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When Having a Mental Illness Is Like Living in a Box

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I don’t remember the last time I was truly happy. I remember times when I was good at pretending I was happy. Times when I could smile and laugh at a joke, but I was never truly happy. It was a fake laugh to fit in with societal conventions. Or it was a real laugh that took a lot of effort to produce. This was the case even before I was officially diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression and lots of anxiety/stress disorders. Even before I had a name for what was happening, it was still present. Part of my unhappiness stemmed from a feeling of disconnect with society. When I was growing up I had no idea what I was struggling with but I knew I felt different than my peers.

Around my 20th birthday, I was officially diagnosed with OCD and depression. My OCD focuses around a fear of death. I’ve had a fear of death for as long as I can remember. It isn’t a normal fear of death that can be brushed off as I go through my day. It’s a fear of anything that could possibly lead to death.

OCD and depression don’t adhere to logic. There is no logic in my brain that says because I have a fear of death, suicide isn’t the answer to my problems and pain. No logic that says if I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve thought about suicide, then I shouldn’t be as worried about my OCD thoughts. It doesn’t work like that. There is absolutely no logic in these disorders. 

It is like I live in a box. In the beginning my hometown was completely contained in my box. I felt safe and comfortable going to any place in my box. Then one day, I have a bad OCD day, a bad exposure at work, which happens frequently. Suddenly, my box, my boundaries, shrink. I no longer feel comfortable in part of my office. Then on another day another bad exposure happens at work and I no longer feel comfortable in another part of my office. This can happen in restaurants and outside as well, even in my home. It gets to the point where each day the number of places I feel safe at shrinks. I can feel the walls of the box closing in on me until I am only comfortable with my bed, and even that is sometimes difficult.

I wake up one day, look around and realize the box now barely has breathing room. It has completely walled in my brain so there’s no place I feel safe. I don’t feel like I can even take a deep breath. This makes me feel depressed and then I don’t even want to try to leave my box, my safe space. 

I am currently working on trying to expand my safe space. I am going to therapy and learning how to not respond to certain triggers that make me retreat to my bed. Through therapy, I can learn to fight back against my OCD thoughts. This gradually increases the area where I feel safe. It is a never-ending struggle I fight daily. If I let down my guard, my safe space shrinks.  

If you know someone who’s going through this, you can help expand the area he or she feels comfortable in. This can be as simple as asking them about what they’re going through. The most important thing is for people to know they are not alone in their struggle.

If you are interested in reading more about my story, please check out my book, “Just Breathe.”

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.

Originally published: May 18, 2016
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