Living With Mental Illness

I come here tonight to dig as deeply as I can within my mind. To really reach the inner walls and somehow be able to form sentences out of what I find.

I want to give others like myself the comfort I’ve always searched for.

To know that you’re not alone.

I have suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for as long as I can possibly remember.

The oldest memory I have was from when I was four years old. I was walking down a sidewalk holding my mother’s hand. It was a brisk fall afternoon, and leaves were flying through the air and scurrying about on the ground. I remember in that moment, my mind “telling” me that I had to step on the leaves that lay in front of me. That every step I took had to be on a leaf. It may sound silly, or even “crazy.” But the urge was so powerful that I went along with it because something within my little body kept saying that if I didn’t, something bad would happen. Something terrible. Something I had no control over, and I didn’t even know what it was. That feeling I would (and still do) get reminds me of a darkening abyss. Its a hell that I’d do anything to avoid.

My parents never really caught on to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as a child, and I grew up thinking it was normal. But as I approached middle school and puberty began to take hold of me, my hormones worsened the never ending phobias and compulsions. I had my first real phobia-induced panic attack when I was in fifth grade and we were learning about HIV. That one forty-five minute class that no one else seemed to listen to has stuck with me all of these years. It quite literally changed my life. And not for the better.

Once I began middle school, I began to experience more germ-related fears. So many, in fact, that it was all that I could think about. My own fears and intrusive thoughts consumed me and swallowed me whole. My grades dropped tremendously, and whenever I had a free moment, I was scrubbing my hands raw until they were bleeding to prevent any contamination from possible illnesses. I hid my hands from others. All the time. They were constantly bleeding and peeling. It was humiliating, yet I seemed to have no control over myself.

I realize now that through my first years suffering with germaphobia and OCD, the majority of it was spent in a state of depersonalization. Which is a dream-like state that your mind enters when it literally cannot handle the amount of stress it is under. And let me tell you, I thought I was going mad. It was like living a nightmare.

Once I reached high school, I began to flourish and somehow a lot of my fears diminished. I was still practicing many of my OCD “rituals” and was still washing my hands quite a bit. But I think at that point, I was finally learning how to manage my mind. I learned what made me anxious, and what didn’t. I researched and tried to find out as much as I could about myself so I could actually understand why my mind handled things differently. I accepted myself. And it created a huge difference in my personality.

I became much more involved with my high school’s band, my grades were excellent, and I had an amazing group of friends.

Everything seemed to finally be leveling out.

Until I began my relationship with my ex-husband.

It was at that point where I really lost control of myself as a person, and it wasn’t just because of my mental illness.

Our relationship began in the best way possible. We had incredible chemistry, and clicked immediately. I seemed to be living in pure bliss, or my own personal fairy tale. I had never felt a love like the love I had for him. And to this day, I hope I never feel it again.

Our relationship soon turned sour as he became increasingly abusive. He was extremely manipulative, and would take my worsening OCD and anxiety and use it against me like a weapon. It was a terrible snowball effect. He forced me to preform sexual acts, he took me for granted financially. It was hell. But the worst of it didn’t come until after we had wed and became pregnant with our second daughter.

He shot me down any chance he could. He completely destroyed any self-esteem I had previously. I hated myself on a level I didn’t know was possible. He would flirt with women in front of me, he had a terrible pornography/sex addiction, and he got physical with me more than once.

It was at that point where I was having panic attacks daily. Panic attacks that were so strong I would hyperventilate and lose myself for a few hours after. Any stress I had fueled my germaphobia. I’d have to throw bags of perfectly fine food I’d just bought straight into the trash because I feared disease from it. So much money was wasted. I would bathe myself in antibacterial soaps until I was covered head to toe in chemical burns. I feared disease that much. I would wash my hands after touching almost everything. My ex-husband was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder after he tried to kill himself and was forced into a mental facility. I was only a week postpartum when that happened. Postpartum depression soon kicked in. Everything was crumbling.

I wasn’t living. My daughters were the only two reasons that I was alive and still fighting. What energy I had went to them.

After being married for two years (together six years total) and desperately trying to help my ex-husband who very clearly did not want to help himself, I had hit a new low for my mental illness. My therapist had diagnosed me with OCD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and Panic Disorder. I was a mess, but I tried to stay tall for my sweet babies.

It was around that time that Nick had come into our lives, and to this day I swear he possesses the skills of an ancient healer.

Looking back in retrospect, its as if he pulled my near-lifeless body from a current that was drowning me, wrapped me in his arms, and let me know that I was very much loved and wanted.

He restored me.

That being said, this post doesn’t end in a happily ever after.

To this day I suffer.

After I gave birth to Kohana, the major hormone shift following his birth caused me to develop both Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Psychosis. The first two months after Kohana was born were incredibly frightening. I loved my new baby, and I was so in love with our family. But I would hallucinate at random times and see flashes of things I couldn’t explain. I felt like I was being watched at all times and my paranoia increased. All of this would cause panic attacks on top of the sleep deprivation a newborn brings. The stress of panic attacks triggers my germaphobia, therefore I would wash my hands constantly. Or take showers constantly. It was stressful, but manageable since Nick was home for some of it. He could calm me down.

I’ve had to overcome so many obstacles with my mental illnesses. I’ve remained as strong as I possibly could and I could not possibly love or dedicate myself more to my beautiful children. The kids and Nick are what keep me fighting myself. They are my life.

But I still have bad days.

I have days where I get anxious touching any packaging. There are days where I have to carry hand sanitizer on me, and the entire bottle will be gone in two hours. There are days when I have panic attacks. But I am getting better with the wonderful support of Nick and my parents. Even my children. Lily has some understanding of the way my mind works and whenever I feel a little more anxious than normal, she knows that giving me a huge hug can help me so much.

Since Nick deployed, I have found so many groups of other women who have some of the same “rituals” and anxieties that I have. Finding a support group has made a huge difference. I’ve worked my butt off to get myself to where I am today. I have done exposure therapy. (a lot of it) I have done normal therapy. I have found a tribe of incredible women that I can lean on in times of stress. I have learned how to properly manage a severe panic attack. I have learned how to stop the compulsions.

I am so proud of myself. Even on the days when I feel emotionally weak. I remind myself of my worth.

Just like everyone should.

Every. Single. Day.

Living With Mental Illness

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I am an overly-passionate, Earth-obsessed woman who spends her time raising three beautiful flowers, and growing with the other half of my soul.

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