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How My Son's OCD Inspired the Creation of an Encouraging Mental Health Product Line

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My daughter gave me a shirt this past Christmas that reads “Mama Bear.” It’s cute, but to me, it represents exactly how I feel about motherhood. I imagine myself as a grizzly, upright on hind quarters, willing to attack anything that threatens my cubs. What I learned over the course of my life is that even the fiercest of bears can be foiled by a shotgun. Let me tell you about the bullet that came my way.

At the start of the 6th grade, and within a matter of weeks, my son began struggling with a mental illness known as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Obsessions, compulsions, intrusive thoughts and fears became the monster in our lives, and one far more terrifying than campfire lore. The details of my son’s illness are his story to tell. I simply want to share what I did when I realized my claws weren’t big enough to slay the beast.

When you become a mother you expect that you’ll be up all night with your newborn. 10 years later, I found myself in the same sleepless routine. This time, however, no bottles were involved. I gripped the sides of my desk chair and my fingers ran across the keyboard of my computer as I tirelessly researched OCD and treatment modalities. I thank God I did this first because it led me directly to a therapist trained in exposure response prevention (ERP). ERP is the gold standard for the treatment of OCD and related anxiety disorders.

Of course, nothing comes easily and it became clear we were not just fighting a battle — but a war. Our family went through long periods of shell shock as we tried to navigate the landmines this disorder hides in the most insidious ways. The one great blessing was that we found a truly great therapist and psychiatrist. We were also able to send our son to intensive programs a couple of times. I can firmly state that he is well due to a high amount of the correct intervention. My son is my hero. He finished high school and college with honors (on time) and lives an independent, full life. He still struggles with OCD, but he has learned, for the most part, how to fight the “bully” in his head.

As time moved on, I never lost interest in current research and interventions for anxiety disorders. I began culling articles on OCD and spectrum disorders, creating a lengthy list of files that have eaten up all the gigabytes on my computer. Through my children’s school, the therapists and the “mom circuit,” I became a go-to person for information about OCD. Equipped with knowledge from scholars and my own experience, I shared what I learned with other families.

In 2013, a string of serious health problems stirred my soul to seriously consider how I want to spend the rest of my life. I have always believed in turning misery into mission, so I decided to turn my pet passion into something concrete. Once I recovered, I started a support group for parents and caregivers of people that struggle with anxiety and OCD. My goal was to direct them to the right resources. I had come across too many families that were not getting the proper interventions. I was then asked to join the board of OCD Jacksonville, an affiliate of the International OCD Foundation. Since then, I have been active in creating programming for both clinicians and those struggling, and it has been a joy to serve on a board that is committed to furthering the cause.

One day, while posting on social media for OCD Jacksonville, an idea struck. I was sharing an encouraging statement with a pretty picture when I thought of Natural Life.

Natural Life is a Jacksonville-based brand of inspiring lifestyle products known for the kind of images I was trying to create. Something colorful, with uplifting messaging. They have a clear vision to encourage women to live a more creative, joyful life. I thought to myself, what if there was a Natural Life product line that speaks to the mental health community? Something that not only encourages, but also helps?

I called Patti Hughes, one of the moms that phoned me years ago. She is also the founder, CEO and creative director of Natural Life. Over the years, she has turned the brand into a massive success, taking its treasures into major retailers nationwide. My heart pounded at the potential reach! Over coffee at my house, I presented the idea to do a line dedicated to educate, empower and reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders. I knew Patti had the heart for the topic and I didn’t have to work hard to convince her.

That very morning, the Fearless collection was born.

I have cried tears of joy countless times as the details for Fearless took shape. I worked alongside Patti’s enthusiastic team to ensure the collection had a multi layered approach to reaching those in need. Each item is thoughtfully designed with messaging to encourage and uplift those struggling with anxiety disorders. Beyond that, each product tag has a link to a resource page where individuals can find links to national mental health organizations with practitioner links. Also included are local mental health services and resources. Lastly, part of the proceeds from each purchase will benefit local partner OCD Jacksonville, making strides to connect people who are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, to the best mental health treatment options.

The collection includes something for everyone: T-shirts, journals, key chains, stress balls, stickers, wall decor and mugs. My favorite item from the collection is a mug that reads: “A worried mother does better research than the FBI.” As I sip my coffee, I feel the contentment of a mama bear after a picnic raid. I didn’t have to fight using claws and teeth. I simply gathered honey. The sweetness was found in great mental health practitioners, a community of volunteers engaged in the mission and at Natural Life. I am deeply grateful for their vision and generosity.

the Fearless collection

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Originally published: December 5, 2017
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