospital. I’ll be safe there and I wouldn’t have to tell them what’s really going on. If I injure bad enough, I could stay for a couple days? Stop it. Now.

I pick up the pace. Okay, I’m depressed then. I’m having symptoms then. Okay, then deal with it. But what if I’m not? What if this is just who I have to be now? What if I can’t connect again ever, lose control and kill myself? STOP! Why did I just visualize a razor…a rope…a car crash? What if I can’t stop myself? What will people say? Will they say the same things they said about Chester Bennington? Will they say I’m a coward? Will they say I’m selfish? Why am I still thinking about that? It was sad, but seriously, deal with it already Chrissie.

I start my ascent up the first round of bleachers and it hits me square in the face. I cried all day last Friday upon hearing the news of Chester’s suicide, but it cut deeper to see the misunderstandings, the ignorance, the unwillingness to understand the reality of mental illness. I LET IT GET TO ME. It festered. I wrote it off as just ignorant morons who would say heartless shit like that, but those words cut into me. They tapped the button I keep deeply protected inside of me. The button I shield, pad, and dare not go near. The button that reminds me that I was capable of going almost all the way to death by suicide, so what will stop me if it happens again? Why couldn’t Chester stop it? Why couldn’t friends I have known in the past stop it? What if it gets so bad for me that I can’t stop it?

I failed. I let that button get pushed and instead of rushing to face where it is putting me, I ignored it. It spread like fire through me. It was blazing underneath the surface, but I distracted my way around looking at it the last few days. I’m fine. I don’t care. People will never understand and they are just idiots. THAT’S the reality. There’s nothing I can do and I can’t care.

But I do care. Because words hurt. Assumptions cut deep. Dismissal of the anguish of mental illness tears my insides up. But I didn’t think I deserved to feel it. Emotion over a celebrity that I don’t even know? Anger and emotion over people’s stupid comments and arguments that I’ll never even meet? The fire was beckoning me to engage, feel, and heal. But, it burned out. I felt it burning out, too. And now here I am. Not facing it forced the lighting of the match to a dangerous response. I’ve allowed feigned apathy to take over. Now I’m numb. Now I’m disconnected. Now I’m lost as shit and I can’t feel enough to believe it can get better.

25 minutes and 500 bleachers later, I’ve spiraled into viewing myself strapped in restraints as the doctors supposed to treat me mock me for needing medication and being weak, stupid, and choosing to feel this way. I can see it. I can feel THAT, but I can’t feel the breeze on my forehead. This. THIS will be the time I will never get better. I tell people in my work everyday that cycles will pass and you WILL feel better, just hang on. But here I am, I can’t hang on. I can’t even feel my fingers gripping the ledge. I guess I’m a hypocrite. I guess everything I do, everything I represent, everything I’ve worked for is a lie. I’m no one to be looked to for support, I can’t even help myself. I’m not credible. I shouldn’t even be allowed to talk to anyone else with mental illness because I’m a phony.

A dog startles me running up the bleachers beside me. My thoughts stop. I felt the sweat dripping down my temples beginning to clog and muffle my headphones. The dog owner is frantically searching the embankment and I yell ‘He’s over here, he’s fine’.

I heard my voice. It was real. It echoed in my ears. She smiled and thanked me. I briefly wished I could be her. I wish I could be anyone right now but myself. I wish I could be up to my knees in shit emptying out porta-potties right now if I didn’t have to be a slave to my mind.

I wondered if that lady knew what I was thinking. Did she have any idea how good she has it? Does she know that I have to be on psychotropic drugs just to fucking feel anything? Would she be scared if she knew I was? So many stupid-ass people think that taking anti-depressants means I’ll turn into a fucking murderer. If she knew, would she run away? Why do I care? That medication saved my life. Why do I hesitate when I say what drug I need at the pharmacist out loud? Why do I lower my voice? Why do I feel ashamed sometimes? Why do millions of people who suffer have to be silent because a small group of narrow-minded people refuse to change their tenets on mental health?

Anger. My favorite emotion surfaced. I’ll take anger and rage any day over numb. And it came to my rescue.

I finished my workout pounding the anger out on the track. And I’m still angry as I write this blog. I’m angry that I have a goddamn illness that makes me question whether I have it or whether I should be justified with it. I’m angry that millions of people suffer with mental illness, have days exactly like I’m having today but stay silent out of fear. I’m angry that people are too scared of their perception of mental illness that they can’t tap their own hidden and protected button of empathy. I’m angry that everyday people die by suicide because they are too afraid to tell anyone they are scared because of judgment. I’m angry that it’s 2017, I’m 20 years into medical recovery from my mental illness and days like today still scare me so bad that I feel like a weak, pathetic human being and that I could validate those feelings if I read negative comments on social media.

I’m also angry that I can’t bottle up today and have people drink it and feel it, if only for a few hours and make them understand that their words hurt. I wish I could show them that their ignorance and willingness to express it makes people’s symptoms worse, and directly effects their ability to ask for help. People die by suicide because of that ignorance. And THAT makes me angry.

But I can’t bottle it up. I can’t make people feel it. So I’ll use my words. And maybe these words will make someone, somewhere understand how much we HATE days like this, how much we HATE our illnesses, but desperately want to be validated and empathized with instead of made to feel like it’s our fault. We don’t want to live in fear anymore. And we shouldn’t have to feel anger in order to communicate the realities of suffering that plagues each of us with mental illness.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist/OCD Resource Consultant; Author ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’

http://www.chrissiehodges.com

http://www.treatmentforocd.com

The Lying Voice of Mental Illness

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2017 by chrissiehodges

I had sold my soul to the devil of mental illness and I didn’t even know it. In the split second of hearing my mental health diagnosis, the Chrissie I had always known, always believed in, and always rooted for began fading away. A new Chrissie emerged. A mentally ill Chrissie. A black sheep Chrissie. A no longer deserves a good life Chrissie.

When I left the inpatient hospital, I stared at the familiar faces of my family, but there was a wall of shame and fear separating us. I was no longer dependable, rational, admirable Chrissie. I was now unpredictable, unstable, and one to be pitied Chrissie. I went from being the Chrissie people loved being around to the ‘how quickly can she get back to school so we don’t have to take care of her’ Chrissie.

A dark cloud settled around my head and in my thoughts. When I tried to face it, it retreated in the darkness of my shadow, hiding from any confrontation. It laced my every reaction, every decision, and every interaction. I was no longer the Chrissie I once knew. I cowered at the doubt and shame of a mental illness that had absconded with my optimism and confidence.

I wanted to run far away from this new doomed life. The stolen frightened glances of my family, the nagging secret of my suicide attempt and diagnosis weighing heavily, and the penetrating jealousy I felt for everyone who could live a normal life was too much to face daily. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to be where no one knew me. I believed as many gas tanks in my Honda that I could afford would bring me to a place where the dark cloud would vanish. I wanted new scenery, new friends, and a new life. So I hit the road, and landed in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I believed there was no way the demons of my past could survive among the beauty of my new home in Steamboat Springs.

But with every job I took, believing that maybe THIS will be the time where I can feel smart and proud; with every relationship, believing maybe THIS will be the one who will fill me up and make me feel worthy of love; with every passing year, believing maybe THIS will be the time of my life where I may find a purpose and feel deserving of happiness; I always came up short. And the dark cloud grew larger and larger out of my shadow and into my peripheral vision.

There was nothing I could do to feel proud. There was no amount of laughter I could experience to feel truly joyous. There was no amount of commitment or love from others that could make me feel I was someone who deserved a good life. I felt as though I stood on the edge of the cliff of a barren, desolate, arid desert watching a lush and fruitful world below me. It was too far to jump, and I hadn’t the tools to climb down.

I was so lonely. I was so empty. My only friend was the demon of mental illness in my head who lied to me, telling me that I don’t deserve a good life, no one will love me and I am a throw-away person unworthy of love, happiness, and a purpose. And I felt like it was MY fault. I felt as if I had done something to deserve this punishment.

I successfully survived 12 years alone, in silence with a tormenting, tortuous disorder all while managing to graduate college, complete successful treatment, and survive a suicide and hospitalization. But the demon told me I should be ashamed. It convinced me that my illness made me weak, stupid, and undeserving. And I believed it. It was the only voice I chose to hear.

But one day, I woke up. On the heels of a crippling relapse, I needed positive affirmations to get through my symptoms. And as my affirmations began to solidify as truths with my illness, it also began shedding light on who I had become. I was tired of grieving. I was tired of hiding in silence. I was tired of not being good enough for anyone or anything. I wanted to learn to like myself. I wanted to get to know who Chrissie was without the illness and the grief.

And the dark cloud began to retreat from my vision.

My thought process went from absolute negatives of wandering lost and lonely in the world to a colorful array of hope and possibility. I began shedding the anger, shame, guilt, and sadness that kept me company in the dark hole of a life I had been living. But, I didn’t shed it with regret. Each layer of emotion had been essential to move through, to shape me, and to let go of the past. Each stage of grief I occupied was exactly the right amount of time I needed to plant my feet in the new, solid foundation.

Those lonely years were painful, but I look back upon them with nostalgia and gratefulness. It was as if I turned myself inside out in order to come to terms with my experience with mental illness. I left no stone unturned. I needed every tear, every sleepless night, and the security of every fetal position. I needed to make sure I was absolutely ready before I let her go. Before I released the old Chrissie from my grip. She was someone to be proud of, especially because she bore the brunt of everything that has put me into the recovery I occupy now. She was so much stronger than she ever knew.

There are still many days where the whispering voice in the dark cloud of mental illness creeps back into my peripheral vision. I have to literally tell myself it is okay to be happy, proud, or content in my life. I have to actively force my mind to believe it is okay to love who I have become and the life and accomplishments I have achieved. It isn’t always easy. It wouldn’t be hard to slide back into the dark, but I tell myself daily how much more enjoyable and appreciative of life I am because I choose to stay in the light. I choose to ignore the manipulative lure. I choose to recognize that the voice of mental illness is made up of lies. I choose to believe in the Chrissie I am now, NOT the Chrissie mental illness wants me to believe I am supposed to be.

 

 

 

If you are in need of peer support or referrals/resources for OCD specialists, please email me at ocd.chrissie@gmail.com or visit my websites www.chrissiehodges.com and www.treatmentforocd.com.

This blog is sponsored by nOCD, the app to help keep you on track in your recovery from OCD! Visit http://m.treatmyocd.com/chrissie  for more information and to sign up.

Thank you for taking the time to read.
There is hope. Recovery is possible. You are not alone

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate; Peer Support Specialist; Treatment for OCD Consulting; CBT/ERP Coach; Author ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’ 

Finding Emotional Recovery from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Posted in Uncategorized on May 4, 2017 by chrissiehodges

When I look at the timeline of recovery from my battle with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, I can see two significant breakthroughs.

The first was medical recovery. It was imperative to get my symptoms under control and learn tools to manage OCD after my suicide attempt and hospitalization. I was able and willing to engage in Exposure Response Prevention therapy even though it was difficult. I was also willing to take a chance on medication, recognizing that I am not always capable of managing the symptoms on my own. Committing to the medical recovery of my illness was something I knew had to be done, no matter how much fear would tempt me to not engage or try to manage it by my own will. It took me almost a year and a half to find the right combination of knowledge and confidence to balance my medical recovery from when I was diagnosed. In hindsight, that hurdle was much easier to clear than the emotional torture which ensued for over a decade after successful treatment.

I had no idea that even after learning to manage the symptoms of OCD, my journey to full recovery was far from over. I lived with the debilitating symptoms of Pure OCD without a diagnosis for 12 years. I was completely alone and terrified in my struggle before my medical recovery, and it was pure hell. But sometimes I wonder if those 12 years were as hard as the latter years I lived in shame, guilt, and embarrassment from the personal stigma of living with a mental illness. The emotional turmoil and difficulty I had in grieving and processing my experience and who I was with or without this illness was just as tormenting as my symptoms of OCD. I existed in this emotional misery for 13 years after successful medical treatment.

The second breakthrough in my recovery I like to refer to as my emotional recovery. After medical recovery, I fell headfirst into emotional overload and deregulation. I wasn’t sure what I wanted or how I wanted to be treated now that I lived with a mental illness. I wanted people who knew what I had been through to love and accept me with empathy and compassion. But, I also wanted them to stay far away from reminding me of the illness and my traumatic experience with it. I wanted to remind everyone that I needed nothing from them and I was still a functional human with this illness, but I was also desperate for love and sympathy for what I had been through. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed without sounding weak and pitiful. It was a push-pull that I was incapable of understanding in the midst of it.

I also felt deeply embedded emotions to my core. Anger, sadness, and shame were the rulers of me. The emotions were so intense that I did anything I could to drown them out. I fled to Colorado to engulf myself in mountains, scenery, and outdoor athletics. I became involved in endurance running, biking, and winter sports. Tiring my body out helped calm my emotional turmoil. But when athletics couldn’t silence the pain, I turned to alcohol, partying, and unhealthy relationships. I was desperate for relief I didn’t care how I received it.

I wanted nothing more than to find meaning in who I was or what I was doing, but wasn’t able or willing to endure looking at who I had become because of my experience with mental illness. I barely recognized the empty shell of a person I saw staring back at me in the mirror. I wanted so desperately to love life, to feel positive and grateful, but I wasn’t able to love myself. I felt unworthy. I felt undeserving. I felt empty of purpose and full of negative emotion. I felt afraid and disconnected to everyone and everything. Isolation and the silencing of my experience kept me trapped in shame, and fear of rejection and judgment held me tight in that snare. I dared not speak a word to anyone about who I really was underneath this façade I put on for the world. I was so lonely.

When I was 34 years old, I had my first debilitating relapse of symptoms since treatment. I was so far removed from my first break down of symptoms that I had almost forgotten how torturing it felt. I could hardly believe my mind was capable of such incredible deceit and trickery. I was six weeks into the relapse before I realized I was almost paralyzed by intrusive thoughts.

I was an entrepreneur and could not take off work, so I had to drag myself to my store everyday. It was terrifying and miserable. I smiled at customers, making small chat and putting on the charm, but as soon as the door slammed behind them, I would curl up in the back of the store feeling unable to breathe or move.

No one knew how horrible my illness could be except my family because I refused to tell anyone out of shame and embarrassment. I rode that wave of a relapse barely surviving the treacherous current. I had no support nearby, no one to talk to, and I felt utterly alone.

As I waited during the weeks it took for relief from my medication to set in, something inside of me simmered. I started feeling antsy and curious. Where are all the other people in the world who have my type of OCD? Where are all the other people who live with mental illness? How do they deal with this? Where are they?

I wanted to find them. I found the International OCD Foundation and saw there were speakers on lived experience. I believed I could do that too. I decided to learn how to speak. I began speaking around Denver about general OCD and stigma. I started a podcast. And that was when I met my mental health peers from all over the world.

The moment I became vulnerable about my experience, I attracted others with that same type of desire to me. I sought them out, they found me, others connected me, or opportunities just arose. Every story I heard had the common thread of shame, guilt, and embarrassment woven through it. And every time I heard another’s story, the icy mask around me melted a little more. My peers understood my anger. My peers understood how it felt to feel unworthy, undeserving, and unlovable because of mental illness and stigma. My peers didn’t judge me. My peers wanted to know all about my experience. My peers made me feel normal. My peers were my people! I had finally found them! And it was through them that my emotional recovery began to set in.

I could choose to look back on all those years and see they were a waste of time. I could choose to look at them and think what I ‘should have’ or ‘could have’ done. But I didn’t and I don’t. I look at the 12 years before my medical recovery as the time and story development I needed to survive my mental illness. Without it, I may have lost my life by suicide. The 13 years after my medical recovery in the emotional turmoil was exactly the amount of time I needed to grieve. I needed to grieve the experience of mental illness, the pain and suffering, and the person I believed I had lost to it.

It took every moment on the journey to emotional recovery to find the woman who emerged from those ashes. It took every excruciating moment to be able to finally look at myself in the mirror and not feel disgust, fear, shame, or guilt. It took every painful turn and every minute of doubt and fear to understand that there is no place where Chrissie ends and mental illness begins. And to understand there is no place where mental illness ends and Chrissie begins. There is just Chrissie. She exists with OCD and all the emotions that accompany it. And she is worthy of love. She deserves a good life. She is not a throw away person, damaged goods, or someone to be ashamed of. She is a human being, and one that now knows resiliency, strength, and perseverance.

My experience with OCD, the shame, guilt, and embarrassment of the disorder and intrusive thoughts do not define who I am, but I am defined by how I have chosen to embrace the experience. The journey here was long, painful, and arduous, but I never gave up. My resilience and perseverance created a foundation to stand on and actually made me capable of feeling love and pride about who I am today. In those earlier 25 years, I could never believe it was possible. But, here I am.

The journey to recovery is personal and unique for each individual. It is important to experience each stage, honor each emotion, and walk alongside those who can meet you where you are at and offer empathy. It is important to find your peers. Please never give up. You are worth it. You deserve a good life. You are not a throw away person, damaged goods, or someone to be ashamed of. You are a human being, and one that knows resiliency, strength, and perseverance. You will be able to love yourself one day. You already do, you just may not see it yet.

Recovery is possible for anyone. There is hope.

If you are in need of peer support or referrals/resources for OCD therapists and support, please visit my website at www.treatmentforocd.com or contact me at ocd.chrissie@gmail.com

To find out more about my journey, visit www.chrissiehodges.com.

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Speaker; Peer Support Specialist & Consultant/Treatment for OCD Consulting; ERP Therapy Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Author “Pure O: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Supplemental Help for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2017 by chrissiehodges

It is widely known that effective treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder begins and ends with medication and/or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with Exposure Response Prevention (ERP). This is gold-standard, evidence-based treatment that proves to have the most positive effect on managing OCD symptoms long-term. But, what are some other supplemental tools and resources that may help with maintaining recovery with OCD?

Therapeutically, OCD specialists may use a variety of therapies to supplement ERP. Mindfulness is a great tool used in conjunction with ERP. Learning mindfulness techniques can help after treatment to recognize intrusive thoughts and apply ERP techniques to manage symptoms. Therapists may also implement Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). This therapy can be used alongside ERP as well and emphasizes mindfulness techniques in helping to manage intrusive thoughts. While mindfulness, ACT, and other therapies may be used in supplementing treatment for OCD, they are not recommended as solely effective treatment strategies or a replacement for ERP. If you are working with a therapist who is not using ERP therapy, you are wasting time, money, and your symptoms may become worse.

Peer support is an beneficial supplementary service that can be used in all stages of treatment and recovery for OCD. Peer specialists are trained in using their lived experience with mental illness to support individuals who are working toward their own recovery. Peer specialists can also be incredibly effective in helping with the emotional turmoil that can accompany OCD. OCD intrusive thoughts can create negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and embarrassment. While an OCD specialist may be focused on symptom management, a peer specialist can help use their lived experience and mutuality with the often debilitating emotions accompanying OCD to support the individual in treatment.

There are also many secondary fears and urgent questions an individual may experience throughout treatment and even afterward. Common fears include, ‘What if I don’t really have OCD?’, ‘What if these obsessions turn out to be true?’, or ‘What if treatment works for everyone but me?’ Peer specialists can relate by using their experience of working through these fears which helps individuals feel less alone and isolated. Having a peer specialist by your side during therapy can ease the fear and uncertainty of the therapy and the negative emotions as you advance toward recovery. If you are looking for a peer specialist, please make sure they are trained and certified through the state in which they are practicing.

Peer support is designed to be the support you need in between seeing therapists, your psychiatrist, and other mental health professionals. Other tools that can help in real-time struggling would be a newly developed app called nOCD. This is a tool designed to give you real-time support with therapy tools and keeping your recovery on track. Having support from peer support as well as being able to keep track of your therapy successes can absolutely expedite recovery and help you feel less alone in your journey.

There are many other supplementary resources that can help individuals while they work toward recovery with OCD. Success stories and memoirs of individuals living and managing OCD are very helpful. Being able to read about someone who has been successful in what you are struggling with can provide motivation and hope that OCD can be overcome. Support groups in your area or online can be very beneficial as long as they are supporting recovery in a way that leaves you hopeful. It is important to do research on who is leading the support groups. Make sure the moderator is an expert in OCD and/or an individual who has been treated successfully with OCD. Support groups that perpetuate symptoms or loss of hope can be damaging to symptom management.

Websites, blogs, workbooks and books can be helpful as well as long as the content is aligned with evidence-based research and expertise in OCD. There are many self-help sites and individuals who will claim they have a program to ‘cure OCD’ or ‘heal OCD’. If these products or services are not using Exposure Response Prevention therapy and/or associated with an expert in the field who practices ERP, be very cautious in purchasing or engaging in such services.

OCD is a chronic mental illness with no cure, however there is absolutely hope that you do not have to suffer alone and treatment is absolutely effective. ERP therapy can help you get your life back from the overwhelming symptoms of OCD. While supplemental self-help strategies are not recommended as a replacement for ERP therapy, they can be incredible tools to fill in the gaps during therapy.

If you are looking for therapist referrals/resources in your area, or if you are in need of peer support, please contact Chrissie Hodges at ocd.chrissie@gmail.com to schedule a consultation/peer support session. Find out more about Chrissie, her work, and her advocacy at www.chrissiehodges.com. For a great app to help supplement your treatment with OCD, please visit nOCD at http://m.treatmyocd.com/chrissie

There is effective treatment for OCD and it is absolutely possible to live a full, productive, and successful life with OCD. There is Hope.

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Speaker; Author “Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder”; Peer Support Specialist & Resource Consultant/Treatment for OCD Consulting; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Colorado Suicide Prevention Commissioner; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Sheriff & Police Department\

www.chrissiehodges.com  www.treatmentforocd.com

Pure OCD Wants Us to Stay Quiet. Let’s Be Loud!

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2, 2017 by chrissiehodges

It is inspiring to read stories of human suffering that ends in triumph over adversity. Those stories give us hope and the assurance that we are not suffering alone.

But, for those of us with Pure OCD/Intrusive thoughts, it is not as easy as crafting a well-written, inspiring piece.

Mental illness in itself brings shame and guilt. Many individuals will receive treatment, learn to cope with symptoms, and run as far from the label of their brain disorder as possible. The stigma can be perceived as something that can absolutely destroy your life if the wrong person knows you have suffered with mental illness.

But, there is a whole other layer of shame and embarrassment associated with Pure OCD, and those exacerbated, negative emotions are likely fueled by the OCD itself. That seems odd, right? Well, it is a secondary fear OCD plagues us with when contemplating coming out of our own OCD closet.

We know that our obsessions are not a reflection of our character, our moral compass, or who we are as an individual. Therapy teaches us how to see our obsessions just as any other intrusive thought we may have and not to assign meaning to it. But, what if other people don’t understand it in the way that we do? What if people questioned whether we really had OCD or not? What if they judged us based on our obsession? What if they believe we really could be capable of acting on our obsessions? What if they thought we were a monster?

We spend so much time battling those thoughts about ourselves, until we finally understand what OCD is and how it affects us. So, to have to go through all the ‘what if’ questions for other people feels even more exhausting! We can’t convince everyone and that opens up uncertainty when contemplating how and whether or not to share our experience with Pure OCD with others. And as we all know, uncertainty is a breeding ground for OCD thoughts.

I had all the same questions I mentioned above about those that will hear my story about emetophobia, scrupulosity, and homosexual OCD. What if people just think I’m really nuts and I’m using OCD as an excuse? What if they think I’m just in the closet and I don’t want to come out? What if they think I’m making it all up? These questions kept me from telling all the details of my story for years, and sometimes still do! I had to make a choice. I had to take the risk and live with the uncertainty that maybe people won’t believe me. Maybe they will judge me. But, what if my story helps someone? What if it saves someone’s life? That was a risk worth taking for me.

So, I started in a place where I felt comfortable. First, I started talking about OCD in general without getting into the details about my own struggle. I would talk about what OCD is and what it is not with a general overview of my story. When I got comfortable with that, I pushed it a little further and talked about my suicide attempt in general without details. When that became easier, I began going into more detail about my story and suicide attempt. And this is how learning how to effectively tell my story keeping my comfort level as the utmost importance in check.

It took me many years to be able to talk about the intricate details of my story with Pure OCD, and I still sometimes ruminate when I leave a venue on whether or not it was received with acceptance and believed by my audience.  But through the years, what has really given me the courage to keep speaking out is the profound effect my story has on those suffering alone and in silence. Even if they are suffering by supporting a loved one with mental illness, they still understand and appreciate the openness. Overall, my insecurities have become less important and helping others feel less alone now takes center stage.

At the end of the day, the questions OCD will throw at you about whether or not people will judge you, believe you, accept you, or even respect you because of your journey with mental illness are meaningless.  The real value is that YOUR STORY MATTERS. What you have been through with OCD can and will impact others who need to hear your message of hope and survival. You will be surprised how many people will resonate with your journey. You may not get instant validation, but people listen and they remember. And the personal impact is you will begin to feel more comfortable in your own story and push farther into recovery as you will be less afraid to hide and silence what you have lived through.

Start slow, share the details as you feel comfortable, and let the thought of helping others feel less alone be center stage.

OCD will tell you that you shouldn’t speak up and out about overcoming its claws of shame, guilt, and embarrassment, but I’m here to tell you that your story is powerful, it matters, and it can change and save lives.

If 99 out 100 people in a room reject your message, but one life is saved…it is worth the risk.

There is hope, recovery is possible for anyone,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate, Public Speaker, Peer Support Specialist, Resource Consultant, ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment

http://www.chrissiehodges.com

OCD Told Me Not To, but I’m Telling My Story Anyway

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2017 by chrissiehodges

 

I was sitting on the steps of the psychology building at Georgia Southern University with a dark, terrifying poem I had written in my hands about my OCD. But this time, I had a smile on my face while reading it. Smiles had been hard to come by these last eight weeks of my HOCD relapse. But, I felt different today. I read through the tear-streaked poem which reflected the darkened hole I occupied with no signs of hope. I wanted to tear the paper up. But I thought I should hang onto it to remember. To never forget the torment I had been through. I may need reminding someday.

Today though, I felt optimistic. I was four weeks into Exposure Response Prevention therapy and I was finally feeling bouts of relief lasting more than just a few minutes. I had gone an entire morning without the bad thoughts, the bad groinal feeling, and the crippling anxiety. I couldn’t believe life could feel like this. The tears began to fall onto the poem for a much different reason this time than usual. They were tears of joy. I felt actual optimism. Those feelings were foreign territory for me. But, now I could hope.

I looked up into the sky and said out loud, “One day I hope to be able to tell my story of living with these horrible thoughts, surviving a suicide attempt, and learning to live and be okay with this debilitating disorder’. As soon as the last word came out of my mouth, a dark feeling of shame came over me. It was as if OCD was speaking back to me saying, “No one will ever believe you. No one will accept you. No one will love you if they know.’ And I lowered my head to obey the command of shame. I will never tell.

I lived for the next 14 years in silence and in shame. I told only glossed over details of my experience if I had to. I believed the lies OCD told me that ‘if anyone knew, they would not believe you. They would judge and leave you’. I lived a life simmering in anger and sadness, harboring a secret I felt would expose me as some kind of monster. While I knew that I had OCD and none of my obsessions were a reflection of my character, my wants, or my desires, there was still the ‘what if’ fears surrounding other people. I couldn’t control whether people believed me or not, but OCD assured me they would think horribly of me.

That silence ended for me in 2011 in the midst of a terrible relapse. As I worked my way out of the paralyzing symptoms of harm and relationship OCD, I had an incredible realization. I had a choice. I can either be angry, sad, and keep living in silence about my experience, or I could take the risk and tell my story out loud and try to help others living in silence as well. I knew there were others like me, I just didn’t know who or where they were! I wanted to find them. So, I joined Toastmasters and learned how to speak publicly.

For the next five years, I took any speaking engagement I could, started a podcast, and branded myself as someone not afraid to speak about the unspeakable type of OCD that is Pure O sexual and violent intrusive thoughts. It was scary but liberating! As I became more confident in my speaking ability, I began sharing more details about my story. Each time I would go into detail, my OCD would caution me about the repercussions of my actions. But each time, just like ERP therapy, I would ignore OCD and face the fears of rejection and judgment. An amazing thing happened. I began meeting people all over the world with Pure OCD. They gave me more hope, more courage, and more drive to speak even louder. It is all of the wonderful people who encouraged me that helped me attain recovery, speak my truth, and rid myself of the embarrassment and judgment that comes along with having OCD. I will forever be grateful to our community of people who live with OCD.

The culmination of all the suffering from Pure OCD and the personal stigma and pain that followed has paid off. I have been able to finally publish the story of my life with emetophobia, HOCD, and scrupulosity without fear. This has been the ultimate goal of mine that OCD has always given me pushback on. But, I have won. I beat OCD.

Today, I revisit that girl so long ago who sat on the steps of the psychology building as tears roll down her face. I look at her and I say to her, “You have a long road ahead of you, but you will speak out. You will tell your story. You will overcome OCD. And you will help those who are unable to find hope just yet, see that OCD can be defeated.’

My hope is that you can find solace and comfort in knowing you are not alone. You are not a monster. You are not the one person that can’t be helped. You won’t be judged or rejected because of your obsessions. And you are worthy and deserving to live a good life.

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If you decide to read my memoir, I would love to hear your feedback and how it relates to your journey of living with Pure OCD.

Visit http://www.booklocker.com or http://www.amazon.com to purchase ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’ by Chrissie Hodges

Thank you for your continued support. Keep fighting!

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate, Peer Support Specialist, ERP Coach; Effective OCD Treatment, Author; Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

 

Are You Trivializing OCD?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2016 by chrissiehodges

It was an interesting conversation to compare experiences with a fellow peer support specialist who worked in a different agency than my own, until it took a crippling turn. In answering the question of why I got into peer work with my lived experience with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, the response I received was a chuckle and, ‘well, we deal with people who have way more serious problems than just OCD’.

My frontal lobe began to throb as the OCD monster living in the back of my brain took the opportunity to pounce. The rumination on whether my illness was as severe as I experienced it, if I was just weak and stupid, and the idea that maybe I just wasn’t as sick as other people completely took over. I stood staring at this gentleman unable to even respond. He sensed the awkwardness and change in the environment and quickly excused himself. I sat down, gripped the arms of the chair, and began talking myself out of believing my experience with OCD was as silly as everyone must think it is.

This isn’t the first time I have encountered this belief about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This also isn’t the first time I feel upset about why the societal portrayal about OCD isn’t taken seriously. Nine out of ten times I tell someone I live with OCD, they will comment that they have OCD too or they have a ‘little bit’ of it, and it is typically accompanied by a chuckle or excitement about their little coveted rituals. My commitment is to use those opportunities to educate, but that does not always turn down the heat that simmers inside of me about the implications of allowing a majority of the population to trivialize an illness that drives individuals including myself to attempt or die by suicide.

Although I feel baffled that people won’t just get it, there are several reasons we are up against when convincing those that OCD is not just a trendy illness we should be able to overlook:

  • The Media Portrayal

This is an ongoing battle for mental health advocacy; staying in front of those that use mental illness in humor and drama to enhance their characters. We are forced to play catch up when it comes to characters like ‘Monk’ in educating about the severity around mental illness. No, OCD is not advantageous in becoming successful in their career. No, people don’t enjoy their obsessions and compulsions as typically portrayed by the media. No, just because you like Christmas does not mean you have ‘Obsessive Christmas Disorder’. When we have to come in after the fact and educate people on the realities of OCD, we typically are viewed as ‘too PC’ or ‘weak-minded’ to not be able to just let go and have a laugh about it. It is a maddening cycle.

  • Not Enough Individuals are Willing to Share Their Story

Shame, guilt, and embarrassment are three undesirable side-effects of having OCD. We have insight our obsessions aren’t aligned with our morals and values, yet we cannot stop them or the compulsive behaviors. This makes us feel weak and stupid. Because of this, many of us retreat into a shell of shame hoping no one discovers the dirty details of what we were forced to face with OCD. It is this shame that keeps us silent about our struggle. We stay silent believing people may judge us, reject us, or believe the obsessions are true and real. While the silence is understandable, it is damaging in our fight to educate the realities of OCD. We need more people to come forward and share the details, struggle, and repercussions of delaying treatment.

  • Lack of understanding about the term ‘Disorder’

Hey, I’m not denying that most people don’t experience obsessions and compulsions, but I have a real problem with people defining those experiences as a disorder when it really isn’t. Why? Because trying to normalize our suffering against those that believe they have ‘a little bit of OCD’ can make a devastating impact. The miserable secondary fear that can accompany OCD in many of us is that we really don’t have OCD and we really just are crazy, weak, or stupid. When someone claims that they have OCD and they really don’t, sufferers may internalize this as ‘everyone has a little bit of OCD, it’s you that just can’t handle it’. OCD is a chronic disorder that cannot be controlled by outthinking or developing a ‘strong and resilient mind’. My go-to argument with people who claim to have a little bit of OCD is always, ‘Do you enjoy your obsessions and/or compulsions? If you do, then you do not have a disorder’. This is a definitive difference between those that have the actual disorder and those that just want to use the terminology as a label for their behaviors.

So what can we do?

The best way to change OCD’s quirky reputation is to start speaking out with education and lived experience. My advocacy philosophy has always been ‘people don’t know what they don’t know!’ I have survived mental illness and the stigma accompanying it so I look at it as my duty to give back to those that don’t have their voice yet.

It can feel daunting standing up to people who are disrespecting the disorder, but there are many ways to approach it that are non-defensive and strength-based. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your lived experience, use someone else’s or use your own as a general example.

Write places/people using OCD as a quirky or offensive way to advertise. We don’t have to be scathing and angry, but we can make an incredible impact by using our experiences to highlight the offensiveness that goes along with trivializing our suffering. You’d be surprised how many people will listen and respect your experience.

And finally, don’t ever let others bully us about our authentic experience with OCD. People will say we just need to ‘get over it’, or ‘develop a stronger mind’, or we are being ‘too sensitive’. It is easy for others to say these things when they haven’t walked in the shoes of the misery of OCD. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree with people who aren’t willing to hear our arguments, but planting seeds can be just as effective. One day that individual proclaiming people with mental illness are just ‘weak’ may find themselves in a position of needing help for themselves or their loved ones. They may just be thankful we took the time to educate them even if it is years later.

Every once in a while I will become paralyzed by fear just as I had with the gentleman who insinuated OCD isn’t as bad as other illnesses. When it happens, I need the time to process why it affected me so deeply. He had bumped up against the underlying fear that perhaps my OCD experience wasn’t as bad as it was and I was just weak. I needed to put that fear in place and remember that my feelings can only be discredited if I allow them to be. So, I demanded the monster to let go of my frontal lobe, found the gentleman, and explained to him why his statement devalued my actual experience.

He was grateful I had taken the time to address him directly. I was grateful for the opportunity to educate.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

http://www.chrissiehodges.com

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist; CBT/ERP/Stigma Coach: Effective OCD Treatment; Podcast Host ‘Two Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter: Denver Police & Sheriff Department