List: Unsolicited recommendations on how to cure your mental illness from people not living with a mental illness

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Here is some unsolicited advice I have been given in the past from many humans I love about how to manage my anxiety and OCD.  Their advice is well intentioned and I love them for it, but their recommendations reveal the incredible lack of information our general public has about managing mental illness.  Here are their recommendations.  You’re welcome.

  • Multivitamins are magic. Just make sure not to get the kind from the grocery store, those are crap. Get the good kind.  You should try GNC or Vitamin Shoppe.  Talk to one of the dudes that works there. Tell them that you have anxiety and they’ll know exactly what to give you.  Also, make sure it has a lot of vitamin C!  I heard that’s good.
  • Epsom salt baths. Just put 2 cups of it in your bath water and soak for 20 minutes.  Don’t do more than that or the magnesium can give you diarrhea. Magnesium is supposed to make you calm so it will definitely help.
  • I bet it has to do with how much green tea you drink.  I know you said you only have a cup every other day, but still, have you tried replacing it with water?
  • Why don’t you change your lunch from ham to turkey sandwiches. The tryptophan will make you sleepy. Sleepy equals calm and calm is good.
  • Place one teaspoon of chia seeds in your morning oatmeal (make sure to soak it for 15 minutes first!).  Do this everyday.  The omega-3s are really great to reduce anxiety.  You might want to also try fish oil 2000 mg or maybe just eat a lot of salmon.  Boom! Cured!
  • Buy an aromatheraphy diffuser.  Here are some essential oils that will make you feel calm:  valerian, lavender, jasmine, sweet basil, camomile, rose, lemon balm.  I know you said that you have allergies but, if I were you I’d still try.
  • Camomile tea.  It’s like a miracle cure.  Just drink one cup at night and watch as your anxieties melt away.
  • 10 mg of melatonin one hour before going to bed.  I bet all of this is happening because you keep waking up and it’s messing with your sleep cycle.  You know how it goes when we don’t sleep.  Everything goes to shit.
  • Have you tried thinking really positively and being happy? I bet if you did that all of your thoughts would just go away little by little.
  • And the latest recommendation:  Have you tried acupuncture?

A note to my readers: I grew up in a home where natural cures were frequently sought out, and I believe that all of the things above can help us feel better (please talk to your physician if you’re thinking of doing some of these); however, I am a firm believer that none of the items mentioned above are independently as powerful as therapy, support groups, and medication.  

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Poetry: “My head hurts, I must have a brain tumor” and other ruminations

I think I hear voices

Yup, I hear voices.

I’m 17 lying face down on the kitchen floor, head pressed against the refrigerator to convince myself the noises I hear are actually coming from the refrigerator.

They are.

But I still think I have schizophrenia

I spend the following 2 months triple checking every noise I hear

 

I am 30.

I am sitting in the Target waiting room

Crying

Because a few minutes ago the thought crossed my mind:

“What if I suddenly forget how to leave the store?”

Naturally, I panic.

I forget where the doors are.

I sit in the waiting room for the next 20 minutes reminding myself

It’s just your anxiety.  It’s just your OCD.

 

I am 7. And 8. And 9…… and 32.

I am examining and cautiously tasting my food.  Everything feels contaminated.

What if it’s not cooked right? Did they check the expiration dates? Did they wash their hands? Did I wash my hands? Did I wash them enough? What if I didn’t wash them but think I did?

 

I am 32 and….

I have ERP. I have Mindfulness.  I have ACT.  I have a community of people like me

I have: “I’m going to bed so I get enough sleep. Can you turn the TV down, please?”

I have: “The thought paralyzed me for a minute but I’m eating that pizza” because exposures and stuff

 

I am 32 and I have OCD.

And although I am typing this with cracked hands from the latest episode of excessive hand washing, I am grateful, most of the time, for this thing that causes me to be intimately aware of the complexity of the human experience.  

 

On Resilience: A mid-journey reflection towards recovery

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When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and reminded yourself of your resilience? When was the last time you reminded yourself of the days you’ve pulled yourself out of bed and the days you’ve faced anxiety?  When was the last time you took a step back and found appreciation in everything you’ve tried in order to get better? Everyday you’ve overcome even the smallest things are examples of your resilience.  For those of us living with a mental health condition, the day we recognized our mental illness was also the day that resilience was woven into the fabric of who we are.

I know a little bit about resilience. Eight years ago I felt as though I’d never be where I am now.  Eight years ago I’d wake up shaking, heart palpitating in my ears, and feeling as though I had something incredibly urgent to do nearly every night.  In those early years after my OCD diagnosis, I felt like my marriage, career, and friendships would end because of my mental illness: I lacked the tools to bring myself out of fears that stopped me from living, I had no concept of self-care because all of my energy was focused on simply surviving the day, I became paralyzed at the thought of facing difficult things related to my own well-being.

When I share my story with others I am often asked what I did to start the climb towards recovery.  While I can’t remember which behavioral changes I made first, I do remember that there was a mental shift in two key areas which propelled the changes I’ve made.

1) I became stubborn about being resilient.  I allowed myself to feel down and scared but promised myself that when I was done, I’d ask: ” Ok, what can we do about this now?”  Asking myself this question empowered me to feel, acknowledge, analyze, then act. It also empowered me to forgive myself if I failed. Realizing that I could label myself as resilient AND still have anxiety and OCD helped begin to slowly push back against the black and white thinking that blocked me from pursuing changes that could lead to recovery.

2) I got into the habit of checking in with my basic needs and had to reminded myself that taking care of me was ok.  My meditation practice (which I was very skeptical about initially), helped greatly with this.  I came to realize that I had little concept of my basic needs. I’d let myself be hungry (sometimes I felt I did it as a form of self-punishment), I’d stay up late, I wouldn’t exercise, I didn’t make time to enjoy myself (I’m still terrible at this).  As my self-awareness grew with my meditation practice and as I became more familiar with things like wellness wheels, self-compassion, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I began to check in with myself.  “What do you need right now?” has become something I ask myself at least twice a day.  Paying more attention to my basic needs (and finding tools to help me keep track of them because mental wellness has an operations and logistics element to it) improved my energy levels so that I could tackle the hard work of exposures for OCD.  You can’t fight the mental part effectively if your body feels like you’re not taking care of it.

These two key changes fueled the small life changes that have taken me nearly 8 years to implement.  I meditate daily.  I make time for nightly reflection and gratitude.  I read about mental wellness/illness and connect with others to help me feel that I am not alone.  I make time for exercise (that’s a new one!).  And you know what, some days are still really hard.  I know I am not in recovery.  I am mid-journey but I now give myself the space to acknowledge how far I’ve come.  I allow myself to fail but I don’t allow myself to think that I’m incapable of great change.  If my brain has the power to create some truly frightening scenarios, it also has the capacity to get me out of them.

Believing in your capacity for change, reminding yourself of even the smallest accomplishments, checking in with your basic needs, and believing that YOU ARE resilient are the building blocks for living this life.