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I’ve written about this so many times that it feels like a broken record.

Pills: tiny, mostly white, totally innocuous in appearance. Normal, even. Pills are the answer to everything, if you believe Big Pharma. But for me, pills are still one formidable foe, one I haven’t been able to defeat entirely in eighteen years.

Why eighteen years? In 1996, I was an undergrad at UT Knoxville, living alone, isolating, yelling at my cat. I was miserable and had no idea why. It was one of the hottest falls I can recall, and walking to school each day, I felt the heat. I had headaches for hours on end, for months, yet each time I made the trip down to the local drugstore (many, many trips), I stood in the pain reliever aisle and stared. And moved bottles around. And obsessed. And walked away. I could not even purchase a pain reliever, much less get one down. So I suffered until the headaches went away.

This was just me in the very early stages of what would become a very serious journey into OCD. Not only could I not make a decision on taking a much-needed pain reliever, I couldn’t make decisions about anything.

Indecision seems like such a small thing. For me, it’s a sign that things are not quite right. It means that I may not be able to do the things I should do, the adult things, the things most people find easy. It might mean that I am wearing out already thin grooves in my brain. Those obsessive thoughts are easy to resurrect, happy to torment me once more.

It’s time to take stock: it’s been 18 years since I was diagnosed with OCD, and how far have I come? What have I accomplished since then? That’s not fair to myself, really, seeing as there’s no cure for OCD and I have done remarkably well for extended periods. I’ve worked, finished grad school. Finished a book, even. And yet, pills.
Pills still haunt me. Pills still have the ability to ruin an entire day.

OCD makes my life much more challenging. If I’m having a bad day, whether due to obsessions and anxiety or whatever else, meaningless, habitual tasks become mountains.

So what did I accomplish today? I got out of bed.

What is it about anxiety that makes you want to ball your eyes out?

My only answer is fear. Fear like you had when you were a kid. Fear that takes your breath, makes your heart thump madly in your chest. And then, the tears.

When the therapist asks if the patient is ready to face their fears, my secret silent answer is always ‘No.’

I like seeing the progress that Obsessed patients make during their treatment. I don’t enjoy seeing their reactions, their anxieties, their fear. I also realize that while I understand what’s going on inside their heads (somewhat), others don’t. What you see is not even the tip of the iceberg. You might see the outward manifestations, the rituals, but what goes on in the mind is so much more. And intensely painful.

Fear, panic, anxiety. That’s what OCD is made of.

Bravo to A & E for giving a real face to those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I hope for those who have watched the show, the OCD jokes, the casual knowledge, the trendy-ness of it will cease.  I have heard on more than one occasion the phrase “I am so OCD over [fill in the blank here].”

Clearly, the loss OCD causes is not a joke.  It’s not funny.  Losing your hair, losing your spouse, feeling like you are losing your life– these are all very real, very serious concerns.

Something I learned about trichotillomania:  unlike OCD rituals or compulsions, pulling out hair is a pleasurable thing.  Mandi said she felt hungover, exhausted after pulling sessions.  Again, the strong physical effect is astounding:  just as others have stated they felt exhausted after having anxiety attacks, Mandi feels spent after a hair-pulling session.  Something else she said that I found surprising:  she said she’d never met anyone who’d stopped.  The estimated number of Americans with trichotillomania is 9 million.  Mandi has been doing it since age 9.

Are people starting to get the hint now of how serious, devastating, insane this disorder is?  The estimated number of Americans with OCD is said to be over 3 million.

In her final therapy session, Mandi says she is planning to shave her head; to give her a new start.  The therapist focused a lot on her self worth, her appearance, her awareness.  He said she should stop basing her entire self worth on appearance.  How true is this of a lot of people?  Our culture values beauty and appearance above all else; this is what we have all grown up with.  This is what we know.  We know shiny hair, thin lithe bodies, blindingly white teeth.  How is our self-worth to be determined when our society only values the shallow in humans, the outer layer?  I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that; however, it’s society that teaches us our values.  Everywhere you look, all you see is shine and sparkle.

Even with Mora’s obsession with her teeth, it’s more of the same.  She doesn’t want to eat certain foods and she cleans her teeth obsessively so that she doesn’t lose her teeth and get dentures.  She says she will be ugly and no one will love her.  This is particularly disturbing to me, as I believe our nation has an unhealthy obsession about teeth as well.  The ads for toothpastes and brushes and washes and countless other related items are endless; I’d like to count them one day just to get an idea of how many are run.  It’s disturbing to me that a person can feel that they are unlovable because they don’t have perfect teeth.  Mora has lost her husband because of this obsession, which must have been devastating to her.  Equally disturbing is the fact that some dentists took advantage of Mora’s obsession and performed unnecessary work.  An egregious and unscrupulous act.

Just watching the show is exhausting, sometimes.  Today’s show stirred up ire in me– the utter destructiveness and devastation OCD causes never ceases to rile me up, to make me tearful and angry.  OCD:  you suck.

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