5 Things I’d Tell My Son If He Was Diagnosed With a Mental Illness

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Without a doubt, motherhood is both the most exciting and terrifying experience I’ve ever had. It’s something new every single day. To be honest, reading about it when I was pregnant never really helped me — it only scared me more. When I  first found out I was pregnant with my son, I was flat­out petrified, scared I would somehow inadvertently ruin this little person’s life. I thought everything had to be perfect or else my son would end up scarred for life.

I mean, look at that face.

Jennifer's son is wearing a blue hoodie standing outside by a fence. The photo captures him mid-jump.
Jennifer’s son.

Looking back, that also could have been my obsessive compulsive disorder at play. Take a mental illness, mix it with some pregnancy hormones and not being on any medication? That’s one recipe that was a hell of a treat!

But I digress.

All I could think about, even after he was born, was that I would never be able to give him everything he needed. It broke my heart to think about that. I ended up becoming severely depressed, believing my child would be better off without me. That my husband would find someone else, and my son would have a mom who could truly give him everything he needed and take care of him the way he needed to be.

To be honest, I was afraid of passing on OCD to my son.

But I know that one day he will learn about my mental illness diagnosis, and I’m not so scared of it anymore. In fact, there are things I want to tell him, things I want him to know.

If he were to ever receive a mental diagnosis himself, this is what I’d want him to know:

1. Feel no shame.

Even in this day and age, this can be incredibly hard for a mental illness patient to accept themselves. In many areas, there’s still a large stigma that surrounds mental illnesses because many don’t take the time to understand them. And when people do not understand, they judge.

But having a mental illness doesn’t make you any less of a person, or any less deserving of help, happiness and a good life. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just like any physical illness. Do not let the opinions of others drag you down. You know who you are — own that, work that, be that. You’re a beautiful human being with an incredibly loving soul. Don’t let your illnesses outweigh the amount of beauty you hold within your heart.

2. Ask for help.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. It’s an incredibly brave thing to do. By asking for help, you’re taking the first step in your recovery. Your family and friends love you very much and want to help you get better as soon as possible. Ask them for help, talk to them about how you feel. Don’t be ashamed.

3. You’re no different. 

Close your eyes for a moment and entertain this thought; imagine you’re lined up with nine other people who aren’t living with a mental illness. Now, take a look around the room. Do these people look any different from you? Can you know anything about them just by looking at them? Are you able to see their sufferings? Do they look sick to you? No.

You’re no different than any of these people. You are amazing, unique and beautiful in your own way, just like every other person here on this great and grand planet.

4. Even people with mental illness deserve happiness.

Don’t ever give in to the notion that you are less of a person because of your illness. We aren’t the illnesses we live with, they do not define who we are as a whole. There are so many unique parts of our individual personalities that make us who we are, and while yes, you may live with a mental illness, it’s such a small part of who you are in relation to our entire being.

What do you enjoy? Make time for yourself to do it each day. Come to love yourself. Know that you deserve love and happiness. Be proactive in keeping yourself healthy. Smile often and love without limits.

5. Practice self-care. 

Always take care of yourself, first and foremost. In your life, you need to be the most important person. Never put yourself on the “back burner,” so to speak. If you need five minutes to take a breather, you take it. If you need a personal day to get yourself back together and gather your thoughts, you do it.

Every day you wake up and step out of bed, no matter how much you don’t want to, you are making great strides in your recovery. No step is too small when it comes to the path you’re taking on the road to wellness.

Be yourself, and don’t ever try to hide who you are from the world. You deserve love, laughter, happiness and more. Pursue your dreams, chase them with fervor. Never hold onto anger and rage. Practice forgiveness and accept friendships. Treat others how you want to be treated. Give love freely, spread it far and wide.

And finally: Laugh as much as you can. The world is far too solemn a place already.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

A version of this piece was originally published on Positivity in Pain.

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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My Son’s Invisible Enemy Wakes Us Up at 4 A.M.

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1, 2, 3, 4….thump, thump, thump. *Silence*

1, 2, 3, 4…slam, stomp, slam. *Silence*

It’s 4 a.m. Again. Every day 4 a.m.

He’s hopping again.

My dearest, handsome, brilliant 11-year-old boy is opening, closing, opening, closing doors. That damn grating of the metal doorknob twisting in yet another ritual that pierces my heart.

A mother anticipates and hopes that the next sound won’t come…

*SLAM* The toilet seat is next. Over and over again. *SLAM SLAM SLAM*

4:10 a.m.

The incessant, irritating, heartbreaking rhythm of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) jolts my son and the rest of our house awake before each sunrise.

*4 hops left foot* Just the left. *Go back. Go forward. Doorknob. SLAM*

I hear him sigh. The kind of sigh that comes with the incredible weight only he knows.

The invisible enemy comes again.

Despite the myths around OCD that popular culture implies or encourages, OCD is the worst nightmare our family has ever faced. It has stolen much from my son, from our life, from our “normal.” We grieve and we grope.

I would be a rich woman if I had a nickel for every time I have heard or read an OCD joke online or heard someone talk about it in passing.

Watching my son unable to walk in a straight line, or complete a handwriting assignment because he erases it once he finishes and is compelled to start all over, or watching him say, “I wish I were dead!” is no joke.

Watching him gag himself uncontrollably and cry in shame is no joke.

Hearing the desperate scream across our house, “Mom! Help me! I’m stuck!” physically gives me tremors.

We aren’t organizing colors over here. We are saving a life minute by minute.

Can you understand that? Can you understand this is a battle?

Trying to educate every person around him about the invisible battle he is fighting every day is sometimes more than I can bear.

Teachers, peers, people, passers-by…you can’t see anything but rituals.

But he is the same boy he was last year on the inside. He is the same embodiment of kindness. He is the same boy who encouraged your son. He is the same child who helped your kindergartner with reading. He is the same boy who served for a summer week in urban ministry.

Did you forget?

It feels so lonely because unless you’re living it, you don’t truly understand the grip of this three-lettered beast which calls forth four-letter words from my lips.

My beautiful boy is in crisis and needs you.

We are battle-scarred, but we move on. Each day in our own ritual toward hope and healing. I count blessings. Tiny ones. Miniscule ones. I speak them over him at night. I tell him he is adored and cherished.

We seek therapy and take medicine and pray and cry and collapse…

…and we rise again to the strange new rhythm of our life.

To learn more about OCD in children and  find help, please visit the International OCD Foundation’s OCD in Kids website.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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Photo Series Offers Glimpse at the Private Lives of People With OCD

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Photographer Dan Fenstermacher has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and after spending a great deal of time with other individuals living with the mental illness, he produced a photo series titled, “Overcoming Challenges Daily.”

“I’ve had a lifelong experience with OCD ranging from skin picking, anxiety, depression, lock checking and repetitive hand gestures and motor tics,” Fenstermacher, who lives in San Jose, California, told The Mighty. “It’s created a lot of anxiety and personal turmoil through the years. I’ve gotten better through therapy, but it’s a daily battle.”

OCD is a disorder of the brain and behavior that causes severe anxiety, according to the International OCD Foundation. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions, which can “take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.”

Fenstermacher wants to share his images to help show people living with mental illnesses that others are going through the same thing — and getting better.

One in five people in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year, according to NAMI, and one in 100 adults currently have OCD in the United States, according to IOCDF.

Fenstermacher connected with the people in his portraits via support groups, classes and Facebook, and he also attended the the Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles in 2014. “I met many people who were more than willing to share their story with me,” he said. “I consider all of these people to be heroes because they let me into their lives and homes as a stranger for the sake of activism concerning mental illness. They believed strongly in my project and the misunderstanding of mental illness by society at large and were able to put down their guard in order to try and help others.”

“Drink Me” featuring Ethan Smith

Man with OCD on couch

“As a kid, my OCD started out pretty traditional: physical rituals like tapping counting, checking. As I got older, however, it morphed to fear of illness. A headache was a brain tumor, a fever meningitis. At my worst, I was literally afraid I would bash my own head in with my hands. I guess that falls under the category of “self-harm” but among many other OCD thoughts, I was afraid of my own hands and often laid in bed for many hours, literally laying on top of them to protect myself.”

“Auditory Aversions” featuring Laura Lavadour

Woman bothered by noise in kitchen

“I am a stay at home mother of three with a passion for cooking and everything domestic. I’ve been dealing with OCD issues most of my life, some symptoms beginning as an adolescent and others appearing later into my adult life. I work hard to manage them and am learning to just ride the wave. One of the biggest symptoms of my OCD is a rare one called Misophonia: bothered by certain sounds or noises. This started very young and I’ve struggled with it all my life. The other types I have are intrusive thoughts, symmetry, and orderliness. I am currently on a combo of meds that is working for me. My symptoms are manageable. I am also exercising a lot which really helps. My advice to others is to reach out and talk about your issues with OCD. Sometimes you can get locked into a train of thought and feel trapped. Reaching out and listening to others experience can be uplifting, and can also open up opportunities to treatments that you might not have considered before.”

“Never Finished” featuring Nancy Wu

Woman holding a sketch with a dog by her side

“I suffer with OCD in perfectionism, depression and anxiety disorder. I struggle with completing projects because I’m afraid of making mistakes and I fear my work will be seen as being poorly done. My intense fear of making the wrong decision has made me an indecisive person. Everything I do needs to be “done right” or “perfect” to my standards, and I always set the bar too high for myself. When I get anxious, I pick on my skin and scabs. I also become fatigued and depressed. You are not alone! For the longest time, I thought I was a crazy, neurotic, lazy, unworthy and useless person until I found out it’s a disorder and it’s possible to get help. I feel like I have wasted so much time going through life without knowing I have OCD and procrastinated on getting the help I need so I hope others can learn from my mistakes and take action to get on the path to healing as soon as possible.”

“Under My Skin” featuring Dan Fenstermacher

Man with OCD picking at skin in bathroom

“I have struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since I was a young child. I was embarrassed by my compulsions and did not understand what OCD was until I was 23. For many years I hid my OCD from the outside world and those around me, living without getting help.”

“Is He Okay?” featuring Mary Samson

A woman sits on her couch and stares at a picture of her cat

“My cat’s name is Mish-Mish. One of my ever-present OCD fears is that something will happen to him. I don’t have children. I suppose he is like my child and looms large. OCD is a disease of uncertainty and doubt. And you can’t be sure of much when it comes to a cat. They are quite independent. Most of my OCD is image based. I imagine something bad happening to him; so much is out of my control. Although I worry about him, most of the time he comforts me and calms me down.”

“Champion of My Muse” featuring Anthony Solis

A man holds a sphere in a storage room

“Sometime between 2008 and 2009 I faced some health challenges that put me on disability. In the beginning it was challenging to cope with life stresses and spent a majority of my time isolated in my bedroom. One day I decided to pickup some paints and pastels and started making art. Within a couple of months, I approached City Art Gallery, a local cooperative in San Francisco and they accepted me into their group. I soon channeled all my energy into creating new work and finding new outlet for my obsessive behavior. Immersing myself into my art is how manage my stress. My behavior disorder is my muse. The obsessive thoughts that cycle through my mind always give me a constant spark of creativity.”

Woman with OCD washing her hands

“When asked how do I cope with my symptoms, unfortunately it’s not a easy answer. To be honest it’s a daily, hourly, minute by minute struggle … I spent my life since then trying to figure out how to be like others, how to be “normal.” Wondering what it is like to just “be”; not be happy, nor sad, not angry or depressed, no racing thoughts, no feeling of impending doom. Just be.” -Erica Atreya

Jeff Bell

“Through reaching out to Jeff Bell (pictured above), an OCD activist, author, and founder of the non-profit A2A, I was able to find relief and realized that through helping others with their OCD struggle, I could help myself. I read Jeff’s books and was inspired, and when I moved to the Bay Area for graduate school at San Jose State University, I contacted Jeff and met him near his office in San Francisco. Since then I have volunteered for A2A and began making many contacts in the OCD community here in the Bay Area. When I started to feel better I wanted to give back to others who struggle with OCD, adopting Jeff’s ‘Greater Good Motivation’ for helping others and finding purpose in life.” -Dan Fenstermacher

All images courtesy of Dan Fenstermacher

For more photography, visit Dan Fenstermacher’s Facebook page and website.

h/t Huffington Post

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People With OCD Share Their Most Intrusive Compulsions

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Obsessive compulsive disorder is an illness with a range of severity. From debilitating compulsions that keep people inside their homes, to intrusive thoughts and obsessions that can be more easily managed with treatment, it affects people in different ways and with different symptoms.

What it’s not is a “quirk,” preference or something to be dismissed as trivial.

“The understanding of OCD by the general public is confused with the concepts of ‘obsessive’ and ‘compulsive’, both of which are personality traits. If I have a compulsive personality type I prefer to keep things neat and tidy and ordered,” Jeff Szymanski, PhD, executive director of the International OCD Foundation, told The Mighty. “However, if my compulsive behavior is driven by crippling anxiety and intrusive and unwanted thoughts to the degree that it is excessively time consuming and gets in the way of valued activities, now I’m struggling with OCD. It is important that the general public understands this distinction. Otherwise, individuals truly struggling with a mental disorder feel marginalized and dismissed. And when you are in tremendous pain, this only adds to your burden.”

To show the range of compulsions, we’ve collected some answers from a Reddit thread asking people with OCD to share their most “inconvenient impulse.” They provide a glimpse into how OCD affects the lives of people every day.

Here’s what they shared:

1. “Set my alarm, check the time, check the volume, check the ringtone, check that it’s on. Repeat all the steps over and over and over again. If I have one distracting thought while doing this, I need to start all over again. My record was taking 36 minutes to set my alarm. And this is only one of the countless thing I have to deal with day to day. OCD is not fun.”

2. “Whatever I do to one hand, I have to repeat with the other. E.g. If I brush my hand against something when I’m walking somewhere, I have to turn around and do it to the other hand.”

3. “I have to make sure the door is locked. Even when I know it is, I check at least six times before I can sleep. Then I need to wash my hands again before I can sleep. It’s rough.”

4. “I must blink at all punctuation. Periods, commas, exclamation points and question marks only. No apostrophes or hyphens or whatever. And if I blink at a mark one word away from the end of the line — on, say, the left — then I must immediately find another ‘one-away’ word on the right and blink at that twice, and then back to the original one. If there is not such a word on the page, I must turn to a random page until I find one. There usually is one there…This is constant, every time I read, multiple times a page.”

5. “Locking doors. F*ck….I will stand in front of a door after I lock it and pull five times three different times before I feel comfortable leaving. If I don’t, I’ll drive all the way back and make sure…I hate it…I’ve almost been driven to tears on my way back home from checking because of it.”

6. “Cracks on sidewalks and hallway tiles. I have to step on equal amount of cracks with each foot. So if I step on two cracks with my right foot, I now have to step on two cracks with my left foot. I try my best to avoid cracks, so I don’t have this issue… I walk looking down not because I have low self-confidence, but because I’m watching for the cracks.”

7. “When I eat cereal I have to chew with the same amount of food on each side. I have to try and pick up an even amount of cereal in my spoon. If I get an odd amount on my spoon I have to break that odd piece in half the best I can to make both sides even.”

8. “This is the worst one and most time consuming. I hope I can describe it because it’s weird. If I hit something with my arm, I have to then do the same exact thing on my other arm. Then I have to do it in reverse order so it’s ‘fair.’ So if I accidentally bump a table with my right elbow, I have to then bump my left elbow. But since my right elbow went first, that isn’t fair to my left elbow. I then have to bump my left elbow, then my right elbow.”

9. “The harm thoughts. As sh*tty as they are. It borders with intrusive thoughts that I can’t put out of my head. Before I started medication it was mostly the idea of killing myself. I have no desire to do so but since I have OCD seeing these images in your minds eye every minute of every day was exhausting until I had a full on mental break down. I’ve learned to control the thoughts for the most part but it doesn’t stop them from coming through anyway sometimes. Mostly it scares me that I think of these things.”

10. “Touch something so my friend doesn’t die. Yeah.”

11. “The ones that are most inconvenient for me are when I need to repeatedly check that my door is locked, or that the stove is off. If I don’t usually someone will die. But this pisses me off so much because I’m looking right at it. I can damn well see, the lock is locked. The stove is not on. But the moment I walk away… what if I’m wrong? Cue 20 to 30 minutes of frustration.”

12. “When I was 5 or 6, I couldn’t have a speck of dirt anywhere on my body, including my clothing. When I would come inside from being outside I would wash my whole body, change my clothes and scrub my shoes, including the bottoms, until they were spotless. This went on for years. Luckily, I have no physical obsessions as an adult. I do, as an adult, have intrusive and recurring thoughts though.”

13. “Stand in front of the mirror and pick at my skin until it looks like I have terrible acne. If I could just leave my face alone I’d have great skin. Much easier said than done.”

14. “When I was little, I was afraid of abandoning anything, so eventually this carried into the rest of my life, and now I get stuck in any room…[trying] to leave the room without just abruptly walking out. These means of exiting can include taking steps back, going to the back corner of the room, then trying to exit, or even spinning around in place before trying to leave leave the room.”

*Some responses have been edited for length.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Related: 5 Times the Internet Got OCD Wrong – and Why It Matters

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15 New Year’s Resolutions From People With OCD

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For those who live with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the illness can be a moment stealer. Whether it’s from performing compulsions or managing intrusive thoughts, completing tasks or staying in the moment can be difficult. But there’s hope for people who live with OCD, and the new year is a great time to talk about just that.

The International OCD Foundation gathered these messages of hope — asking its community what their resolution is for the new year. Hopefully some of these can inspire you in your own goals.

Here’s what they’re hoping for in 2016:

1. “My resolution is to keep my eye on the prize. A life free of fear and mandates. One where I can go wherever I wish without any worries of being contaminated. A life in which I can provide my children with socially rich experiences. I will continue to work this year, step by step, towards my goal.” — Wendy Quiroz

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2. “This year my biggest goal is to try and not allow the rituals to paralyze me when it comes to parenting my 2-year-old. Parks and public bathrooms are two of my huge trigger points, so this year I want to be able to slowly start to conquer.” — Becca Gramuglia via Instagram

3. “My resolution is to not let my OCD hold me back from enjoying my first overseas holiday.” — Stephanie Lyon via Twitter

4. “My resolution is to keep taking risks and doing exposures, but also to be more forgiving of myself when I have slips and ritualize.” — Morgan R via Twitter

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5. “Not keeping our brand new place ‘safe.’ So often when I’m at a new place, or in this case, moving into a new home, I have the urge to do extra rituals to keep the place clean or ‘uncontaminated.’ It’s my goal to not do that this year and instead to ‘contaminate’ this bungalow as quick as possible.” — Elizabeth McIngvale-Cegelski, IOCDF Spokesperson

6. “Less misunderstanding, less stigma and more awareness.” — Gang Zheng

7. “My New Year’s resolution is to accept the transient nature of life and all it encompasses, use that as learning tool, accept it and the feelings attached, and use these experiences to help myself and others.” — Richelle Leah

8. “I want to continue speaking out about OCD and educate people about what OCD really is, and what it’s not. Even in the mental health professional community, so many people still do not truly understand the illness.” — Elizabeth McIngvale-Cegelski, IOCDF Spokesperson

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9. “OCD treatment is all encompassing. It has an impact on every facet of your life. And once you’re functioning while managing the OCD, maintaining a certain level of mental health can be equally time consuming. My resolution is to see the balance in life, embrace the triumphs and mistakes without beating myself up and to be OK taking a few steps back if it means moving forward.” –Ethan Smith, IOCDF Spokesperson

10. “My resolution is to help more people who have OCD! I have a lot of plans for my YouTube channel and blog.” — Katlyn Nicole via Twitter

11. “Independence. What a great yet sometimes unreachable concept. Though — thanks to my treatment — I’ve been able to get back in charge of many everyday tasks, I still need help from my entourage to perform basic things. I dream of being independent. I dream of not having to see the tiredness in my family’s faces each and every time I say, ‘I can’t do it on my own.’ For this new year, I want more ‘I-can-do-its’ and less of this perpetuated childhood I was dragged into by my OCD.” — Ro Vitale, IOCDF Spokesperson

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12. “My second resolution is to continue pushing myself towards wellbeing and happiness. I have many things to be thankful for. My wish is to keep taking risks in order to experience the beauty of this world. I know that I need to self-administer a daily dose of courage to be present and ready to share my creative advocacy with the public. This year, I would like to multiply that dose.” —  Ro Vitale, IOCDF Spokesperson

13. “My resolution is to finally drive. I won’t let my Pure O and my violent intrusive thoughts dictate my life anymore.” — Josey Eloy Franco

14. “To not take my thoughts too seriously.” — Collin Schuster

15. “My resolution for the new year is to live it moment by moment! OCD loves to taunt me with ‘what if’ questions about what might have happened in the past and what could happen in the future, and for years I allowed myself to fixate on both — at the expense of being present. Here’s to making 2016 The Year of The Now!” — Jeff Bell, IOCDF spokesperson

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*Answers have been edited and shortened. 

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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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