What I was really up to this summer...
Some of you may have noticed that I sort of disappeared this summer. I have been very vague and mysterious about what I was up to. As I told some of you, yes, I was travelling and went on quite a journey, but that is not the whole story. I have wanted to be able to openly discuss what I have been dealing with this summer, and for that matter my entire life, but I’ve been too scared. I have been, and still am, terrified that people will look at me differently once they know what I am about to share. But I am tired of living in shame and fear, so here it is:
I have been struggling with mental illness for as long I can remember. I was an extremely anxious child, experienced a lot of fear and terrifying thoughts. At an early age I started having panic attacks, and also experiences that I have recently found out might have been dissociations of some kind. I started finding safety and relief in rituals and compulsions of different kinds.
I didn’t really know what I was up against until age sixteen when I was finally diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It was a relief to have some term to explain the strange issues I was facing, but the therapy recommended was very aggressive and terrified me, and I was completely unable to do the things the specialist felt like were needed. I eventually got prescribed pills that were supposed to help, so medicated, but otherwise untreated I continued my journey into adulthood.
My meds really bothered me, in part because of side effects, but also because of obsessional fears of medication. I experimented with different types of medications, constantly attempting to quit them, but whenever I did my OCD would increase and I would then feel forced to start them again.
In college I started seeking out treatment, but put higher priority on dealing with other issues than my OCD. From an early age I have had problems with food and overeating, and later on I struggled with binge eating and sometimes purging. I was overweight most of my childhood years. I attended many weight loss groups and programs, and even spent two summers at weight loss camp, trying desperately to get my weight under control, but always falling back into unhealthy habits. My struggle with my weight and body image left me with a very broken self-image.
During my early treatment I would discuss these Eating Disorder (ED) tendencies a lot as well as just how to figure out life in the adult world. I was absolutely terrified of discussing my OCD in depth with anyone, even a trained professional, because I was sure no one would understand and they would think I was the most awful, horrid person. I started discussing these issues a little bit more in my later college years, but was never quite able to open up completely due to fear.
At some point I actually was able to quit my medications, and went years without finding the need to start them again. During this time my OCD manifested itself in many ways, but none of them as terrifying as my previous OCD. I was extremely anxious though, and found mostly very unhealthy ways to cope with this crippling anxiety. Somehow I managed to continue going, and sort of function. I would have periods where I had my life more together, but then I would fall almost to a breaking point. I wasn’t thriving but I was staying afloat.
Towards the beginning of last year my old OCD returned, worse than ever. In a matter of a few months my life spiraled out of control, until finally in May I had a major breakdown, which is what lead me to finally get the treatment I so desperately needed.
This was the start of a journey that lasted many months and forced me to face my absolute worst thoughts, and fears and talk openly about the things I had kept inside for so long. It was terrifying but at the same time so liberating to be able to finally open up completely to professionals. I expected so much judgment, and well sometimes I felt judged. However, more often than not the strangest thing happened: the people with whom I shared my story didn’t view me as the monster I felt I was, but instead were understanding, caring, and treated me just the same as before.
This summer I added on another diagnoses, that of Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. I fought that one for a long time, but the more I read about it the more fitting the symptoms are to me. There were a lot of things I was dealing with that didn’t seem to fit OCD, but fit perfectly within the BPD diagnosis. It has been really eye opening for me to learn more about BPD, and seeing that I am not the only one who thinks, feels and experiences thing the way I do. My BPD trades made it a lot more difficult for me to work on my OCD, but thankfully I found a program that managed to help me find ways to work on all my issues simultaneously.
As painful as this whole process has been I am still so grateful to have had the opportunity to work on myself on such a deep and intense level at such an early age. Of course I am by no means fixed yet, there is a long journey of recovery that lies ahead of me still and a lifetime of learning to live with and manage my mental illness. Every day there is a battle going on inside me between my rational mind and my OCD mind. My OCD mind can be quite convincing, and it is so easy to get sucked into the compulsions. I also am working on gaining better inside into my BPD and that helps me understand why I react to certain things in certain ways.
I am constantly annoyed about the stigma against mental illness and I hate that we can’t just discuss it openly, yet, at the same time I have been doing everything in my power to make sure that people don’t find out about my mental health issues. I have come to realize that hiding my struggles is only feeding the idea that mental illness is something to be ashamed of.
So now I let go of the shame and fear, and proclaim it to the world: my name is Hanna and I suffer from OCD, BPD and ED. Suffering from mental illness, just like suffering from any other disease, is not something we should feel embarrassed by or ashamed off. No one should feel like they need to suffer alone in secrecy. The stigma against mental illness is in large part caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding, and us sufferers need to do our part to help by sharing our experiences and educate others about what it is like to live with these illnesses.
This blog will be my contribution to the discussion; here I will share my personal experience living with mental illness.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.