Tons of little things may make you anxious throughout the day—that bold text you sent your crush, getting a test handed back, almost missing the bus.  But people like me, who have anxiety disorders, find ways to worry about almost everything, even the most benign things.

Specifically, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which basically means that my anxiety manifests itself with bothersome thoughts that I feel like I have to correct or fix in order to be safe.  I try to have control over things I can’t by doing little things like repeating a phrase in my ead or knocking on wood. I doubt things I know to be true and constantly double-check everything.

Most people have a few little compulsions—having to arrange their room a certain way, wearing a lucky bracelet, following superstitions.  But a person with OCD will have countless things that make them feel the need to do a “ritual,” or compulsive behavior, and will suffer a rush of anxiety if they don’t.

I consider myself to be really lucky, because I was diagnosed with OCD very early in my life (I was four, and basically just crying all the time because I didn’t understand why I was anxious) and my parents were instantly willing and able to set me up with medication and therapy. I’m currently on a medication that helps the chemicals in my brain get transmitted at a more normal pace.

I also see a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) psychologist regularly.  CBT is an amazing form of therapy specially targeted to people with OCD, anxiety, and depression.  Essentially, it teaches you and your brain to think about things in better and less stressful ways and encourages you to face your fears.  My therapist and I talk about what’s bothering me and she gives me all sorts of analogies and mantras that make the world seem less scary to me.  Plus, she encourages me to fight the urge to do compulsive behaviors when I can and teach myself that nothing bad will happen if I don’t give into my thoughts.

My anxiety was probably at its worst in middle school, 7th grade to be exact.  I had all these bad associations with my clothes and thought that wearing them would send a bad message, so I wore the same tee and jeans every day.  I doubted whether I had paid for things and worried I was cheating on tests even though in my rational mind I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. Sometimes I took multiple showers a day in an attempt to “wash away” bad thoughts that came into my head. 

I didn’t really like to tell people what I was doing or why—I just hoped my strange behaviors would go unnoticed.  Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.  I would make up reasons why I went and bought the same thing repeatedly in the cafeteria or randomly sat down. I told my close friends it was OCD, but didn’t go into much detail.  My friends did their best to help, giving me a little charm to remind me to only buy one water bottle per lunch.  One friend wrote a poem about me and my struggle with anxiety and submitted it to the International OCD Foundation.

As I got older, as I made more friends and fell in love with fashion, a lot of those fears fell by the wayside.  I’m not really sure how—my anxiety always changes and has ups and downs.  In fact, writing this now I was actually struggling to remember all the things I used to do!  While I still have lots of anxiety, it now manifests itself in different ways, like having to think certain thoughts to protect myself.  My rituals are more invisible now, so it can be hard for my friends and fam to tell when my OCD is flaring up.

However, thanks in large part to all of the help I’ve gotten, and a lot of effort on my own part, I’m doing really well.  I’m a super upbeat, rising college junior and I’m interning at GL.  I call my therapist when my anxiety is up.  After so many years, we’re great friends, and after I tell her what I’ve been worried about, we usually talk about boys and celebs.

OCD certainly interferes with my life, and at times it makes me miserable because I am scared to do things others aren’t, like eating at a new restaurant. Sometimes I do those things anyway, sometimes I don’t.  It depends on how anxious I feel.  What never fails to help though?  Getting distracted. I’m at my best when I’m totally focused on something else, like work or an awesome night out with my gal pals.  When they see me getting anxious, my parents usually ask me questions to get me talking about my BFFs or my latest TV binge.  OCD hasn’t stopped me from having the life other girls have, but there are moments when that life is more of a challenge.

I want to make sure I clear a few things up.  First of all, I understand that not everyone has the resources to get the same kind of help I did or parents who are as understanding as mine.  But all I can say is don’t be embarrassed.  Tell someone you trust what you’re feeling, even if in your rational mind your worries seem silly.  Look up mental health and counseling resources in your area.  Chat privately with your physician next time you go to the doctor and let them know you are struggling a little with mental health.

Next, don’t worry about the stigma around mental health.  Millions and millions of people struggle with some sort of emotional or mental disability, disorder, discomfort, whatever you want to call it.  It’s not something that most people these days will judge you for.  Once people understand the truth about mental health issues—the fact that they’re chemical, there’s no on-and-off switch, and that it’s more complex than being a germaphobe or simply nervous—they are, in my experience, very accepting.  So educate yourself and those around you, and find someone to talk to.

Lastly, even if you come to feel secure talking to a therapist or those closest to you about your anxiety, who you tell about your struggles beyond that is totally up to you.  I’m (obviously) super comfortable sharing my struggle with everyone I meet because I know it is something that affects me, not the defining part of who I am.  And in general, I’m pretty much an open book (just ask my TMI-tolerating besties).  I’m happy to talk about my OCD, but that may not be the case with you, and that’s more than okay, too.   And if your friend is the one struggling?  Just be there, make fun plans, and never act like their fears are silly.  Just ask what will make them feel better.  There’s a difference between pity and understanding.  Everyone’s different, but I don’t like it when someone just gives me a sad face. I love it when they say, “How can I help?”

To talk to someone about anxiety at any hour of the day or night for free, call the National Mental Health Association Hotline at 1- 800-273-TALK or check out the International OCD Foundation at iocdf.org.

Photo credit: iocdf.org

BY KATY HERMAN ON 7/16/2015 10:00:00 AM


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