What is your diagnosis?
OCD and Major Depressive Disorder.
Have you ever experienced stigma?
I worked very hard to hide my symptoms until they were out of control and I was hospitalized; a lot of people were surprised because I don't "seem" sick or "crazy." It was strange to feel the need to convince some friends and family that I needed help, even after hospitalization. I try to be open about my struggles, and sometimes realize I am dealing with inner-stigma after I speak up and find my thoughts spinning out of control about what people might be thinking about me.
How has your life been affected by your illness?
I wish I had realized that my thought patterns were unusual or unhealthy sooner than I did; my young adulthood might have been smoother had I found help. That said, hospitalization was the best thing that ever happened; I found out there was a diagnosis and treatment for my illness, which was a huge relief. My life is now more peaceful than I ever imagined it could be. I'm able to recognize when my brain is acting out, and ask for help when I need it. And, as a therapist, I am able to help others get what they need and relate to them with personal empathy.
When did you realize what you were experiencing wasn't typical?
I'm not sure I realized how bad things were until friends starting reflecting their concerns back to me and contacting my boyfriend (now husband) to express their worry. My intrusive thoughts became so loud that I couldn't sleep, and that was when we went to the hospital where the staff were supportive but amazed that I 'd made it so long without completely breaking down. It was shocking but validating to see how concerned they were and to be told I needed immediate hospitalization.
Early on, why didn't you seek help?
I don't have a clear answer for that; there's lots of reasons both deep and superficial. I grew up in a household where I was very much expected to be capable and handle anything. In addition to that, I became a single-mom very young-- putting my needs last was a way of life. The community I lived in (Los Angeles) constantly had solutions to unrest that suggested if I did more yoga or ate healthier or found a religion/spirituality I would feel better.
What types of reactions are not easy for you to hear? What reactions do you appreciate when you share with someone that you live with a mental illness?
It depends on who is reacting and in what context, but I'm most appreciative of supportive empathy: "That must be hard, I'm glad you've got support," or something like that. It's when I don't feel taken seriously that I'm bothered .
What do you wish others would understand in regards to mental illness + mental health?
I wish there was more awareness that it can look like so many different things, and effect everyone so differently!
What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?
I see a therapist once a week, and I worked with a psychiatrist to find the right medication for me. Now I check in with him every 3 months. I do my best to be aware of self-care needs and to make them a priority: sleep, environment (being around triggers), food. I try to be aware of old brain patterns and "change the channel" with something that will take my mind elsewhere, like crossword puzzles.
What are a few goals regarding your mental health?
I suppose I love the idea of getting to a place where I'm "healed," or don't need medicine, but I'm in no rush. It feels so nice to be in a better place that I'm not looking to make major changes right now. (I still have bad days sometimes, too.)
What does progress + recovery mean to you?
Progress and recovery means being able to face a bad day or a stressor without tail-spinning into an episode. It includes knowing my needs and making sure they're a priority and having compassion for myself.
It's hard to explain, but I have a sort of attachment to my illness, I see it as a part of who I am, and sometimes I miss the hospital despite not enjoying it at the time; it was the most validated and accepted I have ever felt.