The Invaluable Service of Peer Support for OCD

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2017 by chrissiehodges

My partner Sean graduated recently from a program for web development. He and I both took a big risk at the beginning of 2017 by quitting toxic jobs and creating new paths in our careers. I have done this many times in my life and have always been a free-spirit when it comes to change in jobs and careers. I have always bounced back quickly and never regretted those decisions. My attitude is if you are unhappy, change it and something better will come along! I believe that mindset developed in part to the trauma that ensued because of my suffering and battle with OCD at such young age. It has served me well as an adult.

However, that attitude is NOT one that comes easy for Sean. He focuses more on long-term and that is what keeps him comfortable. So, the recent change, while for the better, has been challenging for him in getting comfortable in the uncertainty of when and what the right fit for his next job will be. Being comfortable in uncertainty is not his strong suit, so it makes him feel very stressed!

Since he graduated, I have been trying to support and motivate him the best I know how, but sometimes doesn’t feel so encouraging to him because we have two different outlooks on career. I assure him that it will take time but things will work out. I use my experience and his past experiences as examples of how things have continued to build and work out better because of taking risks. He hears the things I say, but it is hard for him to believe that support and normalization when I am not in the same boat as him.

Yesterday, he was in a more optimistic and relaxed place than he has been in a while and I inquired what had changed. He told me that he met up with a colleague who was experiencing the same frustration and anxiety in regards to job searching and uncertainty. Talking with his colleague helped him feel so much less alone, and less in his head about what he was doing ‘wrong’ vs what is just normal anticipation in such a big transition. He likened it to what I do as a peer support for individuals suffering with OCD. And my eyes completely opened.

Working with a certified, experienced peer support with mental illness is invaluable the same way it turned my partner’s entire outlook around when he conversed with a colleague who could say ‘me too’. Symptoms, stigma, and the emotions of shame, guilt, and embarrassment accompanying mental illness can be isolating and lonely. There are so many layers of confusion and trauma that build inside of us before, upon diagnosis, and afterward in learning to live under the label of mental illness. Qualified therapists are imperative to navigate the medical symptom management, but so much can be leftover that individuals can’t always process–or don’t necessarily want to process–by themselves, and it can feel confusing on where and who to turn for support.

Stigma keeps many of us from turning to family and friends when we need someone to listen or for support. Mental illness often makes us feel like a burden (even when we aren’t!) and asking for help or to be listened to can solidify that myth. Talking to a therapist is beneficial, but it can feel like something is missing because although they can treat the illness, they have not walked in our shoes. That layer of stigma, shame, and guilt thickens and can become an unhealthy foundation in our emotional recovery.

This is a great place peer support can add a supplemental layer of support and normalization. For me, receiving peer support for the emotional trauma and turmoil of the experiences of my illness was a safe place to land. It rounded out my recovery. I didn’t feel alone in my sadness, anger, and grief. I had read stories of people with my type of OCD, but being able to have someone walk alongside me, listen to my pain, and say ‘me too’ helped me sink into my skin that I had felt so disgusted by for so long. I no longer felt like I had to hate myself, despise what had happened to me, or apologize for who I was. My peers didn’t push me into recovery, they walked down the path with me into it. They made me feel understood, safe, and less like a monster or alien for what I had been through.

The benefits of working with a peer support specialist when living with OCD are immeasurable. OCD is a complex illness with layers of shame, guilt, and doubt. A trained peer support understands how not to exacerbate symptoms or contribute to compulsions while providing a sense of hope because of the similarity of emotion and fears we all experience. OCD is an anxiety disorder, but often gets overwhelmed with emotion and confusion because it is egodystonic. Because we have insight that what we are obsessing about makes no sense and doesn’t align with our character, we tend to see the inability to control it as a reflection of who we are, our strength, and even our intellect. A trained peer support specialist knows how to validate the emotion, normalize the experience, and emphasize the reality of hope while understanding the delicate balance of not worsening the client’s symptoms. This strengthens trust, empowers the client, and encourages them to find the strength inside of themselves to push back on their illness. It also helps them feel like they do not have to travel this journey alone and there is a lifeline in their dark hours.

Last night I thought about what I do in my peer support practice to help others who live with OCD and are working toward recovery. By comparing the two, it completely made sense that even though I knew my attempt at normalizing my partner’s struggle had good intentions, it helped him more to have someone who had been in his shoes give him validation. There is something to be said for all of us by hearing the words ‘me too’. It made me understand his situation more, and then it made me feel grateful I am able to do that very thing with so many individuals living with the tormenting illness of OCD. It always feels less scary knowing we are not alone.

I work with clients worldwide providing peer support for OCD as well as resources and referrals for therapists who treat OCD with evidence-based therapy. My services are ongoing or as needed. The feedback I receive from the individuals I work with is they feel less alone, less terrified about what they have experienced or what they will experience, and more hopeful that even though the road may be long and windy to recovery, they know they do not have to walk it alone. Working with individuals and giving back to them what peer support gave to me has been the biggest honor of my life.

If you are interested in peer support, please visit www.chrissiehodges.com or www.treatmentforocd.com to find out more about my services.

**Disclaimer: Peer Support is not to be used as a replacement for therapy. It is a supplemental service in supporting you before, during, and after treatment for normalization of symptoms and emotional turmoil with mental illness

**If you are looking for peer support and are paying for services, PLEASE ask for proof of certification from your peer support. If an individual is not certified through a state-credentialing body, do not pay for their peer support services. Peer support requires training, supervision, and certification. Individuals claiming to do peer support without these qualifications cannot provide effective peer support and could likely make your symptoms worse.

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Certified Peer Support Specialist; ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Author ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’

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I AM a Victim of OCD

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by chrissiehodges

Standing in front of the mirror at age 14, I was staring at a face I barely recognized. I thought I knew the eyes looking back at me, but how could they be responsible for such horrible intrusive thoughts? How could they be the reflection of the monster I feel I am because of these unwanted sexual obsessions? If only I could be the person I was before these thoughts showed up. If only I could find that innocent girl who wasn’t tainted by this horrendously torturing misery of a mind. If only I could go back in time. If only…

But then again, six years earlier at age eight I stood in front of that exact mirror staring at a girl I used to know who now looks like a complete stranger. My brain was hijacked by horrible thoughts of uncertainty, fears of vomiting and crippling anxiety. My entire world changed in a split second. Yesterday, I was outside playing with the neighbors on the bike trails. Today, I can’t leave the house I’m so scared. What happened to the Chrissie who existed yesterday? Where did she go? Will she ever come back? Will I ever be that girl again? I’d do anything to have her back…

For 12 years, I continued to long for the day this nightmare would end and the innocent, untainted girl I used to be would reappear. Maybe I’ll wake up, never have these horrible thoughts and feelings again and I can get back to who I was before all this, I hoped.  It never occurred to me that the pre-OCD eight year old girl disappeared forever when this illness showed up. I wrestled with why I couldn’t find her. It wasn’t possible that all I am is what OCD has made me into, was it? It couldn’t be possible that I’ve lost all who I thought I was to this horrible illness, could it?

But for me, it was reality. When OCD took over at age eight, everything I thought I knew for certain about myself, my world, and my reality disappeared. I spent most days trying to survive the symptoms of this illness as I watched the rest of the world pass me by. I felt so jealous of everyone. How could they just live life and not have to deal with a monster inside of them? What did I do to deserve this punishment of a life? Nothing made sense. And I was always tired. I was always scared. I was always lost. I hated who I had to be, but I still had to fight to survive every day. It was a battle that seemed never-ending.

As I went through the twelve years of undiagnosed, tormenting OCD symptoms, it was easy to believe if only I didn’t have to deal with THIS, I could be this wonderful person with a wonderful life. I held the dream of if only these symptoms were gone, I could be the person I always thought I could be who was left behind when OCD showed up.

I got my wish of diminished symptoms when I was diagnosed and treated successfully at age 20. Symptom management began and I was elated to rid myself of that burden. I thought to myself, ‘Now I can begin to live again.’ The day after I graduated ERP therapy, I woke up thinking how life will be great now! But the sun rose the same way it had before. There was no sparkle or glitter greeting me as I opened my door to this new world. I walked down a regular sidewalk to my car, not a red carpet leading me to a new glorious life. I didn’t cross any finish line with a trophy waiting for me. The world looked the same. And I felt disappointed because I still felt the same, only minus the symptoms.

The difficult task ahead of me I wish I had known beforehand was I actually convinced myself the OCD monster had absconded with the old Chrissie and once it was tamed, she would return. But she was nowhere to be found. She was gone. All that remained was the Chrissie I saw in the mirror now. The same Chrissie I saw in the mirror at age eight and 14. I didn’t want HER! She was damaged goods! She had seen, felt, and done things that made her disgusting. I wanted to forget her! But, it hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized I was stuck in this post-OCD skin with no escape. I could never go back to who I was before the OCD monster took over. I couldn’t un-remember all the things that had tortured me. My heart broke in realizing the girl I thought would return to save me from the trauma I had endured didn’t exist anymore. My hopes were dashed.

For years after this realization, I wanted to prove something to OCD. I wanted to prove I could be the same person I was before it changed me. I took the stance of being above any acknowledgment of the emotions tied to OCD. I buried the memories of the 12 year battle I endured. I convinced myself I was stronger than all that! I was better than all that! OCD will NEVER rule me again, why? Because I’m tough and a bad-ass and all I have to do is focus on making a good life now because my life was such shit during the thick of it. I would forget everything I went through and never look back. I’ll prove to OCD, I’ll prove to the WORLD what I went through didn’t change or break me!

But beneath that tough exterior, I felt I was rotting inside. The eight year old Chrissie was screaming to get out. She was begging to be heard. She wanted a voice. She wanted to feel the emotions of sadness, anger, frustration, and loneliness. And I ignored her because of pride and fear. I feared what opening up the floodgates of vulnerability and emotion tied to my experience with OCD would look like. I feared looking that eight year old in the face, because I was scared I would find out there was something I did to hurt her, to change her, and to ruin her life.

So by not accepting and admitting in fact I WAS victim to OCD and choosing to ignore the truth, I was actually not validating what I went through at any age. I was trying to pin everything on myself, like it was something I did it on purpose to her, and to myself all through the years. I couldn’t accept I was actually a victim of an illness and all this wasn’t my choice. I knew I needed to, but I just couldn’t face it. I was too afraid of the trauma. It seemed so much easier to blame myself than to think I didn’t have a choice. In hindsight, I was afraid to see what it had actually done to me and who it had turned me into. And that fear was slowly destroying me.

The longer I denied facing the trauma, the unhappier I became. I was still giving OCD power and I didn’t even know it. And one day OCD pounced, again. But this time, she resurfaced. The eight year old Chrissie wouldn’t let me ignore her anymore. And I began writing my novel in the midst of a terrifying relapse to help me remember and believe that I have a real illness and it can be beaten. In her honor, I began with, ‘At age eight…’ And I could feel something inside of me shift. All of the shattered pieces of trauma, the open wounds of grief, and the tattered ropes I held onto in the darkest nights of my shame began to disappear. I began to feel whole. I began to see myself as the victim of a brain disorder I didn’t want or ask for, but that I did my best to survive in the worst and tormenting of times. And by acknowledging the victimization and trauma I experienced, I no longer chose to be the actual victim of it. And I began to heal.

What I didn’t know all those years of searching and grieving the person I believed I had lost to OCD was that recovery from mental illness is fluid. And to experience and advance in recovery, it is imperative for me to be flexible and self-aware. I never knew it was okay to make room for negative emotions. I didn’t know I could stare the painful truths of stigma and shame in the face and not crumble. I mistakenly believed if I allowed myself to grieve in remembering and feeling the difficult times and the painful memories, it meant I was succumbing to being a perpetual victim. But, it was the opposite. By not acknowledging the reality of how and why I developed the illness and the realities of how I was affected before and after treatment, I was denying my right to grieve. I was fueling stigma. In not acknowledging and accepting the reality that I can be weak in the face of this illness, I was also denying my ability to see how strong I could be in my display of resiliency and strength as I faced it.

And so I gave myself permission to grieve. I granted myself the space to feel the emotion. I gave myself the grace to love and accept myself in every stage that I had traveled in my journey with OCD. And I allowed myself to love who I was becoming because of what I had been through, despite how painful that may feel and still sometimes feels.

After allowing myself to grieve the girl I thought I had lost, I could finally look myself in the mirror and see those same eyes staring back at me, knowing they had seen things I never wanted them to, but forgiving myself if I had ever let Chrissie down at any age through the years. I told that eight year old and that 14 year old that we no longer had to wish for things to be different to be better. We could start making them better from this day forward. And that’s what we did.

And we never look back. We only look forward.

 

If you are in need of peer support or resources/referrals for therapists for OCD, please do not hesitate to reach out. For more information on my services, please visit www.chrissiehodges.com or www.treatmentforocd.com.

Recovery is possible for ANYONE with OCD. There is HOPE and you are not alone.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

OCD Resource Consultant/Peer support specialist; Author ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’; Effective OCD Treatment/ERP Coach

www.chrissiehodges.com   www.treatmentforocd.com

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