Sunday, October 8, 2017

OCD: Harm Was My Obsession, Not My Reality

A week ago, our country was once again reminded of the evil some people have within them. The shooting in Las Vegas is not only heartbreaking for those involved and their families, it is also a reminder of how unfair life can be and how much we should cherish the time we have with our family and friends.

Obviously, these tragedies affect our entire country, but I also want to reach out to those struggling with harm OCD right now. When I was going through OCD, some of the most terrifying and isolating times were when there were news stories about individual people doing horrible things to others. The most triggering news stories were ones that involved mothers and their children, but my mind ran wild and rampant with any sort of violent story. When I would hear stories about abuse, neglect, homicide, literally anything involving harm, I would become overwhelmed with dread that one day that would be me. My OCD was so strong, that I felt like there would never be any way out. I would never heal. In my entire life, I've never been suicidal, but during this time, I was convinced OCD would somehow kill me. It was the most confusing thing I had ever experienced, because my only fear was ME, and I would never hurt my kids or myself, yet I felt like it would kill me. It would somehow take my life. I wouldn't make it out. But I did. We did.

In the "thick" of my OCD, all of my "purposeful" thoughts or any thought that wasn't part of my obsessions, needed to be positive. I would endlessly repeat positive mantras to myself, it was the only way I felt like I could "remind" myself of who I really was, but even my mantras needed to be very specific. For example, in order to get through the day, I couldn't think "this won't be forever." To me, thinking that it wouldn't be forever implied that I wouldn't need to deal with my kids forever, meaning I didn't want them and wanted to get rid of them. Instead, I would tell myself "WE will get through this" (I couldn't even just say "I" would get through it, because that would have meant I was alone, without the kids). To someone who isn't suffering with harm OCD, either of those two statements would probably work as "pep talk" to get themselves through the day, but to me they were night and day different. I would also do little things to "prove" to myself that I loved my kids. If I did certain things for them, that meant I loved them and I wouldn't hurt them. My OCD set in very early in Easton's life, so early, that I hadn't made it to the government center yet to purchase his birth certificate. For a while I thought, "you didn't get his birth certificate yet because you wish he wasn't here" which is when I decided that, obviously, IF I went and got his birth certificate that would mean I wanted him and my OCD would be cured (spoiler alert: I DID get the birth certificate and no, that didn't heal me).

I'm sharing these memories and stories because I know how hard it can be. Seeing someone with a "mental illness" plastered all over the news for a mass shooting, fearing what this means for you. I can picture the wheels in your head turning, "He had a mental illness...I have a mental illness too!" I'm here to lovingly request that you change your thinking. Right.This.Instant. You see, I thought like that. I would constantly look for similarities between myself and whoever was doing awful things instead of recognizing our polarizing differences. My mind was betraying me, every second of every day. My brain was breaking my heart over and over again.

Here's the truth, there are many people who have (a wide variety of different) mental illnesses that are capable of getting so sick that they do hurt people. There are also many people without mental illnesses that make unthinkable choices, unfortunately, we cannot always answer why people do what they do. But in all of this, there is something that is certain: people with OCD don't hurt people. OCD is tied to anxiety. Anxiety takes what you care about most and puts it in the worst case scenario. In my case, I cared so much about my newborn that the second that my brain felt like he was being threatened (by me), it went into overdrive to try to figure out why and began to steadily raise my anxiety in order to keep the baby safe. As long as my anxiety was high, Easton could stay safe. OCD put those fears on repeat. I was a "broken record" of horrible thoughts. The thoughts became so automatic and uncontrollable, I started believing that if I couldn't stop the thoughts, I must want them. If I wanted them, I must agree with them, and if I agree with them, I must be capable of acting on them. None of this, however, was true. Statistically, there was a 0% chance that I would ever hurt my kids (numerous professionals and literature on the subject have assured me of this). Underneath it all, OCD was about the obsession of protecting my kids. When my brain felt they were in danger, it globbed onto those thoughts in order to "figure them out" and find a meaning. However, there was never and will never be a meaning. I thought something weird and horrible. That's it. It was a weird thought that I became obsessed with.

I really feel for people suffering with harm OCD right now. It is the worst feeling in the world to see your biggest fears plastered all over your T.V. and internet. My biggest advice right now, however, would be to look for the differences, not the similarities between yourself and whoever is worrying you. One of my most intrusive thoughts happened after every time my therapist would reassure me that I was okay and my kids would be safe. I would think, "What if she's wrong, what if I prove her and everyone else wrong and hurt someone?" This was always immediately followed by a surge of fear along with the immediate thought of, "What the heck is wrong with you, why would you ever WANT to prove them wrong!?" And THAT my friends, is why OCD is so hard, so crippling, so debilitating. There is a constant tug-of-war with your thoughts and it begins to feel next to impossible to differentiate them from each other. For a solid 4 months, I lived my life on complete "auto-pilot", never doing the things that my mind was saying, but instead relying on my natural instincts to lead me through the darkness.

So please, if any recent events are triggering you or scaring you, reach out to someone. Bad people aren't scared of being bad. Evil people don't have a terrible thought, then spend the next year in therapy and on medication because of it. People don't just "snap." Things don't just happen out of the blue. Please don't let people who have done horrible things keep winning and scare you, they aren't you. Focus on your life, your family, your story, your healing.

Much Love!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

My Best Friend's Husband Has Brain Cancer

Three years ago this week, my postpartum depression became so out of control that my neighbors intervened and insisted that I get outpatient treatment. I know this, not because I'm good at keeping track of dates, but because that is the same week my neighbor's husband got diagnosed with a grade 3 Astrocytoma brain tumor.

In 2012, we bought our first house. On the day that we moved in, the people 2 houses down moved into their house too. Eventually, us and the house in between us became really close. The first two summers were awesome and carefree, but the second autumn is when our relationships went from close neighbors who enjoyed bonfires and grilling cheddar dogs and turned us into lifelong friends.

                       (Eric with his 3 daughters while wearing "Optune" which he wore 23 hours a day for 18 months)

Sara texted me the morning of my interview with The Mother Baby Program, she was supposed to be watching my oldest son that day as well as during the 3 week period I would be attending the program. She said she was sorry that she couldn't watch Brayden anymore, but Eric had a brain tumor. I called her a few times, but we never spoke that day. Her family of 5 had suddenly been thrown into a nightmare that is hard to comprehend. Her strong, smart husband who was the sole breadwinner for them and their 3 small girls had just been given a diagnosis that would take anyone's breath away.
                                                          (Eric and Sara after his first surgery)

8 days after Eric found out he had a the brain tumor, it was surgically removed. They didn't find out exactly what it was right away, but eventually they were told that it was stage 3 brain cancer. They had removed most of it and he would go through chemo and radiation to try and get rid of the remainder of it. For months we watched as the entire Utes family banded together to support Eric. We watched as they stayed strong for their girls and showed each other the true meaning of love. We watched as Eric (amazingly) returned to work pretty quickly after surgery. We saw the kindness of friends and strangers as meals and money were donated to help the family. We saw some of the best in people during the most unfair of life's circumstances.

We watched a strong man in his early 30s get diagnosed with a disease that swept us all off our feet. I saw my friend stay strong for her family, while at times silently struggling inside. I saw my neighbors cry, fearing the unknown. I saw myself, so wrapped up in my illness, not really able to help my friend like I wish I could have.

I've told my (old) neighbors many times since then that I fully believe we lived next to each other for those specific 4 years for a reason. I believe that God put us together because he knew we would need each other during those years. I don't know how I would have survived without Bridget and Sara during that time, and I hope they would say the same thing about me. There were times where we just stood in silence watching our kids play. There were moments where things "felt" normal, even though we knew that our normal had now changed.

                                                                 (3 months after diagnosis)

We all ended up moving away for different reasons last summer, but we all still live within 15 minutes of each other. Sara and I talk every day. Though Eric is currently healthy, he will now have MRI's every 3 months for the rest of his life. He also still goes through difficulties I cannot fathom. He's had some seizures and other setbacks that have been hard for their family. Throughout it all though, they have stayed so strong and positive, many people would never guess how much they have gone through. The Utes are "the people you want to be friends with." Their family looks picture perfect. Their daughters are breathtakingly beautiful, but also unbelievably smart. Even though their family has been through so much, Sara still feels guilty every time they can't help out when they said they would or feels bad if she has a bad day.

Sometimes, I wish that Eric and Sara could see themselves like me and my family see them. They are kind beyond words, unconditionally selfless, laugh until you pee funny, never give up kind of people. The relief that they get each time Eric has a clean MRI is always eventually overshadowed by the fact that statistics say it will most likely reoccur-and at a higher grade. People with Eric's diagnosis have a prognosis of living about 3-5 years after being diagnosed. Even when they get "good" news, their new reality is that this is something that they will (likely) be dealing with forever. Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers, from the bottom of my heart, they are the most amazing people I know.

Next weekend, our family will be participating in the BT5K (Brain Tumor 5K)in the Twin Cities (MN) on the "Utes Crew." It would mean the world to us if as many people as possible donate and participate in this cause. Please consider visiting and supporting brain cancer research. You can also "follow" Eric's story by "liking" Eric's Updates on Facebook. Thank you so much for reading!

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