Morgan Rondinelli

@morganrondinelli | contributor
Super Contributor
Morgan Rondinelli is a mental health blogger ( and co-founder of the nonprofit, Not Alone Notes ( She is currently working towards her MFA in writing, with focuses on creative nonfiction and science writing. Morgan also enjoys dance and theater.

Vitiligo FAQ: What You Need to Know About This Skin Condition

Were you recently diagnosed with vitiligo? Does someone in your life have spots and you are curious? Read below for answers to the most asked questions. What is vitiligo? Vitiligo is a condition that results in white spots on the skin, where they have lost their pigment. It is progressive, meaning as the person ages, they will likely continue to lose more pigment. Is vitiligo contagious? Vitiligo is not contagious. You cannot catch it from touching or being near someone else with vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin condition, but not an infectious or transmissible condition. What causes vitiligo? Vitiligo is an auto-immune disorder. Our immune systems are overactive at the skin. The immune system mistakenly attacks the skin, destroying melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells. Our skin can then no longer produce melanin in these areas, resulting in visible white spots, completely devoid of pigment. Spots are typically splotchy, rather than perfectly round. Vitiligo also tends to be symmetrical across the body, meaning if you have vitiligo on your right hand, you will likely also have it on your left hand, though the spots won’t look identical. Is vitiligo dangerous or life-threatening? Typically, no. Individuals with vitiligo should get their thyroid checked regularly, since it is sometimes associated with thyroid problems, but that is the main risk factor for actual illness. Otherwise, vitiligo is considered primarily a “cosmetic condition.” Many with vitiligo are more diligent about wearing sunscreen and covering up, since much of their skin lacks natural protection from the sun. On the other hand, some research supports that vitiligo might lower your risk for skin and some other cancers, since the immune system is already so present and over-active at the melanocytes, or skin. How quickly do the spots expand or “spread?” This depends on the individual. For some people, vitiligo spreads quickly, and for others, it spreads more slowly. I would place my vitiligo on the slower end of the spectrum. I have distinct spots, and discover new ones every year, but I would estimate that vitiligo covers only about 20% of my body. And this is after having vitiligo for 20-some years. Some individuals go from 0% to 100% within a few years. It really varies quite a bit from one immune system and body to another. Are there treatments? Is there a cure for vitiligo? There is no cure for vitiligo to get complete repigmentation, but there are treatment options if the individual desires to go down the route. Treatments include steroid creams and UV light treatments, among others. Some people choose make-up to cover their spots, and others choose to not cover their spots at all. As a child, I did both steroid creams and light treatment, and I got some repigmentation, but now I am in the latter group, where my “treatment” is acceptance of my vitiligo. Oddly enough, years after stopping treatments, I still got some random repigmentation, while other parts of my skin lost pigment. Immune systems and bodies can be surprising. What are the best vitiligo resources out there? Two of my favorite resources are: Blog and Online Community: Living Dappled Book: “Bodies Are Cool” by Tyler Feder There are also several foundations and charities out there for vitiligo, but for me, their focus on finding a cure does not align with my acceptance of my skin and spots. For others, these communities and their research may be helpful.

'Bodies Are Cool' Children's Book by Tyler Feder Celebrates Difference

Working at a public library, I encounter a lot of books. And I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I do see a lot of covers as I’m shelving. I can’t help but judge them. One picture book that instantly caught my eye was “Bodies Are Cool,” by Tyler Feder. Published in 2021, this book takes body positivity to a whole new level. The cover alone features various bodies, of different sizes, different skin colors, having scars or stretch marks, using a hearing aid or insulin pump, and covered in various amounts of hair. The book shows even more different bodies throughout. Pages focus on height, eyes, tummies, scars, and more, all while proclaiming that “All bodies are good bodies! Bodies are cool!” One page in particular features skin differences. The text reads, “Freckled bodies, dotted bodies, rosy-patched or speckled bodies, dark-skin-swirled-with-light-skin bodies. Bodies are cool!” while each person illustrated also enjoys speckled or swirled ice cream. Not only are the illustrations bright and fun, but they show skin differences rarely seen in illustrations, if ever before. Even beyond this page, several illustrations feature spotted, vitiligo-like skin. This is skin that looks more like mine. When I was diagnosed with vitiligo as a child, my mom was handed a pamphlet of clinical information from the dermatologist and sent on her way. She later told me that this was terrifying, so she looked elsewhere for personal stories. She found news anchor, Lee Thomas’s, memoir, but I was too young to be interested in that type of book. We did find a picture book, “Different Just Like Me,” which was about differences among children, but despite it being inspired by vitiligo, the illustrations did not ever show vitiligo. Representation of skin and other visual body differences was improving, but certainly still lacking. This is why books like “Bodies Are Cool” are such a huge step forward. It has representation that’s just existing, rather than making it so heavily a difference. It presents diverse bodies as the natural state of being, which is how bodies are in the real world and how it should be in literature, especially children’s literature. For me, seeing vitiligo in a picture book is stunning. This book is a radical form of acceptance of all bodies. Everyone, of all ages, will hopefully find themselves represented somewhere. One of my other favorite pages shows a group of people at a dance class. The text reads, “Round bodies, muscled bodies, curvy curves and straight bodies, jiggly-wiggly fat bodies. Bodies are cool!” Most of the people in the illustration break the mold of a “traditional” ballet dancer somehow, whether that is being in a larger body, being male presenting, using a prosthetic leg, having messy hair, or having no hair. I have danced my whole life and recently experienced weight gain, which made me feel less comfortable going to a ballet class. Yet, here is a page in a picture book showing me all bodies can do ballet, and all bodies are cool. I’m not surprised that here in Illinois, “Bodies Are Cool” is among the nominees for the 2023 Monarch Award, voted on by readers K-3. If I was eligible to vote, I would choose this book in an instant. We must keep writing and illustrating diverse bodies, until books like this are the norm. In the meantime, “Bodies Are Cool” should be in every library, every classroom, and every home.

OCD Makes Me Feel Hyper-Responsibility for My Cat

It’s no secret to those who know me that I love my cat, Jade. I talk about and post pictures of her constantly, to the point that people often think I have more than one cat. Really, it’s just the same cat coming up over and over. What may be more of a surprise to people though is the crushing hyper-responsibility I sometimes feel for my cat’s safety and well-being, which stems from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) . I am deeply aware of being her caretaker, and this responsibility is terrifying. During a tornado watch a few weeks ago, I was once again confronted with this hyper-responsibility I feel. During the storm, I was on high alert. I had my shoes on and was ready to get my cat in her carrier at the sound of any sirens. Some of this is logical, but the anxiety I felt was higher than usual. Even after, when the storm had passed on the radar and the watch would soon expire, I still felt guilty about leaving the house for several more hours. What if another storm came? What if there actually was a tornado this time? And what if I wasn’t home to take Jade to a safer place? My cat’s life is my sole responsibility, and it can be a lot of pressure. Even when I first met her at the shelter and was considering adopting a pet, I was terrified. Despite the instant connection with Jade, I was afraid to adopt her or any cat because of this accompanying fear of responsibility. I had a good feeling OCD would latch onto a new cat, especially since it would be my first time being the sole caregiver of an animal. I also knew I would fall deeply in love with this animal, and OCD attends to go after what we love most. There are a variety of ways OCD can latch onto pets and animals in our care. This includes, for many, contamination concerns with where the cat walks and sits, but for many it can, and often does, go beyond contamination. Other themes may include a fear of accidental harm, fear of losing control and doing intentional harm, magical thinking about thoughts affecting the pet’s well-being, intrusive sexual thoughts, and many others. For me, the main OCD symptom is this hyper-responsibility. This can lead to feeling guilty about leaving her alone in my apartment for more than a few hours, even though she has water, food, and a litter box. She is a cat and hypothetically can be independent for several hours at a time. It leads to an almost agoraphobia when leaving the house because what if something happens to Jade while I’m gone, and I’m not there to rescue her? That feels like my job. It is my job, in a way. This hyper-responsibility also coincides with my fear of accidentally starting a fire. I will double and triple check the stove is off, to prevent a fire while I’m gone that could potentially kill my cat. Overall, I am terrified that something will happen to her and worse, that it would be my fault, even though I know logically that my cat is mortal, and accidents do happen. Still, people with OCD can adopt and care for pets, despite their fears. I make myself leave the house for work, participate in theater, meet up with friends, etc. It brings anxiety , but I am able to do it and tolerate the discomfort. Plus, there are countless benefits of having a pet in your life. Coming home to my cat, as she runs to the door with chirps for attention, is a comforting moment each day, even if there was anxiety about leaving. Taking care of Jade and trying to minimize OCD ‘s influence through exposure therapy is a values-based decision. My life is much more enriched by having both her and this fear than if I had neither. I’m glad she is my responsibility.

Finding a Doctor to Treat Your PCOS: 4 Red Flags to Watch Out for

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that can involve a wide range of symptoms. I was diagnosed two years ago, after my period went from perfectly timed to increasingly irregular. The other symptoms soon set in: intense hunger and carb cravings, dizziness, pelvic pain, weight gain, and excessive hair growth. In these two years of having PCOS, I’ve struggled to find a doctor who makes me feel heard and like I am getting helpful treatment. Instead, I’ve encountered red flags from multiple doctors. At the time, I didn’t realize they were problematic. I accepted them as the truth because they repeated the common narrative from medicine about PCOS. With hearing others’ negative experiences and reflecting on my own, I’ve come to see how harmful the “normal” treatment of PCOS can be. The medical world needs a change, and especially for this issue that mostly affects women. Some red flags I’ve identified are: 1. Being hesitant to run tests. How often are women-identifying patients dismissed and told their concerns are “just anxiety” or not actually a big deal? I don’t even want to know the statistics. Stemming from the former diagnosis of “hysteria,” too often women are not believed. We are told that abnormal bleeding is normal, that pain we feel as severe is mild, and that we don’t know our own bodies best. If a doctor dismisses concerns you feel are well, concerning, go ahead and switch doctors. PCOS can affect a variety of hormone levels, and blood tests can illuminate this. On a positive, my second, current ob/gyn was willing to do a pelvic ultrasound when I had left pelvic pain, to see if it was a rupturing ovarian cyst. However, when it wasn’t a rupturing cyst, I was told to call back if the pain continued, repeatedly for over a year. We still haven’t figured out why I have pelvic pain. 2. Prescribing birth control and dismissing concerns, unless you want to get pregnant. I have heard countless stories that after a diagnosis of PCOS, the patient was essentially told, “Here is some birth control. Come back when you want to get pregnant.” And I am one of those stories. I was prescribed birth control to “even out my hormones,” and told it wouldn’t be much of an issue until I was trying to get pregnant, not to mention that I wasn’t even asked if I want to have children in the future. For months, my symptoms continued to worsen. I would get extremely hungry again within an hour of eating, and then I would feel even worse after eating, with dizziness and hot flashes. My hormones, insulin, and glucose were clearly off. PCOS is so much more than a fertility issue. A new doctor was willing to prescribe metformin, which helped reduce the symptoms, but it went untreated for months first. 3. Putting it all back on advice to lose weight. My new, “better” ob/gyn was willing to run tests and prescribe metformin, and made me feel more heard than the previous doctor. But I have lost count of how many times he brings up weight loss. It is essentially at every appointment. He presents weight loss as the golden solution to cure my PCOS, completely ignoring the fact that PCOS is why I gained weight, not the other way around. It was the intense hunger and insulin resistance of PCOS that led to my body’s changes. And regardless, because of my mental health and previous body image issues, even when I was much skinnier, I am not interested in trying to lose weight. I engage in joyful movement and I feel fewer symptoms on the metformin. I finally asked to stop being weighed at my last appointment. The nurse seemed confused at first, but then no one brought it up during the rest of the appointment. 4. Making you feel like PCOS is your fault. On a similar note, when my doctor prescribes my losing weight as the main and only cure to PCOS, it makes me feel like PCOS is my fault. It makes me think that if I had managed to stay skinny or ate less despite my hunger, maybe I wouldn’t have developed PCOS. But that isn’t true. PCOS isn’t my fault. The symptoms and hormonal imbalances are not my fault. I’m still working on finding a doctor that makes me feel understood. Everyone with PCOS deserves affirming and helpful care that makes them feel listened to rather than blamed. It can be incredibly difficult to find an affirming doctor to treat PCOS, but at least these red flags can be something to watch out for. What about green flags though? Here are some ideal signs I’m looking for in a doctor: 1. Doesn’t mention weight or BMI. I follow the Health at Every Size, or HAES, medical thought. Weight is one number that says very little about someone’s actual health, excluding symptoms and other health measurements, like blood levels of hormones. And BMI is a completely bogus, made-up math problem that doctors still insist on using, despite its inaccuracies with reflecting health. I would be amazed if I walked into a doctor’s office and I was first met with conversation, not instructions to step up on a scale. If they need to weigh me for medical reasons, I would love a doctor who respected my wish to not know the number. 2. Asks if getting pregnant is a goal, and otherwise doesn’t mention it. Seriously, is my only worth as a uterus-owner the potential to get pregnant? I don’t mind a doctor asking if I am trying to get pregnant, but if the answer is “no,” it should not be our focus. Enough said. 3. Makes me feel heard and validated. Overall, the main thing I’m looking for in a doctor is someone who makes me feel like my concerns are real and that we will work together to address them. That shouldn’t be so hard to find. I especially get nervous at the doctor, so having someone who waits for me to feel comfortable to talk or who asks prompting questions would be so helpful to my ability to express myself. It would be amazing to leave an appointment feeling like I said everything I wanted to say, and more importantly, that it was heard.

Navigating OCD When You're Having Sex

For the past few hours, I have done anything and everything I could think of to avoiding writing this blog post. I’ve cleaned my apartment, organized my desk and much more. Why? I want to write about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and sex, but I also feel shame. Which brings me to my first way OCD can show up to the party: 1. Shame and fear of social judgment My partner and I are two consenting adults. There is nothing inherently “wrong” going on here. Yet, I fear writing about this because sex is taboo. And though these feelings are not limited to anxious individuals, when you have OCD, shame can get taken to another level. What if my mom reads this? What if my boss reads this? What if literally anyone I know reads this? What if people I don’t know read this? Gah, people are reading this. I feel ashamed of existing as a sexual being, though I’m working on this shame. So I avoided, but here we are. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s continue with other ways OCD can show up during sex. 2. Fear of getting pregnant This was one of my dominant OCD fears in high school, even though I was years away from having sex. But touching a boy? Kissing a boy? Heck, it got to the point that sitting next to a boy was anxiety-inducing. I would trace where possible sperm could be and how it could find a way into my vagina. It could be on a couch cushion, travel through clothes, and into my vagina to make me pregnant. Of course, this was also before I knew I had OCD, so before I was in treatment. And thus, the fear grew out of control. I was thinking about it almost every waking moment. It got so consuming that my anxiety began to mimic symptoms of pregnancy, such as nausea and missed periods. That did not help, to say the least. Years later though, this fear has faded. We use hormonal birth control and condoms, so the risk of pregnancy is very low (not that OCD cares about logic). Even though I didn’t treat this fear directly though because it wasn’t a priority during the years of my intensive treatment, while treating other OCD themes, this one got quieter too. I just have to be diligent, on the occasions when I do get intrusive thoughts about an accidental pregnancy. 3. Fluids I cannot believe I’m labeling this section fluids, but here we are. We are writing without shame, or trying to write despite feelings of shame, I should say. Sex involves fluids. Whether that’s semen or sweat or whatever, it’s an intimate act. And see fear above, fluids can lead to pregnancy. But there can also be more general discomfort with them. I’ve found baby steps and gradual exposures to be helpful. But also be assertive about where you do and do not want fluids, though this can be hard to control exactly. It’s OK to push yourself towards facing OCD, and it’s also OK to set a boundary based on what you want and need. OK, moving on. 4. Sensory issues This is probably the biggest way OCD and anxiety show up for me currently during sex. For example, having my hair down? Probably super sexy. But also kind of uncomfortable because now it’s getting sweaty and tangled and messed up and I’m thinking more about my hair than focusing on my partner. Also, overstimulation is a very real phenomenon. As pleasurable as sex is, I’ve also experienced that a few minutes after sex, I can find myself overstimulated. My heart rate is up, and I’ve just had this intimate, physical experience. On a handful of occasions, this has led to panic attacks. Again, the sex was consensual and enjoyable; my body just got overwhelmed. And in those moments, my partner lovingly holds me, we focus on my breathing, and we get through it. 5. Taboo intrusive thoughts Finally, I feel it would be a dishonor to the OCD community to not at least mention this category of intrusive thoughts, and how they can definitely come up during sex. But also, I’m not ready to talk about mine publicly and have it published forever, at least not yet. There’s a fear of losing jobs or opportunities, or being judged as a bad person by people who don’t understand OCD. That’s not true. People with OCD are not bad people. But sometimes our thoughts, which are out of control, can be misleading. All this to say, if you have OCD and you know, you know. You are not a bad person. You are not alone. Finally, this is not an exhaustive list of all the ways OCD can show up during sex. This is just based on my experience. If you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear your experiences too.

Anxiety and Dismissive Doctors Made Me Doubt My Chronic Pain Is Real

This week, I think I’ve had an ovarian cyst rupturing. The emphasis is on “I think” because I genuinely don’t know if this is what’s happening to my body. I’ve been experiencing stabbing pain right where my left ovary is, having some abnormal bleeding, and feeling a bit light-headed at times. I have polycystic ovary syndrome ( PCOS ), so it wouldn’t be impossible that I have a cyst that is rupturing. But I don’t know because I couldn’t find a doctor to confirm this or run tests. The earliest my OB/GYN can see me is in a week, urgent care didn’t have an ultrasound, and I don’t feel it’s bad enough to go to the emergency room, especially with how overrun they are with COVID-19 . I’ve had this pain on and off for over two years, though — always extremely localized to where my left ovary must sit. But every time, by the time I see my doctor, the pain has resolved. They do an ultrasound, and find no dominant, rupturing cyst. They say we will wait and watch, and I should call if the pain returns. So, I do, a few months later. And the cycle repeats itself. This time, the pain was worse than it had been before though. And the frustration built enough for me to try urgent care. Going to urgent care was hard for me though. I doubted if I should go for over an hour. I was crying, asking my friends to tell me what to do. It wasn’t until a friend validated that it would be worthwhile to go to urgent care that I was able to give myself permission to go. This reaction is because I have an overwhelming fear that the pain and sensations are psychosomatic. What if it’s just my anxiety causing me to be hyperaware of my body? What if I go to urgent care and they tell me it’s nothing? Even worse, what if they tell me it’s “just my anxiety ?” How many times has someone with anxiety on their chart presented to a doctor with a physical health problem, and been told it’s “just” anxiety ? Probably too many to count. And sure, maybe sometimes it is anxiety , but even if it is “just” anxiety , that person is still a patient who deserves care and treatment and referrals for their anxiety . They shouldn’t be brushed off. And how many times is it not anxiety ? How many times do we miss earlier diagnoses or any diagnosis because we assume it’s all in their head? We’re breeding a system where people with anxiety disorders can’t trust their own bodies, where we self-invalidate our own pain. For now, I plan to keep my doctor’s appointment next week, where we will do yet another ultrasound and probably still have no answers. But I also plan to be assertive about how bad the pain was a few nights ago. I plan to be assertive that this pain is real and valid, even if just to myself.

Why Pointing Out Logic to Someone With OCD Isn't Helpful

I am fortunate to have several friends who also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). We have similar thoughts, obsessions, behavior patterns, and struggles. We relate to one another at such a deep level we often refer to it as “having the same brain.” This can be incredibly validating — to have good friends who understand a difficult experience. OCD does not care about logic. Intrusive thoughts and the resulting anxiety are the driving force. In comparison, logic is a whisper. With our own obsessions, we either can’t entirely see the logic, or more than likely, the logic doesn’t matter. Sure, I know I probably turned the stove off. Sure, I know that siren I just heard was heading in the opposite direction away from my apartment. Sure, I know running home to check will only reinforce the OCD. And at the same time, none of this matters. When the fear gets so loud, as it does with OCD, logic is a weak fighting tool. But with my friends’ obsessions, I can easily see the logic there. It’s not my obsession, so I have no investment in the anxiety, resulting in great insight. Yet, when they are stuck in an OCD moment, I know from my own experiences with OCD that pointing out the logic won’t work. It will likely only increase their anxiety. The best way to help is to validate their fear and encourage them they can do the hard thing. That’s what I find helpful when I am stuck in a spiral. Still, it can be difficult to not point out the logic, especially when it seems so clear to me. I sometimes become frustrated, even though I also have OCD. I imagine this is what it’s sometimes like for loved ones in my life, who don’t have OCD, when I am ruminating or wanting to do a compulsion. They can see the logic so clearly, so why can’t I use that logic to quiet my fear? But OCD does not care about logic, no matter how many times we try to apply it against the obsession. All this to say, it’s important to remember logic is not a good weapon for fighting OCD, despite how simple and clear it may seem. Its counterintuitive logic wouldn’t apply. But I promise, usually people with OCD can see most or even all the logic. And the logic not working only makes OCD more frustrating for us too. So, be patient. Remember your frustration is valid, and so is ours. Remember OCD is the common enemy.

Why We Need to Keep Speaking Out About PCOS

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is lonely. But it doesn’t have to be. Recently, Keke Palmer has been sharing more about her experiences with the disorder, on Instagram and in interviews. 21Nintey published a story about Keke sharing. The more we speak up about having the disorder, the less alone we will all feel. About 1 in 10 women have PCOS, a disorder of hormonal imbalances, and all that can come with that. Symptoms include irregular periods; many developing follicles in the ovaries; excessive body hair, such as on the face or chest (hirsutism); weight gain, often around the belly; insulin resistance; acne; skin tags; thinning head hair; and infertility. It’s a lot, to put it lightly. My experience with PCOS began with irregular periods. After about a decade of perfectly timed periods, the length between periods got longer than about a month, and the periods themselves started to last for several weeks. My tracking app, Clue, is what alerted me that this was off, and kept reminding me to see a doctor, until I was convinced. Now, here’s where my experience with PCOS is still all too common. My OB/GYN ran diagnostic tests, including an ultrasound of my ovaries and blood hormonal levels. My hormones were way off, and the ultrasound looked like a constellation, rather than just showing a few developing follicles on each ovary. I was told my diagnosis was PCOS. Then, I was given a prescription for birth control, little to no education about the disorder, and sent on my way. That was it. That meant that as my hormones continued to become out of whack and symptoms continued to develop, it took months for me to even connect that they were PCOS-related. I didn’t realize I should see a doctor again until the symptoms were quite bad, and maybe a different doctor, who put more attention into caring for someone with PCOS. The most intense symptom of my PCOS isn’t the irregular periods, though that is what first alerted me to having the disorder. It’s not the rapid hair growth on my chin, no matter how often I wax. My most impactful symptom is intense, rapid hunger. I would eat a meal, and then within an hour, I was shaking and needed more food, especially carbs. Sometimes I would start crying, I was so hungry and my hormones were so off. I now know this is related to insulin resistance. My body can still produce insulin, but it has a difficult time using it to process carbs. This means glucose is floating through my blood, but it can’t get into my cells. Hence, intense hunger for carbs, even shortly after eating. This went on for months, partially because it was so gradual. I didn’t realize how much had changed with my hunger cues, but I also didn’t realize this could be connected to my new diagnosis of PCOS. Eventually, as symptoms piled up and I felt worse and worse, I switched OB/GYNs. I’m not a doctor, but I still know my body best, and I wasn’t receiving enough care. As Keke said in her Instagram post, “No one can help us like we can help ourselves.” The new doctor wasn’t perfect in how he treated PCOS, but he was more helpful. He provided more education about PCOS. He explained that birth control can create typical looking periods, but it is just masking all of the hormone imbalances still underneath. He offered to start me on a medication, metformin, that helps my body use insulin and process carbs. Within a day of taking the med, I could feel a difference. Meals actually kept me satisfied for a few hours again. I could make it to lunch and then to dinner, without needing constant snacks. Still, he has emphasized several times that he wants me to lose weight. That is not my goal, and it never will be. The weight gain was not my fault, it is not in my control, and it is not the end of the world. There is so much more to health than one number on a scale. My main goal was and is to feel better, especially with being hungry and emotional. Plus, health includes the mental health of loving my body too. Through all of this though, I did feel incredibly alone. I know a few people in my life who have mentioned also having PCOS, but it isn’t talked about enough. We don’t talk about all the intense and varied symptoms of having PCOS, how much it can affect your life. Keke Palmer speaking out helps. It brings awareness and a voice to the disorder. Maybe someone will hear her words and ask a doctor about their symptoms. Maybe someone will be more assertive with a doctor that they still do not feel well. Talking encourages others to speak out. Hopefully, my sharing can do the same.

Preparing for and Dealing With OCD Flares During Holiday Travel

The holidays are quickly approaching, and as someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), that means I need to prepare. Now, I don’t mean prepare in a do lots of compulsions and ruminate sort of way, though some of that will likely happen. Change often increases stress, whether that is traveling and being in a new environment, socializing with new people or people you haven’t seen for a while, or some other aspect of the holidays. What I mean though is it’s time to prepare my coping plans, so I can best manage living with an anxiety disorder like OCD. 1. Predict your triggers, and do the exposures in advance For me, one of the biggest triggers to my OCD is traveling itself. While I enjoy the trips, being away from home and having to get there is stressful. This can lead to compulsions, for example, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything when packing for the trip or leaving any space during the trip. With OCD, it would be much harder to start the exposure process once I’m already in the new, higher stress setting. I need to do exposures in advance. The week or two before, I can write out a script about maybe leaving something behind. I can avoid writing lists of what I need to pack. Though people without OCD may make lists, for me, it becomes compulsive and excessive. That said, I will still likely need to do exposures while over the holidays or while on a trip. But if I’ve already started the exposures and working my way up my fear hierarchy, I will be better prepared to handle harder exposures in the moment. 2. Communicate your needs with loved ones Perhaps the most important thing for me when traveling for the holidays is to communicate my needs to those around me. I have a hard time doing this. It’s easy to hope our friends or family will notice we are stressed and then help us. But for me, most of the time I am incredibly anxious, no one would have any idea from the outside. Somehow, I still look as calm as a cucumber. So, it’s on me to communicate that increased stress, and even better, what they can do to help. The best way to help me when I’m in an OCD spiral is not reassurance about the fear, but reassurance that I am strong and can handle the anxiety. Also, it is helpful to make sure I’ve eaten enough. Half the time I’m having an anxiety attack, it’s because I didn’t eat a meal recently. Providing validation and food are two easy tasks those around me can do, but only if I’ve communicated those needs. 3. Give yourself permission to take breaks With the treatment of OCD, we are often taught, “Go! Go! Go!” with pushing ourselves to face our fears. What I’ve learned over the past few years though, is that sometimes there is merit in rest. It is OK to take breaks, both from exposures, and from the holidays themselves. If I need to sit by myself in a quiet room, that is OK. If I need to zone out and play on my phone for an hour, that is OK. And the need for these breaks can be something to communicate to those around you (see number 2). If we keep pushing ourselves, we will likely run out of steam. There is value in resting and recuperating, to gear up for the next challenge. 4. Give yourself a pat on the back Finally, as cheesy as it may sound, take a moment to be proud of yourself. Though the holidays can be an exciting and joyful time, for many people with anxiety disorders, the can also be stressful. We can be happy to be there and anxious; both can be true. The key is we are choosing values-based activities, of spending time in person or virtually with loved ones, and acting out of self-care. That deserves recognition, even if it is coming from yourself. So take a moment these holidays to be proud of yourself for all you’re doing. You deserve it.

How Worrying About COVID Exposure Messes With My OCD

Last week, I found out I was exposed to someone who then tested positive for COVID-19. We were both vaccinated, but breakthrough cases are real. I was fearful, and rightfully so, even if I didn’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I was fearful of being sick myself, of having to isolate and miss activities like work and theater, and of causing others I’ve been around to get sick. Experiencing a pandemic like COVID causes anxiety, not just for those already with anxiety disorders. I went and got a rapid test as soon as I found out about the exposure, and thankfully my test was negative. Within the next day though, I started to get a scratchy throat. I felt a little congestion in my sinuses. And my anxiety was through the roof. What if I had tested too soon? What if I had COVID and was unknowingly still exposing others? At first, I chalked it up to allergies or psychosomatic symptoms. But after two more days of a mild sore throat, I went to get another COVID test. This was again, thankfully, negative. The difficult piece is also having obsessive-compulsive disorder, because OCD thrives off of uncertainty. And nothing, even two negative tests, is 100 percent certain. What if I should have gotten a more accurate PCR test instead of the rapid test? What if I got lucky with two false negatives? Maybe I then continued to expose more people to the virus. I’m confident I did the right thing by getting that first COVID test. I followed CDC guidelines after being exposed to someone who later confirmed positive, and I continued to wear a mask the whole time when inside around others. But the second test? That one seems to fall more in a grey area. Of course, OCD wanted me to also get a third test in a few more days, and to quarantine until I had another negative. But having OCD means there will never be enough reassurance to satisfy my brain. At some point, I have to sit with the uncertainty. A third or fourth or fifth COVID test won’t be enough to convince OCD. If anything, more tests may only fuel my anxiety, and soon I’ll be getting a COVID test every day. It’s complicated because I want to do the right thing. I want to keep others safe, especially those who may have compromised immune systems. And also, “doing the right thing” can itself become OCD and a compulsion. All this to say, having OCD is complicated. There are some rules-of-thumb to detect what is OCD and what is “real.” Anything that starts with “what if” or “maybe,” is almost always OCD. And anything that is clearly CDC guidelines should be followed. It’s the in-betweens that get tricky. I think most of us can relate to this anxiety surrounding COVID, whether or not we have OCD. At least in that, there is certainty that with all these spiraling thoughts and in what I’m feeling, I’m not alone.