All I Want for Christmas as Someone With OCD

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I gave my mom a list of gifts I want (expect) for Christmas. It’s atypically short this year. I think that’s because what I actually want can be neither bought nor wrapped.

Here’s what I actually want for Christmas this year:

1. To no longer be called lazy.

I want you to know how hard I work every single day. My effort may not manifest itself in the way it does for a typical 25-year-old. My effort doesn’t show up in hours worked or tasks completed. Instead, you may see it in a trip to the store (no matter how short), an invitation to hang out, a bus ride without biting myself or a two-way conversation.

2. To tell you what I really want to say.

I want to tell you the truth when you ask how I’m doing, and not automatically respond with, “Fine. How are you?”

3. To not live my life in a permanent state of “DVR.”

I feel like I’m stuck rewinding and re-watching every disruption to my routine, every non-scripted conversation and every time I miss a moment.

4. To not be controlled by compulsive behaviors.

This includes constantly checking nothing bad has happened or that I haven’t messed up, picking my skin or cutting my nails too short.

5. To not be controlled by my obsession with fear. 

Fear of harming myself or someone else, fear of not being careful enough, fear of causing something terrible to happen.

6. To not live in a permanent state of anxiety

which recently seems to be creating unwanted new behaviors.

7. I want my medicine to be well-managed.

In an attempt to help manage some of the above.

8. I want to be confident in who I am.

I want to be proud of myself every single day because I know I do my best.

9. I want you to believe me when I say I can’t try any harder.

Believe in me. This is my best effort.

Mostly, I want to know that OCD and anxiety won’t win. I want to know that I am not alone and that I can do this.

Follow this journey on Erinmmckinney.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Nurse Who Understood My Invisible Pain

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No one is at their best when suffering through a bout of food poisoning. I was certainly a mess, wanting only to run from my body. As someone with obsessive compulsive disorder, I usually want to run away from my brain as well. On this day, it was a double whammy, but the nurse who took care of me made me feel at ease with one simple phrase.

She asked me about my symptoms, but I’ll spare you the gross parts. As is customary, she also asked if I was taking any medications. I told her about the Zoloft, and she asked what it was for.

“OCD,” I said.

With that, the interview changed. She was kind before, but now I truly felt her concern. “I understand,” she said, and I believed her. I don’t know if she has OCD or knows someone who does. I just know those were the exact right words to say.

Not many people know what it’s like to be tormented by your brain. My outward appearance that day – haggard, writhing, unkempt – is how I imagine my disorder would make me look if I didn’t keep my symptoms under wraps. I have Pure O OCD, which means my compulsions take place inside my head. I have counting rituals, I repeat phrases and I imagine car wrecks and other awful scenarios multiple times a day so they don’t happen in real life. After all, things never turn out the way you imagine.

My illness is invisible, but that nurse saw inside me; she understood the numbness I felt in my extremities before food and I parted company was a manifestation of my anxiety. She expressed compassion with words and a sincere look of concern, and for that I am grateful.

More than anything, I want others to understand this invisible suffering as well. I believe it’s possible. Most of us have experienced worry, and we know what physical pain looks and feels like. OCD hurts too; it’s like being whacked in the head with anxiety, but our bruises don’t show. Here’s to all of us becoming more like that nurse. To her, I say: You truly live up to the ideals of your profession.

The Mighty is for the following: Write a thank you note to someone who helped you through your mental illness. What about that person makes him or her a good ally? What do you want them to know? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Related: To the Doctor Who Showed Compassion During My Mental Health Crisis

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Why an 8-Year-Old Would Obsess About Violence

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When I was around 8 years old, as I sat in my counselor’s office at elementary school, he told me I was trying to force adult files into my child-sized filing cabinet.

While it wasn’t a technical explanation or diagnosis, it gave me a greater understanding of what was happening in my head. I could not sort through complicated concepts without obsessing over their implications. I was fixated on nightmarish topics of harm, violence and imprudence seemingly all the time. Why should an 8-year-old be burdened with this material? I cried, and cried often. I was longing to make it through the day unimpeded by what was happening in the confines of my mind, but somehow the fear always overcame me. Fear of what could happen to me, what could happen to loved ones and what harm people are capable of. Eventually they called it obsessive compulsive disorder. Who would have thought?

Pure obsessional OCD is rather obscure, marked by intrusive imagery and mental obsessions not accompanied by the physical compulsions that shape the common understanding of OCD. While the content matter of the thought patterns may vary from person to person, recurring topics of harm, religious blasphemy, loss of control, impropriety, sexuality and anything that the person finds reprehensible, dirty or “bad” are common. Like a record on a loop, it plays on and on, anxiety growing with each rotation. The doubt is pervasive. Doubting one’s character, intentions, goodness and worthiness. A cloud of irrational fears mercilessly feasts on your vulnerabilities. The song just keeps playing.

Pure O is so anxiety provoking for people like me, who are among the least likely to act on the thoughts we experience. Externally, there are few indicators of my pure obsessional OCD; it’s quite invisible. My mother always tells me I look like I am immersed in thought, my brow furrowed in concern. As a society, we rely on what people reveal about their conditions, and thus much goes undisclosed. I think people rarely talk about Pure O because it is embarrassing and stigmatized. There is a level of shame and guilt associated with having thoughts of this kind. Therapists call it “thought-action fusion,” or believing these fleeting thoughts mean something bad will actually happen. Rest assured, it’s an anxiety disorder and not a matter of impulse control. While I cannot speak for all, the way I find solace from the intrusions with a healthy dose of distraction, physical activity, repetitive mantras and cognitive behavioral therapy. From experience, I’ve seen the worst habit is engaging with or trying to suppress the thoughts; suppression doesn’t readily happen. Tell yourself not to think of something and believe me, it is sure to be the only thing on your mind.

Sometimes I feel as if I burden those closest to me because I crave reassurance to explain away the dissonance in my mind. I ask if “everything is OK” and I ask it often, embarrassingly often. Sometimes they enable me and answer, yes, “everything is OK.” They see how desperately I need them to say just that. Other times they force me to rely on myself, to embrace the discomfort and reside with what frightens me most, which in the long run is more helpful.

Regardless, I’ve come to realize that nothing is ever really OK, and that in and of itself, is well, OK.

To anyone who has ever had troubling thoughts, been harassed by anxiety or doubted their worth, know you are not broken. You are not lesser in any way because your thoughts do not match your nature or your actions. You need not be ashamed for being wired a little differently. These differences contribute to human diversity, inspire new levels of empathy and challenge us to rise above adversities. A therapist of mine always told me when I was feeling particularly bothered by my intrusive thoughts that each experiences is a thread in a beautiful tapestry, all my own. Every thread is essential, contributing in a vital yet indiscernible way. This sentiment reminds me that the content of my thoughts is not nearly as significant as the life I choose to lead, and I’m feeling quite fond of this life. Maybe it’s atypical, but it’s mine.

Follow this journey at Pensive Foodie.

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To Parents Raising a Child With OCD

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To the parents raising kids with obsessive compulsive disorder,

It’s going to be OK.

I know it might not seem like it right now, but it will be. Perhaps your child has just been diagnosed with OCD. Or maybe your child’s been diagnosed for years, but symptoms are flaring up again. Maybe your child’s on the seemingly infinite waiting lists for psychiatric help. Wherever your family is in the journey of OCD, it’s going to be OK.

With help, there is hope.

Know you didn’t cause your child’s OCD, just like parents of kids with physical illnesses didn’t cause their kids’ illnesses. No one blames parents of kids with physical illnesses for their child’s illness. But sadly, in our society, some see mental illness as a sign of weakness.

It’s anything but that.

Remember it’s OK to not have all the answers. No one has all the answers when it comes to OCD, or any illness. There are plenty of books, websites, and organizations that are here to help support you and your family. Take advantage of them.

Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. If your child has a setback, that means progress had been made. Don’t forget to praise small successes. It may seem like a tiny thing to delay a compulsion for five seconds, but even in five seconds, the OCD is learning your child can fight back.

Telling OCD “no” is, in my experience, one of the hardest things to do. Imagine an anxious feeling so terrible it feels like you have no choice but to listen to it, like it may make you pass out from fear. Now imagine telling that awful, horrendous feeling, “No.”

That’s an amazing accomplishment.

Some days are hard. I know you already know this, but it’s worth repeating. Bad days don’t last forever, and how your child feels at their worst moment is not how they’ll feel forever. Stress usually makes illnesses worse, and OCD is no exception. In my experience (and the experiences of people I know with OCD) stress can make old obsessions come back, in addition to new ones, bringing with it the hallmark anxiety and compulsions.

OCD never tells the truth, but it makes your child’s fears seem like they’re guaranteed to come true. If your child slips up and does a compulsion, don’t get discouraged. It’s impossible to be on top of the game 100 percent of the time.

Family education is essential. For some people with OCD, reassurance is a compulsion. Compulsions, while they make the person with OCD feel better initially, only feed the cycle, and the obsessions come back stronger the next time.

There is so much hope for people with OCD, especially kids. It’s going to be OK. It may not seem like it right now, but it will be. With help, there is hope.

You can do this.

From, a 17-year-old who’s had OCD for 10 years.

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John Green Has a Theory About Why We Stigmatize Mental Illness

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It seems like no topic is off-limits for author John Green, who discusses issues ranging from kids movies to the refugee crisis in a vlog he runs with his brother. But Friday in a personal video, he opened up about a topic even he has a hard time taking about.

“I have a mental illness called obsessive compulsive disorder, which is often associated with anxiety and depression problems,” he said in the video (below). “I try to talk about it sometimes because I don’t think there should be anything embarrassing about mental illness, but I don’t talk about it that much because 1) it’s personal, and 2) I find it difficult to talk about my own experiences with chronic illness.”

He then presented a theory about why people with chronic illnesses, like mental illness, are often marginalized and stigmatized.

“I don’t think we humans like to imagine our lives as random,” he said. “We want human lives to be narratives that makes sense, so if we can’t find causation, we just create it.

For example, he said this is why some think people with depression are lazy or assume someone who has diabetes doesn’t eat well.

“All of that stuff is either totally inaccurate or overly simplistic, but we want every effect to have a cause,” he said.

Green admitted he’s been sick for the last couple of weeks because he’s been trying to figure out new “medication regiment.” He said it’s reminded him of how crushing living with a mental illness can be.

“I’ve learned to celebrate small successes,” he said. “I’ve learned to encourage myself without being cruel. And most importantly I’ve learned that there is hope, and when I feel like there isn’t hope, my brain is lying to me.”

Watch the rest of the powerful video below: 

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I Want Target to Know Why My Son Wasn't Home for Christmas

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When I first heard Target was selling an “ugly sweater” with the words “OCD – Obsessive Christmas Disorder,” I was truly baffled.

Then, after letting it sit in my gut for a bit, I realized I felt deeply sad and retraumatized.

It took a while, but after processing anger, quickly followed by frustration, I realized why a sweater — a silly sweater — was enough to derail me.

Target, your sweater reminded me of my holiday season last year, beginning around this time, just before Thanksgiving.

In November of last year, my son’s obsessive compulsive disorder became so horrifying he was suicidal. He couldn’t leave the house or do the most basic tasks without OCD controlling him. I’m certain if he saw one of your “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” products at a time when managing to even go to Target might be a huge task, it would have fueled his feeling of hopelessness and despair.

As other families were preparing for Thanksgiving and making their Christmas plans, my son was on a plane to a residential treatment program more than 1,000 miles away. This was devastating for our family, and we missed him terribly. Personally, I’ve never felt so lost and grief-stricken.

My middle child was not home for Thanksgiving or Christmas because he made a decision to fight his intrusive thoughts, compulsions and his urge to end it all. He chose to try — to try to find recovery. And he has. Missing Christmas that year saved his life. After eight months of intensive treatment, his OCD is quieter and doesn’t control him as intensely as it once did.

What I want you to know, Target, is that OCD, the true disorder, takes lives. I want you to know your “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” products will most likely cause grief for another family, or another individual, who is touched by how rough this illness can really be.

I hope you and your loved ones don’t have to feel what it’s like to have a family member too sick to be home for Christmas. I hope after the holiday your warehouses are full of “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” products that haven’t been sold. I hope this year’s experience will shed light on the importance of being mindful when making choices about what kind of products you’ll sell. Even better, heal a mother’s heart and take the products off the racks now. Make a gesture to show support and solidarity for people living with mental illness and their families.

That would bring this mom’s heart closer to healing in time for the holiday season.

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