Background Noise

On Wednesday, July 5th, I was I diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Most people are familiar with this illness due to some exposure on TV shows. Repetitive motions, obsessions with germs, and extreme organization are the traits that most people are exposed to. However, OCD is far more diverse than that. I want to help people understand how much depth there is in an “OCD” diagnosis because I am frankly tired of people hearing about my diagnosis and saying something like “Oh, that’s why you’re so organized.” Hopefully this video can shed some light and then below I will break down some examples before returning back to my personal story.

How long did I sleep for? I’m feeling lightheaded and my heart feels weird. Do I feel like taking my meds today? Why is my pulse like this?  My _____ hurts, I must have _____. Calm down. No I have _____. I’m going to freak out. I need to calm down but I’m dying. This is the end. My heart is racing and I can’t breathe. I need to leave. I need to go somewhere safe.” – Thoughts I have similar to what’s displayed in this video.

 

Obsessions

Defined as “unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.”

  • Fear of contamination
  • Having “forbidden” thoughts involving sexual or harmful ideas.
  • Feeling that you will be aggressive towards yourself or others.
  • Making sure things are symmetrical or in perfect order.

Compulsions

Defined as “behaviors and individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and decrease their distress.”

  • Excessive Cleaning and/or Handwashing
  • Making sure things are ordered in a particular and precise manner
  • Repeatedly checking on things to make sure nothing bad happens, like repetitive phone calls to family or friends to check if they’re “okay” or repeatedly checking your alarm clock.
  • Counting things.

Now, reading these examples you might think “Sure. I do that. Everyone does!” There is a difference with OCD, because those with OCD cannot control these thoughts or behaviors. Sufferers can clearly identify that the thoughts and behaviors are excessive, but regardless of that, they still happen. These repetitive mental rituals and calming behaviors are done in an attempt to relieve the anxiety from the obsessive thoughts, but the relief is often short lived, thus requiring more repetition of them.

For years, I had no idea what these powerful thoughts were in my head. I remember being as young as 4 years old becoming absolutely terrified that my parents were going to die if they left the house, so I would repeatedly ask them if they were okay. In high school, I remember writing my notes down every day in class and mentally checking that they were all written in the same format, with the same ink and same pen, that my binders were organized, and if one mistake happened to them, whether it be a grease stain or a misspelling, I wouldn’t just rip the page out and start over. No – because that would mean the book is uneven and there are paper shreds in the spiral. This book was now uneven and broken so I would throw it away and use a brand new notebook, resulting in me having to rewrite all of my notes.

These obsessive ideas bled out into my entertainment activities. If I was going to read a book series, I needed to make sure I read every single page in every single book in the series because if I didn’t, I felt like I was dishonoring the author and something was “off”. The same thing would happen with video games – if I could not own every game in the series and make sure I completed it to 100%, this made me feel very uncomfortable. The best way I can describe this feeling is that feeling of guilt you get when you do something that offends someone and your whole body gets warm, you start to sweat, and you feel dread in your mind and your heart. 

After my father passed away in 2008, I began obsessing over heart conditions and despite being in decent shape from watching what I ate and running 3-4 times a week, I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die by my heart suddenly exploding. This resulted in me checking my pulse constantly no matter where I was and being unable to sleep some nights because I could feel my pulse beating too hard and thought that was unnatural. This became so bad that my mom took me to our primary care doctor to get my heart checked out via electrocardiogram. Even with everything coming back fine for someone my age, I struggled with this for a few more months.

Moving on to college, I started dating and started having obsessive ideas then as well. I would exhaustively ask “do you love me?” and despite the answer always being yes, it was never enough. I would go crazy over stuff like this and launch into arguments trying to find a crack in that answer, despite knowing that I was happy with them loving me. Another big issue was changing plans. My illness still being unknown, any time someone would suddenly change plans on me or ask me to do something out of the current activity I was already in basically broke my brain, causing me to get snappy and frustrated. A lot of very simple things like “Do you want to run to the store with me?” became heated arguments because my brain was so stuck in this cycle. I also noticed at this time that I do a lot of things in 3s.

One big issue for me is video games. Looking at my website or just knowing me in person, you would easily be able to tell that I love video games. But just because I love them does not mean they do not affect my disorder. There have been many, many nights I have forced myself to stay up late because I had to finish a task. Now, you might think that this is just a way of me justifying enjoying the game, but I assure you at this point it has crossed enjoyment and now become stressful. Seeing a growing list of games shown as incomplete or knowing that I never finished that game from back in 1994 would be thoughts that go through my head regularly. Just the other night I went to bed at my normal time, felt fine, and suddenly at 3:00 AM I jumped up wide awake and thought “I absolutely have to play this game and try to beat it before work because if I don’t something bad is going to happen.” The sad part is I have no idea what this “bad thing” is, but to me it’s very real and very scary…so I got up and played the game, missing out on sleep and impacting my performance at work the next day.

Trying to play online games with friends is a nightmare, because if given the chance, my brain will go into this cycle of trying to figure out what the perfect combination of characters is, how to maximize their synergy, planning out what I will need to do to be the perfect player, seeing other people’s control settings and having the urge to tell them they are wrong because there is only one way to set it up and if they don’t follow that, it’s wrong. I constantly change the type of character I’m playing because I can’t trust other people to do their jobs and without perfect cooperation I won’t make the progress I need to make. Also, if there is an option to do additional specialties like potion crafting or armor making, even if I don’t want to, I feel a need to do that because my character has to be perfect and maximized. If it is not, “someone” will horrifically judge me and do something bad to me.

Imagine sitting in front of your bookshelf, game shelf, or movie collection and thinking “I want to do something tonight.” You begin browsing and after about 10 minutes your brain switches from entertainment mode to thinking “I need to pick the perfect movie to watch because I know I am going to die tonight watching this movie and I want to make sure I die happy instead of dissatisfied. So I can watch movie A that I haven’t seen because it will be a new adventure, but I don’t know if it will be good so maybe I should watch movie B instead, since I’ve seen it so many times. But leaving movie A unseen means that you would go to hell when you die because you wasted money on it by not watching it and didn’t honor the production crew’s work put into the movie, so you should force yourself to watch movie A instead of B.” Then 4-5 hours later you just get up and go to bed exhausted and not having done anything with your evening because you were caught in this loop of continuous disaster thoughts.

This is my life. This is what I go through on a near daily basis. So in order to not have to deal with some of this stuff, I avoid it. I avoid reading books because they stress me out. I avoid watching movies unless I can muster the courage and willpower to sit down and force myself to watch it. With video games, I have to actively and repeatedly tell myself “It is okay not to finish this 100%. You don’t have to push yourself that hard.” I don’t drink often or try drugs because I’m convinced I will die. I even have silly thoughts like driving home from the game store I’ll continuously think “I’m going to die before I get home and not get the chance to play this game.” and that thought can even evolve into “What if I just veered into this pole and smashed my car for the hell of it?”

Now, my point in writing this post is not to make a “boo hoo, woe is me the world is so hard.” attention seeking display. My intent is to educate people. I want the people closest to me to know what I go through on a regular basis. I want people to understand that if I cancel plans or repeatedly ask the same questions over and over, I’m not trying to be annoying or flakey – my brain is literally not making sense and I don’t know what to do about it. I get concerned over tiny details and try to make sure everything is planned and followed, I have an absolute shit sleep schedule and I am usually tired all the time from trying to keep myself calm and “complete” things. I’m indecisive and depending on the day, I just feel like existing is difficult.

On top of allllllll of this, I was also diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which is another mental illness all on it’s own. Fatigue and loss of energy, feeling worthless or guilty, impaired concentration, insomnia, restlessness, and thoughts of self harm are all things that I experience regularly. But I’m trying. Every day I try to give myself credit for the things I accomplish. I try to keep a regular line of communication open with my closest friends, my mom, my boss, and my therapist so they know where I’m at. I’m taking my medicines every day, I’m trying to practice mindfulness and really be present in the things that I do, and recently I’ve been really trying to focus on things that bring me joy.

In conclusion, I’d like to remind anyone reading this that not all illnesses are visible. Be kind to people and try to understand their point of view. For me, I’m doing the best I can. I don’t want to call in sick or cancel plans, I don’t want to sound like I’m always whining, and I’m not looking for sympathy. I want a distraction from this lingering pain and anxiety, and I just want to be understood and supported.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Being Reminded That You Matter

2016 has been a rough year for me. I told myself I wasn’t going to write about it because I don’t want to keep reliving the events, but I feel like things have gotten better and I can talk about it now without it dragging me back down. Also, this blog post won’t make much sense without some background. If you already know the story, skip to the regular text below.

I met a guy in 2010 and things seemed great. 3 years into this relationship and our personalities divided. We started heading down different paths but we were comfortable with each other and didn’t want to give that up, so we kept trying. Despite our efforts, we were both unhappy and it was very apparent. We had started being mean to each other, being neglectful, and even cheating to try and feel something. This, along with some other unresolved stuff from my past, was creating a darkness inside me. I went and saw a doctor for depression and anxiety in Oct 2015, where they said it was very clear I was depressed and anxious, so they put me on some medication. Around February, I felt that it wasn’t working anymore so I went and made and appointment with a psychiatrist, because I really wanted to get to the bottom of this and feel happier.
She diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder Type-2, gave me a few medicines to try, and sent me on my way. I expressed this to my ex and told him that with this diagnosis, we’d have to get some stuff in our life situated. He told me he supported me and loved me, so we tried to continue to make this work. It didn’t. So in March, after a series of frustrating events with work, friends, and our relationship, I had a nervous breakdown and ended up in the hospital for 2 weeks to do intensive therapy. During this time, I felt very scared, but I am a strong person so I mostly held it in. I learned during this time that the one person I thought I could rely on, my ex, was not there for me. While I was in the hospital trying to deal with these confusing and powerful emotions, he was angry at me for being “different” and “weird”.
After I was released, we had a long talk about it and he said that he could have done more and that moving forward, he would be way more supportive of me. That was also not true, because two days after my release, he started telling me that I was a burden, bothersome, and that he didn’t want to see me. A week after my release, I was begging him to stop putting me down and try to understand things from my point of view. But he continued to tell me that he was disappointed, that his life wasn’t where he wanted it to be, and that he couldn’t handle “us” anymore. I couldn’t take it anymore and had another nervous breakdown. My mom, concerned for my wellbeing, moved me out of his apartment in less than a day and then stayed with me for a week to make sure I was stable and okay. During this time, he was telling me that he loved me, that he hated me, that we could work through this and he just needed a break, and that he was ready to quit.
In May, I found out that he had been telling his family about parts of my situation, and getting feedback from them. They were telling him that I was a broken person and a burden on him, holding him back from the greatness that he could become. His mom, a nurse, told him that my cross was not his to carry. I felt that was a little much, considering my situation was a medical problem and she is a medical professional, but I guess that says a lot about who she is. Anyway, he let these thoughts creep into his mind and on Mother’s Day, he called it quits for good. 6 years, gone. I asked if we could try to be amicable about it and he said yes at first, but over the next two weeks he proved incapable of that. Before I knew it, he was already shacking up with some other guy, he had changed his phone number and blocked me from texting and calling him, and changed the locks on his apartment so I couldn’t get in. I e-mailed him to call him out on this, and the only reply that I got was “You are an unhealthy person and I do not want to associate with you anymore. Goodbye.”
To summarize my feelings…In 5 months I was diagnosed with depression, upgraded to Bipolar Disorder, hospitalized for self harm and substance abuse, sent to intensive therapy, put on 5 different medications that had intense side effects, and booted out of a 6 year relationship after being told that I’m a burden and unhealthy. I was not in a good place mentally. From May to July, I was experiencing some very rough effects from the events and medication. I was having horrific dreams where my ex and his family were attacking me and telling me my life didn’t matter. I was having flashbacks to arguments we had where he was telling me that I deserved to hurt, that he was better than me, and that he didn’t love me. On top of this, I was losing the ability to sleep because the medicine I was on was jacking me up. I started having muscle ticks, anxiety, and extremely high levels of rage. The lack of sleep was so bad that my mom started watching me to make sure I could get 2-3 hours of sleep without jolting awake.
During this time, I also started losing a lot of friends and pushing people away. I couldn’t trust anyone, nor were many people making any effort to be around me. I started slipping deeper and deeper into depression and told my mom I was back to the point where I wanted to end everything. She convinced me to call my doctor and be taken off the medicines. This helped tremendously, and I started having some sense of normalcy come back to my life.

It was around this time that one of my old friends reached out to my mom with concern regarding some stuff they saw on my facebook. They worked together to surprise me with a reunion over a holiday weekend, which brought a smile to my face. This is where the point of this blog will start to kick in. I promise. 🙂

The person that reached out to my mom was someone I had grown up with. We met in 5th grade and immediately became best friends. Throughout childhood and adolescence, we saw each other almost every day. Each Tuesday we would go to their parent’s Aikido class and learn martial arts, and then every Friday we would be at one or the other’s house playing video games and having a sleepover. In our Sophomore year of high school, their parents decided to move a few states away, and I was heartbroken. My best friend was leaving me. For the next four years, we barely kept in touch and met up in person twice on vacations to kind of hang out, but I was certain over these years that our friendship was over. I was sad, but I felt that this was part of life and it was just time to move on and find new friends. I spent years trying to find someone that could understand me and tolerate me on their level, but I was continuously disappointed. This, along with a few failed relationships, and I had accepted that I would never find someone like that again in my life. This person and I were separated for 12 years.

Yet, somehow, in my time of need, we were brought back together. A military contract brought my friend back to our hometown and a chance message on facebook reunited us. I had no idea what to expect after 12 years of not seeing each other. But when they walked through the door, my entire family and I felt just like we had before they left. I was certain that things would be awkward and we had grown apart, but I quickly learned that we could easily slide back into the rhythm we had when we were younger. Despite growing up and having our experiences shape us, we still laughed at the same jokes, liked the same things, and understood each other the same way. This reunion happened in about July of this year, and since then we’ve seen each other 6 more times.

A little more history – I’ve been in therapy since May to try and deal with some stuff that happened in my life. I had two of my aunts, an uncle, and my father pass away within 1 year of each other (2006-2009), two bad breakups, and a tiny issue with growing up gay/coming out. The therapist I was seeing from May to July was not doing much for me and I took a break for a while. In October, I started seeing a psychologist who has really been pointing me in the right direction and helping me deal with things in a much more manageable way. A combination of my own willpower, help from the therapist, and the rekindled friendship brought me out of the darkest place I’ve ever been in my entire life.

This past weekend, my friend visited me again and me being a sentimental person, I made a statement regarding how happy I was that we were able to reconnected. They said something about how they had helped me overcome my anxiety and depression and I guess I was embarrassed about that, so I quite harshly shut that down and said I put in a lot of work myself to get over this stuff. It was done in a funny manner, so we laughed and moved on. After they left to go home, I was alone again and I really started thinking about what they said. It was true…they had helped me out of that darkness and I wasn’t accepting that.

What I had needed was for someone to see me, and they did. They knew that I needed someone and they were there. 12 years of distance and what I thought was a forgotten friendship, and they came swooping back in to show me that I mattered and that they love me. There is this scene in the movie Avatar by James Cameron where the characters have to learn the culture of the aliens they’re trying to communicate with, and one thing they struggle with is this bonding the aliens have where they say “I see you”. It doesn’t mean I literally see you with my eyes, but more like “I see through you”, on a spiritual level. They see through all the social constructs, years of built up emotional walls, and stifled pain. They see exactly who you are, and accept it.

My friend achieved this today after I apologized about shutting down their statement of helping me out of my dark place. They said:

I know that you can’t really hide who you are from me. You can mask your pain and anxieties for a time, but I’ve known who you are for nearly as long as you’ve been that person. I have been, and always will be, your friend.

I had no idea how much I needed to hear this, and when I did, I broke down. I had to go hide in the bathroom at work for a bit because I couldn’t keep my emotions together and as I write this, I’m still crying because of the relief I feel. I had spent years trying to find this understanding and comfort in someone and it was there all along in my friend who I thought was gone forever. And now I have it again…and I’m so happy. I feel like I can finally let go of everything that’s happened to me because I know for certain that someone in the world has my back. I’m going to be okay.

Anyway, this is sappy and stuff but I just want to say thank you. I had no idea how much I was missing but I’m so happy we’re back together and kicking ass. I look forward to many more years of happy memories, fun adventures, and total comfort being who we are. You truly are my best friend and I love you.

-Cody