Silently suffering with OCD, depression, and anxiety since she was nine years old, Veronica didn’t think getting help happened until you were really at rock bottom.
Exposure and Response Prevention therapy on a weekly basis combined with her website, Story of the Mind, where she shares her own story, as well as others, has taught her a newfound perspective that she’s not a bad person, she just has OCD.
Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and depression. To be honest, my OCD started when I was about nine, however it quieted down until I was about 15. My anxiety levels also really started to rise during this time. At first, I didn’t realize what I was experiencing was OCD, as it doesn’t comprise of the stereotypical handwashing or repetitive behaviors. It seems to be heavily obsession based with mental rituals. It all centers around me being bad and doing bad things. I didn’t realize that what I had was OCD until I was 19 – I just thought that I was a bad, horrible person. In addition to the OCD, I struggle with panic attacks, being anxious in social situations and also general anxiety about pretty much whatever my brain can freak out about.
With the OCD, I believed that I was truly the worst person in existence. I believed I deserved to be dead for the horrible intrusive thoughts and obsessions that I was having. The more I reacted, the more I became distressed over what was happening in my head the worse it got. My OCD compulsions are a series of mental rituals and phrases – on the outside no one would even know (despite my often distressed appearance) that I have OCD. I used this as justification that proved I was a monster, I didn’t have OCD – I really was the most terrible person in existence. I really wish I knew that my parents thought I had OCD when I was younger, I think that really would have helped.
The thing is my OCD obsessions are the worst things I can imagine a person doing. They are so ego-dystonic ie. not in line with my beliefs and morals that they have had such an impact on my self worth and value as a human being. Anyone who knows me would say that I try to always be kind to everyone – no matter who they are – and would never want to even be mean, let alone commit an awful crime, or do something bad. This is what gave them so much power over me.
In 2015, I moved overseas by myself and my OCD sky rocketed. Every waking moment was filled with obsessions. I would be lucky to have 20 minutes cumulatively in a day when they weren’t screaming in my head for a whole year. I still hadn’t figured out that it was OCD at this stage. I was depressed and suicidal. I was having more panic attacks than one can count, but that worked in a funny way. I would keep incredibly busy and purposely do things that made me anxious, like flying and traveling alone. I would be so anxious about the situation I was in, I wasn’t quite so focused on the obsessions. But even still, I look back on my photos from that year and could tell you exactly what my brain was saying at that point in time, it was graphic and terrifying.
Then began the obsessive exercise and eating minute amounts of food. I wreaked havoc on my body to try and quiet my mind. I lost my period for over a year, my heart became slow, I lost my hair and I was dizzy and sick. I set all these rules for myself and was constantly thinking about how many calories I had eaten or burnt or when I could allow myself to eat next. I swapped one obsession with another (I know it’s slightly different – I mean that it occupied so much brain space fixated on food I was focusing so much on the intrusive thoughts). When I started to eat again and cut back on the exercise, then another harmful tool of self punishment took its place. I would hurt myself in almost a compulsive way, trying to prove to myself that I didn’t like these thoughts, that if I hurt myself then I wasn’t a monster.
Right now, my OCD is not as bad as it has ever been but it’s still quite severe, there’s now just other things going on as well. Some days my brain won’t shut up but occasionally I can get a bit of quiet from them. It still has quite a hold on me, but at least now I’m starting to get proper help. It’s been a slow road and probably something that will never fully go away, but a bit less would be quite nice. This year I’ve been hospitalized, tried my third lot of medication and had to reduce much of my course load at university (something that my high achieving type A personality is still trying to accept). I’m now doing Exposure and Response Prevention therapy – the leading psychological treatment for OCD weekly and trying all of the things to get better. I’m not going to lie, ERP is hard. You have to expose yourself to your biggest fears and face them without resorting to anxiety reducing compulsive behaviors or mental acts. But it will work, I’m sure of that. I am learning that I am not a bad person, I just have OCD.
What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?
It took me a few years from thinking about speaking to someone to finally doing it. I am writing this because I wish that I had done it sooner and not let myself get to the point I have been recently. Maybe this was inevitable, but I really just want to let you know that even if you think it’s not that bad, or that others have it worse, or that you don’t deserve help until you reach crisis point, please understand that you do, and the sooner you are supported, the better.
How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?
To be honest, things are starting to improve only the last month or so and quite slowly. Getting on the right medication has been instrumental in this as well as seeing a Psychologist and Psychiatrist weekly. One thing which has definitely had a positive effect on my ability to cope is actually just talking to people about it and not bottling it all up inside. It is so important to reach out and talk to someone when you need help – whether that is in person or through a helpline. It has actually saved my life a few times for sure.
How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?
I think that it has probably made me more aware of what is happening to other people around me and helping me to empathize with others having a hard time. To be honest, it is just a little part of me, which has significantly affected me and I don’t know what I would be like without it. It has given me the opportunity to speak to others on my website who are doing amazing things and to be able to connect with others.
What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?
Just go and talk to a professional. It took me years of thinking about it to actually get it done. I want people to know that it is quite ok to ask for help and it doesn’t need to be a big secret. I think it’s important that young people know that you don’t need to wait until it gets really bad and completely unbearable to get help, if there is something that is bothering you then it’s worth talking to someone about it.
I know that a lot of people, I used to include myself in this, often think getting help means that you aren’t excelling at life. But honestly it means the opposite. It means that you are committed to helping yourself get better and that requires some serious dedication and bravery. You don’t have to do this all alone.
Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog!