My OCD and Me: Treading Water in a Drought

My OCD and Me: Treading Water in a Drought

Many people assume they know what obsessive-compulsive disorder is: Making your bed a certain way every morning. Always being early to class or work. Organizing your toiletries so they’re color-coded in the bathroom closet.

But society doesn’t understand the things they cannot see – the things that people with OCD feel, the obsessive thoughts we cycle over, the guilt and shame we sleep with.

It started when I was in pre-school, after a particularly traumatic experience with a boy who was three years older than me. He locked my bedroom door, tugged me into my own closet, and pulled my pants down.

He threatened me not to tell my parents what he made me do, and what he did to me.

From that point forward, I needed to tell my parents everything – every thought I had, even the crazy fleeting ones, the judgmental ones, the panicked ones.

“I just had a thought of putting a knife in your back,” I cried to my mom one evening. I was six.

For sure, that meant I wanted to do it, right? I wanted to put a knife in her back. Because why else would I be haunted by such a vivid image of me doing so?

The more I fought the idea, the more real it became; and I started experiencing similar ones: of hitting my baby cousin because he was crying, kicking my grandpa while he pushed me on the swing set in my backyard, pushing my brother down the stairs.

With every disturbing thought my mind created, I distanced myself more and more from the person it involved. I was afraid to be around my own mother, who I needed more than anything in those moments.

Then came the phobias.

I was so afraid of throwing up that I’d spend the entire winter hysterical, pacing my room all night with a thermometer in my mouth, analyzing possible symptoms. The stomach virus was a death sentence, going on rollercoasters with my friends was a terrifying suggestion, eating cafeteria lunch was a panic attack waiting to happen. I lived off sealed bags of chips in case someone had slipped poison in the sandwich my mom made me, wouldn’t dare to eat meat God forbid it wasn’t cooked enough, and was so skinny from avoiding sustainable meals that my therapist thought I might be anorexic.

This was my childhood. Every single day, I had a routine, certain phrases I needed to repeat; my mom had to reassure me in a specific way that I wouldn’t get sick at school; and my dad, a police officer, had to tell me he wouldn’t die at work.

But as I matured, so did my irrational thoughts. Looking back now, some of these seem silly and elementary. They felt real then – but they were nothing compared to what I deal with today.

In high school, my OCD was the reason I quit soccer. I had panic attacks every day. I still don’t understand why the sport I love brought such terror to my life, but I was tired of crying myself to sleep and waking up shaking.

Every practice, every game, felt like a daunting event hanging over my head, like a medical procedure or a rejection letter from my top choice of college. I carried that stress with me hour by hour, moment by moment.

But college is what really broke me.

Going away to school, even just a short hour and a half drive south, was a trigger for my OCD. In the first few months of school, I experienced cyber-bullying on an anonymous Twitter account where someone said something along the lines of, “That girl Sammi from Willow Hall is as flat as a rail.”

I remember my friend warning me not to check the account for a few days, which only made me more curious. When I read it, I cried for an entire day.

There I was, away at my new school where I barely knew anyone, staying out of everyone’s business to focus on my own education – yet I was being attacked for something I couldn’t control, something as shallow as the shape of my body.

I let whoever sent that message get to me – I started working out every day, counting my calories, lifting weights without a clue how, missing out on parties and movie nights with the few friends I had to perfect my appearance, since it was the only thing I felt that I could control. It was exhausting.

One night, my parents came to take me out to dinner, and I spent the entire evening sobbing, begging them to let me come home and go to community college because I couldn’t take another second alone with my thoughts in my dorm room.

I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere on that campus. But I didn’t give up; I dealt with my circumstances and pushed through the agony.

Shortly after, I met someone when I came home from school one weekend. We went on a group date that ended up going well, and I remember feeling hopeful again. I remember feeling confident again. I remember feeling happy again.

About a month into our relationship, he showed up to my school and, with the help of my floormates, snuck into my dorm room, waiting for me with a rose.

“I know we only just met a few weeks ago, but I want to be with you,” he’d said without hesitation.

I was overwhelmed with excitement. Here was this gorgeous guy, two years older than me, who drove over an hour to surprise me with a Teddy bear and a decorated dorm room. It was like something out of a movie.

The weeks following were spent laughing at the McDonald’s drive-through, ordering way too much food but finishing it all anyway. They were spent cuddling on the couch by the Christmas tree. They were spent teasing each other over the phone throughout the day. He listened to me when I panicked about giving a speech in class, trying to understand how phobias work. He read the first poem I ever shared and encouraged me to post it online.

He was my medication. And I’m afraid I overdosed.

Shortly after, I found myself striving to be enough. I ditched plans with my guy friends because he didn’t trust me to be alone with them. I felt pressured to drink more because he couldn’t seem to stay sober around me. But when I’d get drunk, he’d just shake his head like I was a little girl who couldn’t handle her liquor.

I’d drive all the way home to see him every weekend, just for him to go partying in another state, oversleeping and forgetting what he did the night before, not making it home before I drove back to school for the week.

I felt like I wasn’t enough for him. Enough of what? I couldn’t tell you. But I knew that I couldn’t make him happy.

Was this his fault? Absolutely not. Those were my own insecurities, my OCD-bred flaws, that I couldn’t seem to handle – that he couldn’t seem to handle, either.

It was fine. I was fine. We just didn’t work. We weren’t meant for each other. We both had baggage that was too heavy for us to carry together. It happens. I wasn’t that bent up over it. In fact, I’d already started to pull away. I didn’t feel the spark anymore. I didn’t feel like myself.

So, I ended it. He wouldn’t see me or answer my calls because he knew it was coming, so I was forced to do it through a text message, which tore me apart more than I thought it would.

“If you’re not gonna call me or see me to talk, then I don’t know what else to do. You’re not giving me anything.”

I texted him in my car, pulled over on the side of the road since I was hysterically crying, and he couldn’t even pick up the phone to hear me out.

And that was that. I tried understanding his side, left the Christmas gift I bought him on his porch the next day, offered to meet up a few weeks later to talk things through – but he wouldn’t cave.

“What’s the point?” he’d asked.

I spent the next month crying, spending days on the couch with a swollen face and shaking body, falling right back into that depression, my worries piling up like dusty self-help books I couldn’t bring myself to read.

Pictures of him with another girl surfaced online. Unanswered texts and calls shamed me into oblivion. I felt empty.

This didn’t have to do with him as much as it had to do with myself. I was a mess when I met him, and so I relied on him to pull me out of the hole I’d somehow fallen into. That’s the thing with OCD – often, I feel like I’m searching for someone else’s hand instead of building the strength to get up myself. I crave sympathy from people who know what it’s like to fall apart every single day.

But that’s not healthy. I know this. And now that I’m in a new relationship, my longest and most serious relationship, one that took time to build and patience to thrive, I understand this.

I’m happy now. I’m who I’ve always wanted to be. I’m supported and loved through every fault I bring to light, and even those that hide within me. Every dark notion I contemplate is accepted by my boyfriend. He’s held me in those moments where I was quivering in agony over a fleeting thought.

I met him in high school. We were friends for a while. In the back of my mind, I always knew we were saving each other until we were mature enough to be together. He’d helped me through failed relationships, took me for ice cream when I needed to vent, always knew how to turn my day around with late night phone calls and comical text messages.

I knew I liked him. I knew he would treat me well. I also knew he needed time to get out of his “hookup” phase.

He was always a good guy – everyone’s friend, popular because of how kind and down to earth he is. Hell, when I first met him, I fell in “lust” at first sight. He was the ideal guy for me, the one I always hoped I’d find someday.

So, when we wound up at the same college together, it was like fate.

He helped me through the breakup with my ex. He respected my space, but reminded me that he was just a text away.

Falling for him didn’t happen overnight like it did with other guys. It took time. I felt more for him with every minute we spent together, every dinner he cooked for me, every romantic night he planned in Philly, every pizza we devoured after a drunk night out. It was like falling in love with my best friend.

He is my medication. And I’m afraid I’m resistant.

A few years into our relationship, my ex reached out. It was innocent; he just wanted to catch up and clear the air, thanking me for being kind to him and changing his life. I was shocked at his maturity and genuine feelings toward me, but it was nice to be on good terms again.

So, when he lost someone close to him unexpectedly, I knew he needed me. And I was there. I felt connected to him and the sadness he felt. When you’re immune to heartache and fear, you recognize it in other people – and all you want to do is help, no matter who they are, no matter how poorly they’ve treated you in the past.

And so, I did something that could have caused issues in my current relationship: I talked my ex through his sorrow and mourning. I called him, checked up on him, let him vent on the phone to me. I even turned to him for my own comfort during a rough patch, because I knew he’d help.

But it got to a point where he started consuming my mind again. Whenever I was upset, I thought of him; whenever I listened to sad songs, I pictured our memories.

You know how you wonder about an ex or an old friend from time to time? With Relationship-OCD, what I soon realized I was dealing with, that thought is on a loop until it’s all you can think about.

Why? Why why why? I’m in love with someone else – not him. So why?

I thought that maybe he could just be a familiar face, a voice from the past that might get my mind off the daily terror of my life. Maybe that’s what I was craving – someone who understood. Maybe if I just talked to him like a normal friend, all of this would fade away and I’d gain some clarity again.

Or maybe I just care too much about people I shouldn’t even think about. I can’t handle being on bad terms with anyone. I have a sick desire to be friends with every person that’s ever meant something to me.

And all the insecurities he sparked in me during our relationship were burning within my mind yet again.

I didn’t hide anything from my boyfriend. I was open and honest about speaking with my ex. I didn’t lie or cheat or say anything disloyal. But all the sudden, I was crushed with guilt and horror at the size of the hole I’d dug myself into.

And then a new irrational thought surfaced: What if I don’t love my boyfriend after all?

This is for certain the most disturbing and emotionally draining obsession I have ever experienced, which is how I know it is purely OCD and not at all how I feel.

I bet they don’t tell you in the movies, or on social media, or even in psychology class, that OCD can affect the way you love, too.

Forget scrubbing my hands until they’re numb. Forget tucking the sheets into my bed so it’s like a straitjacket when I climb in to sleep. Forget the skin picking and foot tapping.

I now live in fear of loving someone that has no business in my life.

Fear.

And this fear has brought me to even darker corners: Shaming myself for thinking another guy is attractive. Preventing myself from speaking to male friends in fear that I’m flirting. Coming home from class and crying over a guy I sit next to because I had a split second of butterflies when I talked to him. Feeling petrified that I will someday run into my ex and still feel affection, or be devastated if I find out he’s with someone else.

I’ve been with my current boyfriend for three and a half years now. I feel more than enough to know that I see a future with him, to know that I’m ready to move out with him, to factor him into my long-term plans, to discuss the idea of growing old together.

But here’s the catch: I can never dwell in the happiness he brings me, because I’m always hearing the lies my brain feeds me.

You’re still in love with your ex.

Sure, he’ll always have a part of me. But I’m in love with one person – and that’s who I’m with.

You think other guys are attractive. Maybe you want to be single.

I’m human. This is normal. It doesn’t mean anything.

You enjoy other guys’ company.

I’m allowed to have guy friends. Just because I like being around someone doesn’t mean I want to sleep with them.

But no matter how I respond to these disturbing thoughts, they’re always there. And they grow stronger with every rebuttal.

I think about other guys all the time because I try to fight the momentary thoughts of them, giving them more meaning than they actually have, because that’s how OCD works. It deceives you until your left exhausted from fighting a mental battle that only makes the fear louder.

When I’m trying to be intimate with my boyfriend, my mind is submerged in images of someone else – a stranger I passed in the city, a guy I used to talk to in high school, a celebrity I find attractive.

When I’m enjoying a date night, my mind thinks: What if I was here with my ex instead? Would I have more fun? Would I be happier?

When I’m going through a tough time in my life, I have this overwhelming desire to search elsewhere for support.

I cannot simply exist with my soulmate because my OCD needs to attack everything that I love until I’m alone yet again. The way it did with my mom in elementary school.

Not to mention, the guilt, the shame, the confusion, the agony that comes with these thoughts. The temptation to reach out to an ex or to a guy friend to make sure that my OCD is wrong, that I don’t have feelings for them. The need clear the air so I can stop being taunted and enjoy being in love, so I could be the girlfriend my boyfriend deserves. The empathy I have for everyone I’ve ever cared about, misinterpreted as lust and attraction.

God forbid I have normal feelings. God forbid I want to help the people that I care about. God forbid I get stuck on a thought that I don’t even want to have in the first place, consumed until I’m scratching at my face and picking out the hairs in my eyebrows for a distraction. Until I’m a shivering mess in my lover’s bed, unable to get close to him because I’m a monster who has inappropriate thoughts and deserves someone who’s just as conflicted as I am.

God forbid I am human.

OCD is not what it seems. It’s reliving the worst breakup imaginable every morning, even though you’re in a happy relationship. It’s feeling like you’ll never be content in your own mind, then shaming yourself for being so complicated and self-destructive. It’s the moments when no one can reach you, and all you can do is beg the clock to move quicker until you’re old enough to leave this behind. It’s the confusion, the doubt, the physical pain in your stomach and head. It’s drinking to clear your mind, then crying about feeling out of control.

It’s walking on hot coals, and losing balance with every step.

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Why You Should Consider Being an Organ Donor

Why You Should Consider Being an Organ Donor

What does your health mean to you? Maybe it’s your body allowing you to be active so you can travel the world. It might be looking thin in your trendy clothes or having toned legs and a flat stomach. Perhaps it’s waking up without a sniffle or body aches, getting enough sleep for work, or having the energy to go bar hopping with friends.

For my brother, it means getting the chance to propose to his girlfriend of over eight years, despite his medical bills and recovery time. The ability to eat a sustainable diet without weighing protein and avoiding potassium like it’s poison, trying not to lose over 35 pounds in the process. The opportunity to walk the beach without getting winded on family vacations, to drink more than one beer without nearly collapsing.

All of these things were normal for him just months ago, before he found out he was in kidney failure from IgA nephropathy, an autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys. Now, they’re privileges that he can barely recall.

My family, given our circumstances, is blessed. My mom, selfless and loving, was the perfect match for my brother, so he didn’t have to wait on a kidney transplant list for years before getting to live a somewhat “normal” life again. She saved him from dialysis, from years of fear and exhaustion, from his own body’s faults.

However, not everyone is that lucky. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), an average of 20 people die every day while waiting for a transplant.

Reading that statistic, you might feel a pang of sympathy before moving on with your day. But the people behind those numbers can’t just brush it off. They are forced to live the consequences: Dry heaving over the toilet all night. Waking up on the floor of a subway station in New York City while commuting home from work. Swallowing several pills morning and night just to stay alive, and dealing with their torturous side effects because they have no other choice.

These people are parents, siblings, friends, lovers, children, cousins. They are just like you, and just like those you love.

You won’t understand until it gets personal, and I don’t expect you to. Hell, I didn’t get it until I was watching my older brother, my hero, put his entire life on hold, everything he worked so hard for, to fight a relentless disease.

My brother was always the happiest person I’ve known. Even now, while gripping the bed railing in a hospital room, shivering in pain, he manages to reassure us: “Other people have it worse.”

He doesn’t deserve it – of all people, why him?

I was angry for awhile, after the numbness faded into devastation, fear, and sorrow.

Why him?

I never expected this. The snow days we built igloos and went sleigh riding at the park. The summers we played manhunt with our neighbors. The family trips to Wildwood and Lavalette where I’d follow him around in awe of how cool he was. The high school breakups I mourned in his car while he listened, then treated me to dinner. The long hours he’d work overtime without a single complaint, and buy his friends a round of shots just for the hell of it. Nearly a year ago, when we moved him into the condo he purchased with his high school sweetheart. The movie nights, the Sunday drives, the hungover trips to Kettleman’s for bagels.

Why him?

I never expected this. And so, I never took the time to understand the complications of organ failure – and what it can do to an entire family.

I assumed that checking myself off as a donor would put my own life at risk, that health professionals wouldn’t make as much of an effort to save me if they could use my organs to save others. I never even thought about being a living donor, for selfish reasons – wanting to have children without an issue someday, not wanting to be paralyzed with fear, not wanting to deal with the pain and side effects of a major surgery.

While these are all rational thoughts, I don’t want to let them dissuade me from donating. I’ll admit that I am terrified at the idea of ever giving as a living donor. And I’m not saying that I’m gonna commit to doing so for someone in need right now (especially because I’d like to save my kidney God forbid my brother needs it someday.) But I do know that I will, at the very least, register as an organ donor.

I understand that committing to being a donor takes a lot of emotional and physical strength, research, and preparation. But saving someone’s life, someone who doesn’t have a choice but to thrive off another person’s organ, if they’re lucky, is well worth the second thought.

I’m not implying that organ donation is for everyone. I agree that people should have a choice regarding their body and should not feel guilty for what they choose to do with it. But I do believe that the topic should be discussed more than it is.

Next time you complain about work, next time you gloat about your designer shoes and all-inclusive vacations, next time you put far too much emphasis on appearance – remember that there are people out there who spend their nights staring at the clock in tears, wondering how much longer they can gut the pain and fear.

There are parents lying awake numb at the thought of losing their child. There are lovers forced to watch their soulmate lose the light in their eyes. There are siblings mourning a childhood that didn’t know of this verdict. There are grandparents wishing they were sick instead. There are friends in other states ditching work and buying plane tickets they can’t afford.

Remember that you can do something to help. You have the power to save someone’s life, even after you’re gone someday. And if you can’t physically donate yourself, or if you feel it’s too heavy of an obligation, you can spread awareness for the cause to those who can, and to those who may be willing.

John Bunyan once said: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

Today, instead of getting caught up in the superficiality of it all, think about what you can do for these powerless individuals. Think about what you can do for their grieving families, watching their loved one deteriorate right before their eyes.

Be the light that they need, the light that you may need yourself someday.

Give the gift of life.

How To: Deal With Distressing yet Normal Doubts in a Relationship

How To: Deal With Distressing yet Normal Doubts in a Relationship

My OCD has a warped way of interpreting matters in my life. For instance, when I grow comfortable in relationships, it tries to persuade me that I’m just not happy – that I don’t belong with this person. Because God forbid my world doesn’t revolve around him each second.

In the past, it even made me break up with or pull away from guys out of fear of hurting them or leading them on. Thankfully, those mishaps led me to where I am today – with a man who understands these intrusive thoughts as much as I do now.

I’m glad I recognized this as a symptom of OCD (and simply being human) before I allowed it to destroy my current relationship. I must admit, it’s brought me close to a breaking point; and at times, I even think I’m better off alone because I can’t deal with the torment my mind endures.

The guilt. The shame. The terror for having one fleeting thought.

Everyone has questions and doubts in relationships. Everyone gets “bored” from time to time. Everyone wonders. It’s human nature for your mind to explore – but it’s what you do with these thoughts and emotions that defines you and your relationship.

If only I had known that people experience these fleeting notions every second of the day. Some thoughts just stick. They play on a loop, and the more attention you give them, the stronger they become, and the more real they feel.

For me, these “doubts” started as early as my first relationship. I didn’t realize it then, but I wasn’t losing feelings for the guy I was dating. Instead, I was developing stronger ones – just in a different sense. The butterflies had flown away, and I no longer wanted to spend every waking moment with the guy. I did, however, feel secure and content in his presence. But at the time, my OCD lied to me and tricked me into thinking that I no longer cared for this person, because why else would I not be over-the-moon while holding his hand?

Long story short, one simple fear of losing connection attracted a million others, my mind focusing only on flaws, until I was buried beneath my own shame.

I pulled away. He cut all ties. And it was then, in the midst of devastation, that I realized the doubts were meaningless.

Since then, I experienced these exact emotions in every relationship I’ve had. One night, I wasn’t in the mood to make out with my then-boyfriend. We were arguing a lot, and I didn’t feel the connection that night. But all of the sudden, I become overwhelmed with the idea that I was no longer attracted to him.

Another time, an image of me kissing another guy who wasn’t my boyfriend popped into my mind. It was a totally innocent thought – I have never cheated and I never will. But from that point on, I felt so much guilt, as if I had kissed someone else and not just subconsciously imagined it, that I couldn’t even look at my then-boyfriend. I felt like a monster for something I couldn’t control.

But what’s so important to realize is that you are still human, and your mind can still wander without it becoming an issue. You can’t decide what thoughts come into your mind, but you can help how you respond to them.

DO NOT feed these ideas. DO NOT give them more meaning than they hold, unless there is a legitimate reason to. And you will know if there is, because the thought would not be so distressing. You’d want to end things with the person so you can move on with your life. Sure, you’d likely feel disappointed in the situation or upset over hurting the person, but you wouldn’t spend all day worrying and obsessing over whether or not your feelings are valid.

There is a difference between normal doubts and concerning ones. If you genuinely feel that you are unhappy, that you aren’t being treated right, or that the relationship just isn’t working, it’s time to have a conversation with your significant other. You don’t want to put on a front and have your emotions build up until you make a rash decision or start an unnecessary fight. Communication can make or break your relationship. Never be afraid to ask for what makes you happy; but also know that you need to meet your partner halfway.

However, don’t allow yourself to become someone who only wants what they can’t have and never realizes what they have until it’s gone. That person hides in all of us, tempting and nagging, making us believe we will never be satisfied, that perhaps we don’t deserve to be. Acknowledging those ideas is OK. Acting on them or letting them control you – that’s when issues arise.

This isn’t easy. I struggle with it every day because of my ROCD. But there’s a reason I push through and stay in my committed relationship: because I truly do love my boyfriend, even if my anxiety wants to convince me otherwise.

You don’t have to feel guilty for having doubts. In fact, it’s healthy to have them, because it means you are taking your relationship seriously. So take a deep breath and understand that you are normal – and what you’re feeling is normal, too.

My OCD and Me: Why am I so Weak?

My OCD and Me: Why am I so Weak?

These past few weeks have been tough. Scratch that. My entire life has been tough. But whose isn’t?

In July, I went to a concert to see Panic! At The Disco and Weezer, and after eating and drinking all night, I didn’t feel too well. My stomach was in so much pain that as soon as I got home, I collapsed onto the floor in the hallway upstairs, sprawled out on my laundry I was supposed to put away earlier. I couldn’t move without a dizzy spell and felt like I was somehow months pregnant from the bloating in my stomach. Suddenly, my heart dropped..

I hate throwing up more than most things in this world. It’s remained one of my phobias since the first grade, right before I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, 15 years later, I still cringe at the thought.

So when I felt that intense nausea and pain while lying on my floor, I panicked. I really, truly panicked. I ran up and down the stairs, pacing and crying and pulling at my hair, yelling at my parents that I felt sick, gagging over the toilet, dry-heaving for fifteen minutes before finally throwing up my entire night in the bathroom sink downstairs.

That was all it took to send me into a downward spiral.

I was doing fine for years until that moment. I’d gone to cognitive behavioral therapy for a while in fifth grade, where my psychologist had me stare at pictures of people vomiting every night before bed. I wondered how the hell that was going to cure me of my fear, but eventually, it just clicked — I could function again.

But maybe part of the reason I recovered is because I went years without throwing up. I had nothing to trigger the phobia.

Fast forward to now — I’m back at school in my new apartment, cozied up in my double bed, Christmas lights and beach-cottage-themed decor surrounding me. Any normal girl would feel at peace. There’s nothing wrong. At least I don’t think so.

But for the past few months, I’ve been waking up with waves of nausea, squeezing my thumb to stop from choking, a reflex courtesy of my anxiety. Every time I open my eyes in the middle of the night, I immediately ask myself, “Do I feel sick?” before even taking a breath. And immediately, every time, I do.

Maybe something is wrong with me. I’ve been having severe cramps and weight loss issues. I’ve been eating and sleeping less. I’ve been bouncing from specialist to specialist.

But, you see, none of that matters. Sure, health issues are frustrating and sometimes a bit daunting, but these aren’t the issue here. The issue is my OCD.

I turn everything, nothing, into something — something so much worse. I googled my symptoms and self-diagnosed myself with countless digestive diseases/issues, only to worry myself and make the situation even rougher. My mind has been to dark places lately; I feel like I’ve lived with a chronic illness for the past month, all thanks to my mind and the power it seems to have over me.

I’ve been waking up in my new room every hour of the night feeling entirely alone. No one understands, and I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing me complain. I sit up and stare at my blinds, knowing it’s too early for the sun to be up, and take deep breaths — in for four seconds, hold for six, out for eight. But my stomach doesn’t settle. It never does.

When I try to close my eyes again, I feel the little food I ate that day work its way back up. There’s no way I can rest, so I jump out of bed and walk to my window, my heart racing at the thought of vomiting. I try to relax in the cool, early morning air, watch cars zip by on the road below, but my mind won’t let me. I gag again, run to the bathroom without relief — then cry.

For the fifth time that day, I cry. Until I finally fall back to sleep for a few hours, I cry. This happens nearly every night.

Sometimes I wonder how I could ever handle being sick — actually sick. What would I do then? Sob about the possibility of throwing up from whatever treatment I need? Avoid necessary surgeries out of fear of anesthesia side effects? I can barely gut the idea of eating meat because of the possibility of salmonella.

I feel weak. I feel as though I’m not as strong as others, those who’ve dealt with serious diseases and came out fighting, the ones that have sat in fear, not knowing the outcome but doing everything in their power to push forward and stay positive. I want to be like that.

My patience waivers in these times. I need to be in control, to know that I am safe and healthy. A second of doubt is too long, and I break down in anxiety. How could I ever handle a true illness?

That’s when it clicked — I already am.

You know, it’s not always visible. The terror. The compulsions. The internal pain. I beat myself up every day for not being strong, when really, that’s all I ever am.

Mental illnesses are just as severe and debilitating as physical ones. In just one week, I made myself so sick with anxiety that I lost ten pounds. One week. The emotional stress that comes with anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses can lead to actual physical pain and complications.

So, while, yes, it is “in my mind,” it spreads everywhere else, too. It leaks into my heart, quickening it to a pace that concerned the nurses at the ER. It pounds on my head, sending tension down my neck and to my shoulders. It paralyzes my stomach muscles until I’m griping in pain. It steals my energy, my focus, my desire to get out of bed – yet, I still can’t seem to sleep more than an hour because it takes that ability from me, too.

And when I think about how I let this affect me, when I think about how other people would handle this, I don’t realize that they aren’t in the same situation as I am. No one is. Everyone has their own baggage, and this happens to be mine. It’s chronic and severe and constant — there is no relief at any point. Just like any other chronic illness, physical or mental.

So when I tell myself that I’m weak compared to others, those who could easily brush off minor nausea or stomach issues, I’m not crediting myself for dealing with my emotional symptoms — the ones I’ve fought my entire life. It’s like I forget that I wake up every morning and greet the same demons that abuse me every second of every day. I make peace with them long enough to focus on classes, work, clubs, life.

Being strong does not mean being fearless. It means acknowledging your own personal fears and not allowing them to overcome you, to push forward despite them.

We all have our own battles, each unique and unsettling. My journey belongs to no one but myself, so I can’t judge my steps in comparison to someone else’s. Only I live in these shoes and walk these strides, and only I know what that feels like. So I can either attack myself in my most vulnerable state for tripping along the road, or I could pull over, dust myself off, and keep moving forward.

I think I’ll do the latter.

How To: Create and Stick with a Personal Fitness Routine

How To: Create and Stick with a Personal Fitness Routine

So you want to work out. It seems simple enough. If all of those badass fitness models on Instagram can do it, then why can’t you? Buy new workout clothes, invest in a gym membership or at-home equipment, create a fitness board on Pinterest and you’re all set! Right?

Wrong. It’s all fun and games until you end up sitting on some random machine, wondering how to work it and what to do next–until you’re lacking motivation three weeks in and fall back to square one.

So how do you start? By creating your own workout regime.

Figure out what you want from your fitness journey–to lose weight, gain muscle, tone up, build strength, etc. Keep in mind that you can achieve all of these goals with the correct regime. Once you set your priorities straight, conduct some research online (sites like LIVESTRONG and MyFitnessPal are super helpful!) and collect exercises that are relevant to your objectives.

Next, be sure to divide your days into your targeted muscle groups. For example, I exercise my legs and glutes on Mondays and Wednesdays, my arms on Tuesdays, my abs on Tuesdays and Thursdays; I do cardio each of those days; and I dedicate an extra day to full body HIIT workouts. If I skip a session, I simply shift my routine to the following day.  While I am not a physical trainer, I have found that this routine works well for me.

Whether you go to the gym or work out at home, set a few days aside for trial periods. Test some exercises out, try using weights, figure out which form of cardio is your favorite. Make sure to choose activities that excite you, ones that motivate you to get up and get going each morning. For instance, if you hate running like I do, don’t force yourself to do it. There are plenty of other ways to burn calories, like swimming, biking or playing soccer.

Inspiration is another key to staying on track. Follow fitness bloggers on social media and look up new and exciting ways to stay in shape regularly.

By adhering to a schedule, you hold yourself accountable. When you’re comfortable in your routine, make some changes. Increase reps or sets. Add some new workouts. Change your location. Record (and reward!) your progress.

Overall, just ensure that you are enjoying yourself in the healthiest way possible, physically and mentally.

 

6 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

6 Reasons to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

I woke up the other morning feeling extra self-conscious. I skipped the gym all week because I was so focused on my academics and felt sick. I slept too late and had plans to go out, so there was another gym session out of the window. Of course, I could’ve made time if I really wanted to; but I was so looking forward to adventuring and spending some time in the sun that I decided not to–again.

Now, I usually make certain I go to the gym at least four to five days a week. So naturally, I was feeling guilty and gross for skipping yet again. Not only that, but every time I opened my Instagram, I saw another skinny girl with a perfectly flat stomach and toned everything, a girl who I couldn’t help but be jealous of–which I hate admitting to.

I struggle in this area–comparing myself to others. Whether it’s about my physical appearance, like my hair, body, skin, whatever, or about my personality, intellect, interests, I always, always, always compare myself. It’s such a terrible habit to fall in to, but a common one at that.

Here are 6 reasons to stop comparing yourself to others:

  1. You become bitter.
    When you’re constantly competing with other people, you become so invested in outshining them that you often find reasons to dislike and envy them, causing a manifestation of negative thoughts. Sure, competition may encourage you work harder in some aspects of your life–but for all of the wrong reasons.
  2. You live your life for others.
    Your main goal is being better than others, rather than improving yourself. You care so much about other people’s opinions and perceptions of you that you often lose sight of yourself and your own goals.
  3. You miss out on the beauty of life.
    There are so many more important parts of life that you miss when you’re caught up in petty notions. It’s a blessing to wake up each morning, to hear the rain tap on your window, to indulge in your favorite dessert, to spend the day in bed with your lover.
  4. You take yourself for granted.
    You become so wrapped up in who has nicer hair, tanner skin, a better GPA, more internships, etc. that you forget how lucky you are just to have working organs, a healthy body, and the opportunity to learn and live. You fail to recognize your talents and strengths, or view them as insufficient in comparison to others’. You expend all of your energy on your failures and weaknesses until you’re entirely spent.
  5. You lose focus on what’s important.
    What is important? Your happiness. Your interests. Your education. Your future. Your family, friends, and loved ones. Your health. Your sense of adventure. The only aspects of life that are worth your time and attention are ones that will benefit you; comparing yourself to others will never do that.
  6. You’ll never be happy.
    You’ve heard it before; there will always be someone prettier, smarter, skinnier, more toned, funnier, kinder, etc. in someone’s eyes. But none of that matters. What matters is how you see yourself. If you love yourself, which you should, you’ll attract positivity and success.

Remember: you are good enough. It doesn’t matter how pretty your boyfriend’s ex is. It doesn’t matter how successful your best friend is. It doesn’t matter how kind and caring your cousin is. No one can strip you of your attributions except yourself.

Sammi Says: Two Years Too Young?

Sammi Says: Two Years Too Young?

Hi Sammi!

This is kind of a mundane question compared to the others, but bear with me. There’s a girl in my life I think I’m interested in, but the problem is that she’s roughly 2 and a half years younger than me. I’m about to turn 22, so it’s not like it would be in high school, but I’m still not sure if that’s too much even now, and I can’t help but feel a little creepy. We’re good friends and get along great otherwise. How do you determine if someone’s too young for you or not? I’m sure the old “divide you age by 2, and add 7” rule is simplifying it a bit much. Thanks!

Possible Creeper

 

Dear Possible Creeper,

First of all, I do not think you are a “possible creeper” in any aspect. Two years honestly is not a huge difference, especially at your age. Odds are, she won’t think it’s a big deal either. I know of many couples, even in high school, who are two to three, sometimes four, years apart. I’ve dated a some guys who were two years older than me in the past; so have many of my friends!

Now, the important point to consider is whether or not she is on the same maturity level as you, or if you two are on the same page in life. I’m not saying you need to be ready to settle down, stop partying, move in together, or anything extreme. However, if she, for example, spends most weekends at frat houses while you, on the other hand, are preparing for graduation and applying to grad school, you may want to ask yourself if you’re comfortable being at opposing stages. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with either of you regardless; it all depends on your needs in a relationship. You two are obviously good friends, so there is already some similarities of interests there.

If you are interested in this girl and want to make a move, do it! Don’t hold back just because of an age gap.

Good luck!

Sammi

 

Need advice? Ask Sammi in the “contact” section!