Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when she was just five or six years old, Kelsey also lives with OCD and GAD. Surrounded by constant triggers and fears, this beautiful, brave soul made the leap into therapy – it was the best decision she ever made.
Inspired by her Instagram account and her own therapist, Kim, she realized her true calling lies in helping others heal. Now a psychology major, she plans on getting her masters and becoming a licensed therapist.
Paving her own path through multiple mental illnesses, read about Kelsey’s journey below.
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 suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had OCD for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was around five or six. It’s a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements. What it feels like is similar to OCD, I would have an urge to make a certain movement and the anxiety would just build and build until I did it, and then the relief came instantly. I still struggle with this but it much more minor now. I believe I developed OCD from the TS. It is very common for people who have TS to also develop OCD. I remember having problems with numbers, specifically the number 6. I had a counting compulsion and if I ever thought that the number I stopped on related to the number 6, I would have to start over. I had a huge problem with germs, it’s better now but I still have a contamination issue. I also had an intense fear of seeing other peoples vomit, which is a quite common phobia of OCD sufferers. I remember constantly saying the word “no” every so often in my head just in case there was some evil force listening to my thoughts and in case they were going to ask me to do something terrible without me knowing, I knew that I was always saying “no” to whatever voice that I believed was in my head.
I was, and still am, afraid that something bad will happen to someone if I just simply say that something bad is going to happen to them. I have also always had a tapping compulsion. Also intrusive, obsessive thoughts that I cannot turn off is a huge struggle for me still to this day. Disturbing thoughts and imaginations pop up in my head sometimes without control. I am continuing to get my OCD under control, I have had much improvement with therapy. The GAD I believe stemmed from the OCD. I am medicated for that, but along with the OCD, it is something that I will have for the rest of my life which is fine by me. As long as I stay medicated and continue with therapy, my condition can always be much worse, so I am thankful that I have learned how to cope so that I can no longer let it control me or interfere with my everyday life.
What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?
I was in one of the darkest periods of my life. It started fall of 2013 and finally ended summer of 2014. I was in my third year of community college with no direction. In my last semester there, I dropped each class one by one and finally decided to drop out in January 2014. I was no longer in school, had no job, and looking for a job gave me intense anxiety so I was unsuccessful in keeping one. I had started and quit three different jobs within the time span of three months due to anxiety attacks. Once my mom witnessed one for the first time, she took me in to see my PCP. He prescribed me Lexapro to take daily, and Xanax as needed.
Within the next month or two, my head felt like it was screwed on straight and I decided to go back to school. It was a tech school, so I only took the needed classes for the subject and it only took me a year. A whole year after that, I was done working at the horrible office I was in and got a new job, the one I have currently been at for exactly one year now. The process of getting a new job put a huge dent in my mental health. I was anxious 24/7, I had to take Xanax more often, I was a complete mess. I carried on and finally, after still suffering with the worsening GAD decided to see a therapist. I have now been seeing her since October of 2016. Not long after I started seeing her, we decided that the Lexapro was no longer having an effect on me and I went to my PCP to see if she had any opinions. She switched me to Effexor, which is a SSNRI as opposed to a SSRI. This switched worked a little but a few panic attacks later we upped my dose and ever since I finally feel like for the first time in my life my brain has the right amount of Serotonin and Norepinephrine to keep me at a reasonably calm level on a daily basis, and with the help of my therapist, I am at the best place in my mental health that I’ve ever been.
How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?
As I said, I have improved a tremendous amount at this point in my life. The medication simply fixed a chemical imbalance that I was born with. It runs in my family, (the women on my mom’s side struggle with depression, my mom is also on Effexor, my sister struggles with OCD and GAD as well and is also medicated and in therapy), so I am very grateful for the simple fix that is anti-depressants. As for therapy, it has completely transformed my life. My lovely therapist, Kim, tells me at every session just how much she has seen me improve and she, along with myself, is very proud of me and the amount of work I have done.
We have learned many DBT tricks, and also have done quite a bit of CBT. At the moment, my GAD is under control with the help of the meds, DBT, and CBT I have done. We are primarily working on OCD at the moment. We have done a lot of exposure therapy which is very difficult but once you get through the tough parts, it gets easier and easier. I have so far gotten rid of three compulsions! I still have quite a way to go, but I have come such a long way.
How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?
It has helped me see the world in a way that I never would have if I never had mental illness. As horrible as it has been for me, I am grateful for it. Not only has it shaped me as the strong, brave woman that I am today, but it has also led me to the new career path that I have recently started on. I have decided to become a therapist myself. Kim and I came to the conclusion early on in meeting with each other that I am not fulfilled enough in my life with the career I am in. I do like medical assisting, but it is not something that I would be happy doing for the rest of my life. In one of our first couple of sessions we got to the root of what I truly want in my life: to help people like me.
I will be finishing my first two classes next week. I am now a psychology major and my long term goal is to get my masters and become a licensed therapist myself. It is currently fueling my life and I am so freaking excited about my future! Which that alone excites me because I have never been able to say that before. It has also lead me to this wonderful community that I have found on Instagram. I’ve been on it for a year and a half now and it has been so healing for me. I get inspired every time I go on and see so many strong people in recovery and all of the people spreading positivity and love to one another.
What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?
Stay strong. Be brave. Focus on taking care of yourself first. As bad as it may seem right now, it will get better. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be impossible to see right now, it may take a long time, but you will get there eventually.
Hold on and never give up. Your mental health comes first, don’t worry about where you’re headed, the universe will put you exactly where you need to be at exactly the time you are supposed to be there. Trust the process!
Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog!