The Emotional Struggle of Diagnosis

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2016 by chrissiehodges

Hello my friends! Welcome to my blog and thank you so much for taking the time to check it out.

I want to share with you a blog I wrote that was picked up and published on Mental Health on The Mighty. This was a VERY difficult blog to write as I had to revisit the time of my life when I faced a brand new diagnosis and all the confusion and emotion that went along with it. I had no idea how I would face the world with a new label of ‘mental illness’. I didn’t know if I could trust my brain anymore. I had no idea who this new Chrissie would be.

I hope you enjoy it and can relate. The more we dig into these moments in our journey of recovery, the less we will feel alone.

Please follow the link to the article and please share with anyone you may think can benefit.

https://themighty.com/2016/09/accepting-insight-into-psychosis-and-your-mental-illness/

Thank you for your continued support,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc/Colorado Institute at Ft. Logan; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters Radio’; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter; Denver Sheriff & Police Department

Understanding Pure O: Help! My Groin Just Moved!!!!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2016 by chrissiehodges

Sitting on a panel in a large banquet room at the International OCD Conference, I nervously glanced down at the word ‘groinal’ I had written on the pad of paper in front of me. Should I say it out loud? Sean Shinnock was speaking passionately about his experience of working toward recovery from Pure OCD/Intrusive thoughts, but all I could think about was that word on the paper glaring at me.

What if I say it out loud and everyone gives me dirty looks or thinks I am seriously crazy?

As Sean wrapped up his story, I looked at both he and Alison Dotson and made a quick decision. I guess this is just like practicing Exposure Response Prevention; I’m going to take the risk of saying it out loud to the crowd of people and live with the uncertainty of how they will respond!

I proceeded to talk openly about what has been coined as the groinal syndrome. This happens when exposure to a trigger from a sexual obsession causes you to question whether or not you feel a sensation in your groin. This is perhaps one of the most terrifying, ensnaring, and shameful aspects of Pure O/sexual obsessions. This phenomenon can single-handedly keep people from asking for help or disclosing their most torturing symptoms of OCD to a professional.

Why does it happen?

There are many explanations to help individuals understand why the groinal happens, but the bottom line is it happens to keep us trapped in the cycle. The explanation of why doesn’t matter. We cannot answer why we end up with a particular obsession, so trying to figure out the why in experiencing the groinal syndrome will have us running in circles.

The easiest way to explain it is this: If I told you with absolute certainty that your family is going to die in a plane crash if your elbow itches, you’d be very conscious of whether or not your elbow is itching and you’d second guess whether or not it really was itching. In fact, you may be so hypervigilant about your elbow itching, you’d probably subconsciously cause your elbow to itch to try and justify if it was really itching or not.

This is the logic behind the groinal syndrome. None. There is no logic. It makes no sense. It doesn’t prove or disprove anything. It exists to freak us out so badly that it could take us down with one twinge in the crotch. It is truly maddening.

The groinal showed up for me in my teenage years when I was battling some serious sexual obsessions. I actually knew there was a distinct difference between being aroused sexually and this horrible panic of a feeling in my groin area when triggered by OCD. But not being able to decipher the exact difference kept me in the cycle of seeking proof and disproof:

I just looked at my cat’s hind area, did my groin just move? I think it did! Should I look again to prove it did or didn’t? What if I did feel something? What does that mean? Does that prove I am attracted to my cat? My cat is a female, does that mean I’m attracted to females? Does that mean I’m gay? Should I find a male cat and see if my groin moves when I look at him to try to prove I would like males better? Wait, does that mean I’d be attracted to male cats? Ahhh!!! HELP!

This inner dialogue seems comical, but I couldn’t stop it from happening. It seemed if my physical body is reacting, there is no way I couldn’t consider the obsessions to be somehow true. I would become trapped in a cycle deciphering if my groin really moved and if it actually did, was it something I liked or didn’t like? I could never accurately recreate the sensation, so I’d get stuck worrying whether it really happened or if I imagined it. There was never a definitive answer. There was never an end to the torment.

The groinal syndrome was the main reason I kept silent. When all other triggers or ruminations could almost be proved as irrational or ridiculous, the groinal syndrome was a dark secret I deemed the one thing that may prove my obsessions were real. There were times I felt I had convinced myself the sexual obsessions were irrational and maybe a phase, but then I’d remember the groinal syndrome and lose all hope. How could I argue with physical sensations? Doesn’t that make it a reality?

After a suicide attempt, hospitalization, and diagnosis of OCD, I still kept quiet about these terrible feelings I had in my groin. I was terrified if I told anyone about them, it would disprove I had OCD and I’d have to live with the idea that my obsessions were real and the diagnosis was wrong or fake.

My silence was shattered when I began Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) treatment for OCD. My doctor pointedly asked me one day if I ever experienced sensations in my groin in response to my sexual obsessions. It felt like my head was lit on fire when he asked me that question.

Why is he asking this question? How do I answer? Do I tell the truth? What if I say yes and he says that proves I don’t really have OCD and these sexual obsessions are true and real? What if I lie and say no and he says, well if you don’t that means you don’t have OCD? Then he’ll know I lied and may not trust me enough to work with me! What do I say?

I cleared my throat and stalled as long as I could.

‘Well…um…yes…sometimes…I think I do…’ I answered shyly.

‘Okay, that’s typical with sexual obsessions to have groinal movement. Let’s move onto the next exposure…’ he casually replied.

I burst into tears. This is part of OCD! I’m not some freak person who can’t control my physical reactions! I can’t believe this groinal movement isn’t my fault! Oh my God, I’m going to be okay!

But, similar to having knowledge about OCD doesn’t magically stop symptoms, knowledge of the groinal doesn’t stop it from happening. It is still uncomfortable and alarming when it happens now, even 18 years later. But it sure does help knowing it is part of my illness. It also helps knowing I am not alone in my experience of it and the shame and embarrassment that comes along with it.

I took a deep breath on the panel at the OCD conference, took the risk, and said the words out loud about what the groinal syndrome is and how horrible and shameful it is to experience it. I did it because I didn’t want anyone to question the reality of their diagnosis. I did it selfishly so I could know there were others who experience it as well. But mainly, I did it so others knew this groinal syndrome was real and we don’t have to be ashamed. We don’t have to be embarrassed. We don’t have to feel guilty. And we don’t have to suffer in silence anymore.

I found out very quickly the risk was worth taking. Many people were shocked this was an actual symptom of Pure O/sexual obsessions.  Many people were grateful to know they were not the only ones experiencing this. I was grateful I could say it out loud in a room full of people and not be judged or labeled a freak. It was an incredible moment of triumph for all of us sufferers of Pure O.

A few days after I arrived home from the conference, I opened my email to find a message from someone who had been in that presentation. She could identify with the groinal syndrome and her message to me was simple and hilarious:

Never trust the groinal!!!

groinal

The symptoms of Pure O/Intrusive thoughts can be sneaky, paralyzing, and can make you question everything about yourself. Never underestimate the power of the disorder. But never forget you are not alone in your symptoms and your battle. Never stop fighting, never give up, and always keep winning against this beast that is Pure O!

Thank you for taking the time to read!

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; ERP Coach & Peer Support/Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support/Behavioral Healthcare Inc/Institute at Ft. Logan; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police & Sheriff Dept.; ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio host

 

Understanding Pure O: Only A Monster Would Have These Thoughts

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

Regardless of what type of obsession you experience with Pure O, at some point you have probably thought, ‘it would be so much easier if I had a different obsession!’ While that seems logical, it is not true. Each obsession is equally as torturing for the sufferer no matter the content. Each sufferer has likely asked themselves questions such as, ‘What did I do to deserve this? Does this really mean I could be capable of these acts? If there wasn’t some truth to the thoughts, why would I worry?’ And of course the familiar, ‘What kind of monster am I to have thoughts like this?’

The simple answer is that you aren’t a monster, although I doubt that will bring enough relief to silence this reoccurring question.

If you are a monster for having intrusive thoughts, then walk out into a crowded street or mall and take a look at all the monsters around you. Intrusive thoughts are completely normal. Everyone has them. Every single person on the planet has experienced disturbing thoughts. We just happen to have a disorder that latches onto our most vulnerable disturbing thought and exploits it to torment us.

Matthew Myles, the OCD specialist I work with as a coach and peer support explains it through a bully analogy. If you are sitting in a classroom with a bully behind you, the bully is going to throw insults at you to get a rise out of you. He may say, ‘Your hair is ugly! Your clothes are gross! You are stupid! Nobody likes you!’ But, you know he is just a bully and you don’t have to believe these horrible things he is saying about you. The bully sees you aren’t biting, so he digs deeper and says, ‘You are a loser and so is everyone in your family. Everyone hates you and your family in this town!’ You know it isn’t true, but it hurts your feelings to hear these things. Do people really think I’m a loser? Do people really hate my family? A seed of doubt is planted and you start feeling the need to look for validation or proof the bully is lying. You refuse to believe what the bully says is true, but why would he say that if there wasn’t some truth?

The bully won.

This is how Pure O fears stick. You may have been baited with fears before the big ones stuck. Perhaps you had a few intrusive thoughts that bothered you for days or weeks but eventually passed. Pure O was testing you. If those baiting obsessions didn’t work, it needed to dig deeper and hit you where it would hook and hurt you.

Perhaps you simply had one fear that took over immediately when the bully grabbed you in one fatal swoop. This happened with my first obsession of emetophobia. I had never experienced anxiety regarding throwing up about myself or anyone around me until one day a kid threw up next to my desk. Pure O grabbed the opportunity by the horns and took over my life from that moment. A few years later the bully reeled me in again with sexual intrusive thoughts. I was terrified. I was embarrassed and ashamed not only because I was capable of having these thoughts, but because I felt too stupid not to be able to prove or disprove them. I thought I was some kind of monster for having these thoughts. I was completely trapped. The Pure O bully won.

It is imperative to understand that obsessions are not a reflection of your character, morals, or ethics as an individual. Your intrusive thoughts are merely the result of what hooked on that particular day when the Pure O bully was baiting you. All it takes is one seed of doubt planted to explode and take over your entire life.

You are not a monster for thinking your intrusive thoughts. You just happened to be in a space when the Pure O stars aligned and you took the bait. On that day, the bully won for you. But it doesn’t have to end there.

Luckily, there is successful treatment for Pure O. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure Response prevention is a proven technique that can help you live a successful life managing OCD symptoms. Please visit the International OCD Foundation website to find therapists in your area who treat OCD in person or via phone/skype.

You are not the monster. Pure O is the monster. Never own the misery as a reflection of who you are as an individual, the culprit is the disorder.

Understanding Pure O, Part 2: What if I Don’t Really Have OCD?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2016 by chrissiehodges

Ruminating over the question ‘What if I really don’t have OCD?’ probably seems ridiculous to anyone not suffering with Pure O, but it is a common fear for us. We were diagnosed by a professional with the disorder and we have the obsessions and behaviors of Pure O, so why wouldn’t the diagnosis be legit? The answer to that question should be simple, but the complexity in a Pure O’s mind can add another layer to treatment and obstacle in recovery.

Pure O is the branch of OCD where individuals develop disturbing, shameful obsessions and respond by attempting to alleviate the anxiety with mental rituals. These rituals are often undetectable and can be unrecognizable as compulsions to the individual performing them.

A commonality Pure O sufferers share is their need for ‘proof’ with many aspects of OCD. Upon diagnosis, I initially felt a sense of relief. Upon medication working to alleviate my anxiety and depression, I believed I had ‘proof’ my diagnosis was correct. If the medication helps my symptoms, that must prove I have OCD, right?

Not necessarily.

Next phase for me was, ‘well if it is just OCD, I should be able to recognize the obsessions as just being OCD and they won’t bother me anymore! I don’t need this medication anymore!’ Boy, was that a terrible assumption. When the obsessions came flooding back a few weeks after stopping medication, the impact was overwhelming and confusing. I worried the medication just masked my anxiety and perhaps my obsessions were real and would never go away. I was terrified. I began searching for ‘proof’ I really had OCD. Without visible, outward rituals I worried maybe I had been misdiagnosed. What if the psychologist just didn’t want me to know the truth that I was a horrible person capable of such terrible thoughts? It spun into a cycle of doubt and essentially led me into a severe relapse.

This is the secondary fear individuals with Pure O face. What if because I don’t have outward ‘proof’ of my compulsions, maybe I really don’t have it? What if I really don’t have Pure O and the obsessions are true? This fear is almost an entirely separate obsession at times and needs to be treated as such with Exposure Response Prevention (ERP).

I have had Pure O for 31 years, been in recovery for over 5 years, and this is a fear I still battle at times even as an OCD advocate. I see it as a back-handed trick OCD uses to lure me into its grip. I have to be extremely mindful when faced with the ‘what if I don’t really have OCD’ fear as it is the gateway to relapse. I do what I can to recognize it as part of my Pure O journey, and then create an ERP plan to tackle the fear over the next couple weeks.

Solutions I have found to help me with the secondary fear that I may not have Pure O is to use talk to my OCD therapist, use ERP to combat the fear, and reach out to other sufferers. I have found most OCD therapists have seen this secondary fear in many patients. They may not be able to provide reassurance due to the limits placed on them with ERP, but just knowing that is a shared fear amongst other sufferers may give you some relief. Connecting with other sufferers has helped me in working through the secondary fear. Hearing other people struggle with it does not make the fear go away, but it helps me to feel less alone and more understood in my suffering.

The secondary fear of ‘worrying I don’t really have OCD’ that plagues individuals with Pure O is one of the many unique challenges we face. Due to the embarrassing nature of our obsessions, we don’t have many resources or personal accounts of success stories to help us with these challenges. I hope you are able to find some relief in knowing you are not the only one who has this secondary fear in reading this blog. You are not alone and help is available.

Please seek professional help from an OCD specialist practicing ERP if you believe you are suffering with OCD or Pure O. If you need help locating a specialist, please contact or visit the International OCD Foundation at www.iocdf.org .

For a video account of the last time I was triggered by the secondary fear of Pure O, please click on the link below!

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT/ERP Coach for Effective OCD Treatment; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; Peer Support Specialist/BHI/Ft. Logan Institute; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police & Sheriff Depts.; Blogger at ‘The Mighty’

Understanding Pure O; The Peer Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2016 by chrissiehodges

This is the first in a series of blogs addressing the Pure O branch of OCD as well as the unique challenges faced with Pure O.

In order to fully grasp the branch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) ‘Pure O’, it is important to understand how OCD works.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is comprised of 3 important components:

  • Obsessions
  • Compulsions
  • Anxiety

They work together to complete the full circle of hell for suffering individuals. An individual will develop an irrational ‘obsession’, meaning a thought/fear/image disturbing and intrusive in nature. OCD is ego-dystonic meaning the origins of the intrusive thoughts or obsessions have nothing to do with the individuals’ character, morals, ethics, or personality. However, it is almost impossible for the sufferer understand this, so the obsession causes ‘anxiety’. The mind as well as the physical body reacts when anxiety is present exacerbating the irrational obsession. It is in this phase when the individual may question the obsession being OCD or not because ‘why and how would their physical body react if it really wasn’t something real and true?’

The simple but convoluted answer is: Because it is OCD

In response to anxiety, an individual will develop compulsions as a means to alleviate the anxiety associated with the obsession. For example: Hand-washing, organizing, ruminating, checking and rechecking, counting, or avoidance. While the compulsions will work short-term to relieve anxiety, they actually do more damage in the long run. A compulsion performed even once perpetuates the cycle and belief that ‘if I just do the compulsion ONE MORE TIME, it will prove or disprove something’.

Compulsions can last for hours at a time, rendering the sufferer unable to engage in normal activities. Days can turn into weeks, into months, and even into years. If left untreated, OCD can result in complete isolation or possible death by suicide.

Never mistake OCD for being a quirky or sought-after diagnosis. There is no such thing as ‘having a little bit’ of OCD. It is not ‘cool’ to refer to yourself or someone’s behavior as ‘so OCD’. This trivializes the extreme torment individuals suffer day-in and day-out and may cause them to stay silent out of shame and embarrassment.

What does ‘Pure O’ Mean?

‘Pure O’ was the term originally coined when patients were seen for intrusive obsessions/thoughts but no outward rituals were present. It was first believed people merely had obsessions vastly similar to the obsessions in other forms of OCD with physical compulsions. So, the condition was deemed ‘Pure O’ for ‘purely obsessional’.

Eventually, it became evident compulsions were present, however they were performed mentally.

A community of sufferers had formed by the time the name was called on to be changed due to its misleading description. This explains why some clinicians will actually say ‘Pure O does not exist’. While I understand the semantics argument, many of us adopted a title of belonging after suffering in silence for so many years that we don’t want to give that up. The feeling of relief and belonging was so poignant when I found out I was not alone with my obsessions, I could have cared less what people called it. I only called it the beginning of feeling okay about myself.

What are Pure O Obsessions?

Like any other type of OCD, the list of obsessions is not defined or limited by the norm. Never underestimate the imagination of OCD.

Pure O obsessions tend to involve sexual, violent, or blasphemous in nature intrusive thoughts. Their appearance is usually shocking to the individual when they occur. They are typically unwanted, undesirable, and the exact opposite in character and/or morality of the sufferer. While the average human being experiences intrusive and unwanted thoughts regularly, they are easily dismissed as odd, gross, or weird and one can go about their day. The Pure O sufferer will take the thought, dissect it, try to rationalize it, try to understand why it happened, doubt whether or not it really happened, fret over the idea that it did, and then worry because they are now worrying about it after it happened so that must mean there is truth behind it.

It is not uncommon for an individual to worry about one or several intrusive thoughts for years at a time, all the while keeping it secret from their family and friends. The secrecy comes from the shame, guilt, and embarrassment about the nature of the thoughts. While the thoughts are not true, real, or a reflection of the individuals morals or character, they will assume responsibility for the thought because OCD will not allow one to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the validity.

I work as a coach and peer support for Effective OCD Treatment in Denver, CO with OCD Specialist Matthew Myles. Matthew treats the Pure O branch of OCD often and some of the most common intrusive thoughts include but are not limited to:

  • Fear of becoming a violent murderer
  • Fear of turning gay
  • If gay, fear of turning straight
  • Fear of committing or wanting to commit incest
  • Fear of bodily fluids including but not limited to vomit, blood, semen
  • Fear of becoming a pedophile
  • Fear of having an attraction to a religious figure
  • Fear of becoming possessed by Satan or selling soul to Satan

I believe there is no need to explain why one would experience shame, guilt, and embarrassment when dealing with these types of obsessions.

What are Pure O Compulsions?

While some individuals my have outward compulsions when dealing with Pure O obsessions, typically the definitive characteristic of Pure O is that the rituals are mental and often undetectable to outsiders.

In my experience, I made a conscious effort to hide my compulsions out of fear someone may see me as ‘odd’ or ‘different’ and then possibly pick up on my horrible obsessions. My life not only became wrapped up in ‘proving’ or ‘disproving’ my sexual intrusive thoughts and scrupulosity, but it also became a full time job to disguise my secret world from everyone around me.

It isn’t uncommon to spend time with an individual who is suffering with Pure O and never suspect they are avidly engaging in ritualistic behavior the entire time.

Pure O sufferers learn to become incredible real-life actors.

Oftentimes, individuals with Pure O do not even know their behaviors are compulsions. The rituals become part of everyday life with the intrusive thoughts. The compulsions are born out of a need to find out whether or not the unwanted thoughts are valid or if the person could possibly be capable of the obsession called into question. There is no definitive answer in either direction, leaving the sufferer completely exposed to a lifetime of compulsions with no permanent relief or satisfaction.

Mental rituals serve the exact same purpose the physical ritual does, however the only difference is it is in the mind and can be hidden from view almost at all times.

Common compulsions individuals with Pure O experience but are not limited to are:

  • Avoidance; Avoiding people, places, objects, situations, events, etc
  • Rumination; Attempting to solve an unsolvable question in one’s mind
  • Prayer Rituals/Mantras
  • Seeking Reassurance; From others or informational sources (Google, etc)
  • Mental counting/checking
  • Memory checks; Associating a memory with feelins

There is no limit to what one will do to eliminate the anxiety associated with Pure O obsessions.

I think I have Pure O, what do I do now??

While having Pure O is hardly good news, there is effective treatment options for Pure O as well as any type of OCD. While many tactics are used to ‘manage’ symptoms, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy/Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) with or without medication is the proven method of managing Pure O symptoms and living successfully with this illness.

Before you start jumping up and down and waving your hands in the air with excitement, let me preface with something. ERP is effective ONLY if you give 100% effort and commitment to the therapy. It is incredibly hard work. You are not only challenging your Pure O symptoms, you are also challenging your thoughts and behaviors you have lived with for a very long time. This can be daunting to find out when you meet with an OCD specialist for the first time. You may be thinking you will go into the office and he/she is going to just take it all away, but that is the opposite of how the therapy works.

ERP is designed to challenge the fear and anxiety by understanding how it acts and reacts with your mind and body. You will then learn to condition yourself to the feeling of anxiety and challenge it by desensitization. This requires much effort, trust, and faith in the process and the therapist.

Through the therapy you learn to recognize intrusive thoughts, triggers, and how your body reacts. It becomes a road map for your journey to recovery.

ERP was hellishly difficult for me, but I was willing to do anything and everything by the time I found out my real diagnosis of Pure O. I didn’t want to live under OCD’s rules anymore. I successfully eradicated my sexual obsessions in under 3 months of ERP. It was scary and challenging, but worth it.

If you are thinking ERP probably works for everyone else, but it won’t work for my Pure O…you are not alone. That is a common thought and fear when contemplating and entering therapy. I will address this fear and other unique challenges of Pure O in my next blog about ‘Understanding Pure O; The Peer Perspective’.

If you are looking for an OCD Specialist in your area, please contact www.iocdf.org for recommendations and therapists who practice effective treatment for OCD.

Thank you,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc/Institute at Ft. Logan; CBT/ERP Coach and Peer Support/Effective OCD Treatment; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police & Sheriff Department; Blogger at ‘Mental Health at The Mighty’

Personal Stigma: A Silent Battle

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2016 by chrissiehodges

I wanted to share my article with you here that was published on The Mighty website for mental health. Because they have published it on their site, I do not want to use the content, but will leave the link for you to follow and read.

I wrote this article because helping individuals through personal stigma is one of my greatest passions. I define the stage of personal stigma as the grieving process we go through after finding out we have a mental illness. It can be a long, lonely journey and one which we may not even know we are experiencing.

I hope you will take the time to follow the link below and read my thoughts on the topic. I would love your feedback on whether or not you have experienced personal stigma and how you have worked through it.

http://themighty.com/2016/05/self-stigma-and-finding-identity-after-pure-o-diagnosis/

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; CBT/ERP Coach/Peer Support at Effective OCD Treatment; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare Inc/Institute at Ft. Logan; Host of ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/ Denver Sheriff & Police Department

 

Separation of Religion and Mental Illness

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2016 by chrissiehodges

I was nervous to interview my grandmother on my podcast, Mental Illness Matters Radio. Nerves were present not only because I want my grandmother to be proud of me, but because I knew the conversation would veer onto a topic I have grappled with for many years since my mental health diagnosis.

My grandmother is an admirable, dedicated Christian and knowledgeable in depth to boot. She is devout, charismatic in her faith, and an influential, thoughtful teacher.

I have wrestled with my faith in Christianity and religion as an institution, and have safely landed in a place of peace and resolve as a spiritual agnostic. I wondered despite our differing views if we could meet in the middle on our similar journeys of experiencing and battling mental illness, mainly depression.

In the interview, my grandmother spoke of a time she was faced with words from a trusted loved one which drove her into a closet of shame and guilt about her suffering. My heart cringed as she spoke them, but I knew all too well this is not an uncommon sentiment.

‘Betty, if you just had more faith and trust in Jesus. If you just pray harder and be a better Christian, you will be able to overcome this.’

It broke my heart to hear these words for her, especially because of the high esteem I hold her in for her undeniable faith and devotion.

Unfortunately, my grandmother is not the only one who experiences these ridiculous and misled statements in regards to treating mental illness. As an outspoken advocate and public speaker, I have come across this naivety way too often and it truly surprises and disgusts me for several reasons.

  • Depriving a person from treatment because of your beliefs is dangerous.

 

Regardless of your tenets, individuals have a right to receive treatment and a right to work toward recovery. Having a mental illness breeds shame, embarrassment, and guilt anyway, so adding the pressure of religion on top of emotions stacked against you is a recipe for disaster.

If you believe someone shouldn’t receive medical treatment for mental illness because your religion teaches you mental illness doesn’t exist, I suggest you find a more accepting and loving religion. Mental illness isn’t the problem, your beliefs are.

A common symptom and in many cases action with mental illness is suicidal thoughts and ideation. This isn’t a form of weakness or defiance of religion, this is a symptom of having a disorder in the brain. If left untreated or ignored, an individual may feel no choice than to take their life. If they are being told they are feeling this way because they lack faith and trust in a higher power, they may sadly and reluctantly take their life because they cannot control their symptoms through faith. This is a horrible way to die, and it isn’t necessary because treatment is available and recovery is possible for anyone.

If you are someone who shames people into believing their mental illness is a result of lacking faith, you may be inadvertently causing their death. That may sound harsh, but it is the truth. Instead of promoting health, acceptance, and wellness, you are increasing the shame and guilt one already experiences with mental illness. This is dangerous and unacceptable behavior from a human being, and moreso from someone claiming to be religious.

  • Your views on mental illness and treatment are archaic

Understandably, there have been many misconceptions about mental illness and how to treat sufferers. Only in the last several decades have we had major breakthroughs, shared lived experiences, and effective treatment choices/options in psychiatry. Prior, it was chocked up to bad luck, bad people, bad choices, or even demonic possession.

While I understand change can be hard for most humans, my message to the slow learners in the faith is to wake up already and learn the facts about successfully treating mental illness.

There are success stories for every mental illness. People have received treatment, recovered, and have normal, fulfilled lives with mental illness. These are facts. It baffles me in the face of concrete success and science, religious folks will still cry out about faith and devotion as actual options. This not only makes the religion you are following illegitimate, it makes you look foolish and ego-driven.

Changing beliefs about mental illness doesn’t mean you have to change your faith. It means you care about acceptance, love, and your fellow mankind.

Take the time to learn the facts about mental illness, treatment options, and success stories of individuals in recovery. Your influence may save a life.

  • You are giving religion a bad reputation.

 

I believe I am correct in assuming the true nature and foundation of religion is to help others, promote peace, and practice acceptance and love. If you are blaming the victim of mental illness on their shortcomings, it seems logical to me that you are doing the opposite of what religion stands for.

Many of my fellow advocates use their faith and support in the church in their recovery and to stay well and balanced. This is how religion is used for the greater good of humanity. I highly respect individuals who are faith-based in managing their life, coping with symptoms, and aide others as peers. It can be a comforting and powerful tool while battling major mental illness.

Individuals and churches who believe the archaic view that mental illness doesn’t exist, medication is bad for mental illness, and having more faith and Jesus will cure you are doing a disservice to those who practice religion for the right reasons. Power, control, and guilt are horrible tools to use for motivation, healing, and love. You are not a martyr if you actually believe these lies, you are promoting suffering, intolerance, and hatred.

If you are not using religion as a way to support, love, and accept others, you are doing it wrong.

Religion has nothing to do with mental illness, however it can influence the outcome.

As a sufferer of scrupulosity in addition to my obsessive-compulsive disorder, I was misguided by delusional thoughts of how and why religion influenced me. This was not the doing of my family, my environment, or my beliefs. This was just one of the symptoms I developed. I believed for 12 years if I prayed harder, became a better Christian, and had more faith, God would reward me by taking my horrible, intrusive obsessions away.

These false beliefs drove me to attempt suicide with the belief God wanted me to because He was disappointed in who I had become as a result of the illness. Luckily I survived to find out I had a treatable illness with therapy and medication. Luckily I survived to find out my beliefs, my religion, and my faith had nothing to do with the development, symptoms, or outcome of my illness. I have a brain that malfunctions and needs treatment. That is all.

My grandmother and I ended the interview with her inspiring words of hope and motivation for anyone suffering with mental illness. She encouraged diagnosis, treatment, and faith that beliefs can provide strength, hope, and encouragement. Luckily she was able to find the strength within herself, her supporters, and her church along the way to find out the truth about mental illness and religion. One does not cause or influence the other, but they can work together for the greater good, if done correctly.

This blog is dedicated to my Grandmother Hodges who will be turning 90 this month. She is one of my mentors, heroes, and lifelong supporters. She is a great woman in her faith, conviction, and practice of caring and loving others. Her desire to become a scholar in her interests and passions is an inspiration and motivator for me. Thank you for all you have done for me and for so many others who have had the pleasure of crossing your path. All my love and respect, Chrissie

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Chrissie Hodges

Mental Health Advocate/Public Speaker; Peer Support Specialist/Behavioral Healthcare/Ft.Logan Institute; Host ‘Mental Illness Matters’ Radio; CBT/ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment; Crisis Intervention Team Presenter/Denver Police and Sheriff Department