|With Dana Aderhold at the Mental Health Fair|
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and because my employer, SAS, is awesome and socially aware, our work/life department held a Mental Health Fair today. This fair included over 20 agencies and services that support mental health and wellness. It was surprisingly well attended and a wealth of information.
One of the reasons that I cleared my calendar to attend this event is because the stigma attached to mental health is concerning to me. What we need to do is talk about these diseases to normalize them. I decided that I would start the conversation. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I’ve been outspoken about my physical condition. There’s no shame in psoriatic disease. What I haven’t shared with most people is that I’ve had a lifelong struggle with anxiety. I don't remember a time in my when I didn't feel anxiety. Because it’s been with me forever, I often don’t recognize it. It’s clear when something is bothering me, but anxiety doesn’t knock on my door and wait for an invitation to come in. It sneaks in when I’m not expecting it.
There have been several times when I decided that I need therapy, but that is a huge exercise in trust that was very difficult for me. It seemed easier just to go to my doctor and ask for an anti-anxiety medication. Fortunately, my daughter finally convinced me that it would be good for me to have someone to talk to, someone to help me figure out where this anxiety comes from.
I called the practice owner of a recommended office and we had a conversation. I shared with her that I tend to lie to therapists. I tell therapists what I think they want to hear. Starting with this statement made it impossible for me to do what I always do. There would be no lying since I had basically asked to be held accountable. The owner told me that she had just the person for me, and I scheduled an appointment with Alison.
During my first appointment with Alison, I jokingly said, “I might have a touch of OCD.” That, combined with what she had noticed prompted us to start some testing. Shortly afterwards, I was officially diagnosed. Finally, there’s a reason for my years of anxiety. There is a reason that I’ve counted all the steps I take, only listen to the radio with a volume of even numbers or multiples of five. The thought that I might walk too close to a height and accidentally jump off of it has prevented me from going to the second floor of our mall. Because my symptoms aren’t like that of the tv character Monk, I didn’t really think OCD would be my diagnosis. Chronic hand washing is not my thing. You won’t see me checking a lock repeatedly. But still, my diagnosis is very real and came as a huge relief.
I’ve been in therapy for only six months and have already had a significant improvement. We’ve worked on one issue at a time – the ones that are the most troublesome for me.
Now that this is out there, I intend to treat it like any other condition I deal with. I welcome questions and am always happy to talk about my own experience with anxiety and OCD.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with mental illness. There is no shame. No one is ashamed of a broken leg or a bout of the flu. Why should we feel embarrassed by this?
If you struggle with anxiety, depression or any other conditions that cause you concern, reach out for help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has resources and can point you in the right direction.