It’s something I’ve heard quite often throughout my life, something many “anxious” or “emotional” individuals have learned to tune out. My initial reaction to this piece of advice has always been to argue, “I can’t help it. My brain is literally wired this way.” My more rational, enlightened self has a better response.
“You’re quite the puzzle,” my doctor said as I sat quietly on the exam table in her office. She scanned my extensive lab results, which I’d stapled together according to date. I swallowed hard, my throat burning, knowing I would leave yet another specialist with no answers. “Everything looks normal to me. Nothing is wrong.”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness I know all-too-well — one I was diagnosed with at the mere age of 6 years old. And while there are a million reasons why I wish I didn’t have to live with such a relentless demon, there are a few solid reasons why I’m actually glad I do — including the fact that it’s brought me closer to the people in my life, especially those who also battle OCD.
I met my friend Milly through Instagram’s OCD community and instantly knew we’d become good friends, despite the fact that she’s from New Zealand and I’m in the U.S. I admired her willingness to share her struggles, and she has unknowingly encouraged me to be more open and communicative with others.
I found it was inspiring how, despite her brain being wired against herself the way mine is, Milly moved overseas to Australia when she was only 17 to train at a full-time ballet school, then to the U.S. where she danced for three years. She’s now studying at Auckland University back in NZ, where she plans to earn her BA in psychology and criminology, her goal to become a clinical psychologist specializing in OCD.
Needless to say, she doesn’t let her disorder hold her back from living. However, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t struggled along the way.
If you’ve ever endured a tough period in your life — which, let’s face it, we all have — you probably understand the impact support has on a person or situation. The people in our lives, those who value and foster real human connections with others, can offer a sense of comfort and encouragement that helps diminish a mountain to a hill.
But sometimes, no matter how much someone cares for you, they lack the means to be there 24/7. Other times, it’s difficult just to admit you need help — and even more difficult to actually accept it.
That’s how Nicholas Emerson-Mazzone, co-founder of Supportful, a crowdsupporting platform, felt when his father was diagnosed with and later passed away from Stage 4 lymphoma.
I hear it often: “If I could just find someone to love, someone to love me back, I’d feel better. I’d be happy. Life would be great.”
But what if being in an amazing relationship, loving someone who shares those same feelings for you, only causes you pain?
This is life with Relationship-OCD (ROCD), a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that attacks relationships (typically romantic, but not always). People with this disorder often doubt their love for their partner, and/or their partner’s love for them. This can take form in various ways, from worrying your partner is not “the one” to feeling like you’re cheating simply by finding another person attractive. Many question their sexuality, their loyalty, their values, their feelings, and even their character on a loop until they’re depressed or numb, unable to enjoy their relationship.
I’ve never been great at talking. OK, ask my dad or best friends or boyfriend, and they’d probably say otherwise, because to the right people, I can talk an ear off. I can drain on for hours about politics or philosophy or mental health; but ask me what I’ve been up to or how my day was, and I’ll stumble over my words. (Ask me to give a speech to a full room, and I’ll vomit — but that’s another issue for another day.)
Surface-level conversations are not enough for someone with a mind so chaotic they can’t even think straight. I often end up sounding illiterate, the other person wondering how I could possibly be a writer.
The truth is, I can write and speak for hours. But today, many people are too busy for that. They don’t really care how you’re feeling, what’s on your mind, the struggles you’re enduring. It’s sad. I don’t want to be like that, and I’ve realized I’m not — not at all. And for a while — most of my life, actually — I’ve shamed myself for it.
Last night, I stood in my small kitchen, back against the white wall, eyes squinting in the fluorescent lighting, hunched over and crying. I didn’t feel anything; but at the same time, I felt everything.
“You don’t know me,” I told my boyfriend, and I could see the pain on his face as he registered my words. “No one does. Not you. Not my family. Not my best friends. They don’t know what goes on in my mind. And if they did, they wouldn’t love me.”
He wrapped his arms around me, but I was numb. My body was limp, my mind elsewhere.
It’s been months since I’ve written about my OCD. Often, painting a picture through words helps me cope. But I thought that if I picked up my pen this time, all I’d see — all anyone would see — was darkness.
Depression. It’s a common term that many use to describe sadness. To express the tears streaming down their face at night, or the crippling stress from piling bills, or the gutting heartache from a devastating breakup.
So, really, I wasn’t sure I even had it. Because, well, I didn’t feel that. I felt nothing, mostly. And when I did feel, it wasn’t sadness. It was terror. Fear — not of death, but of living. I couldn’t imagine waking up just one more day.
After being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression at age 20, Samantha Ramos, now 25, earned her degree in Film and Television at SCAD, packed up her life, and moved to New York City. While she struggled with this comorbidity during major life changes, she also developed a better understanding of her mental health, allowing her to practice acceptance along with other healthy coping mechanisms. Check out her journey battling such conflicting issues.
What first made you believe something was wrong, or “off” with the way you were feeling?
I always felt like something was “off” with me since at least middle school. I would get what I thought at the time was just really nervous for the simplest things. My grades suffered a lot in school because my anxiety didn’t allow me ask questions or let teachers know when I didn’t understand things. I also missed so much school because of how depressed I was. I didn’t know it then, but I could barely get out of bed every morning, let alone deal with the challenges of high school.
It wasn’t until I got to art school and the assignments and workload became unbearable for me to deal with. I had my first panic attack in my dorm room; I couldn’t breathe or see straight. It was then that I knew something was more wrong with me than just normal stress.