My hypochondria, OCD, and PTSD create a vicious cycle of mental illness I can't escape
I have a few mental health challenges. I was born with generalized anxiety disorder which developed into panic disorder. Six years ago, the extreme morning sickness I experienced in my second pregnancy left me with a real condition called HG/PTSD, and on top of it I have a mild case of hypochondria with a side of OCD which makes it hard to stop thinking and stop checking in, keeping me trapped in every mental health challenge club where only I hold the key.
I could tell myself, “it’s not your fault, your brain is compromised” but there is no use in lying to myself. I blame myself for causing this. I battled a panic attack all day today. It came on when I was painting menorahs with my daughter after Hebrew school. In the middle of a bite of plain mini bagel with cream cheese, I “checked in” for whatever reason. I took a quick assessment on how I'm feeling, confirming I am not nauseated. Only this acute focus on one part of my body triggers me to think I'm actually sick and I begin a cycle of checking in, fearing I feel something, calming myself down, thinking I feel better, and then "checking in" again, starting the whole thing over. OCD causes this, like a tick. The fear of nausea is the PTSD from throwing up every day for nine months. It's been six years and I'm working on it.
I go through my day doing what needs to be done. I drive my daughter home, and she thinks I’m fine. I’m breathing, I’m not in pain, but I feel an avalanche brewing in my core – between my throat and my stomach and nothing can go in. I will not be able to eat for the rest of the day.
I begin my coping tactics. I clean the wood floor plank by plank with baby wipes. I move across the floor, like a crab, my arms and legs engaged, and I continue to deep breathe. I focus on finding dark spots. My body remembers this approach and it works to slow down my breathing and I feel better. I think. “Am I better?” I ask myself and I concentrate on whether I feel fine or still nauseated, and this thought forces me to start to shaking again. The legs first, tensed up in a spasm, and my teeth start chattering. I breathe again. I talk to my husband, he reaffirms this is all just panic and I will be OK. I’m not sick he reminds me and there’s nothing wrong with me. He reminds me to breathe and focus on something else. I’ll never snap out of it if I’m pulling myself back to the check in. I feel better for a few minutes and I check in, and it starts again. My brain is a CD stuck on a skip.
I calm myself down, I play Spot It with my kids and Super Mario Bros 3D World on WiiU and I think I'm over the attack, and at the end of Mario I check the fuck back in and I’m instantly back down the rabbit hole.
Because of this, my husband’s birthday and his special dinner resulted in me sitting in the living room typing while the remaining family ate without me because I couldn’t tolerate looking at the food.
I felt better for a few minutes and as soon as I dropped my guard, the invisible checker taps me loudly on my shoulder and says, “How are you feeling?” and my legs start shaking and my body is cut off in the middle with an awkward lump I can’t swallow.
I’m ashamed of myself. There is nothing wrong with me and yet I’m causing myself to feel “sick.” I feel no pain I chant to myself. No pain, no pain. I am healthy, I am strong. These are my mantras and I repeat them over and over. I clean more floors, take more breaths, type more words. I stare at my kids and focus on their light and brilliance. I am selfish and focusing too much on myself. I shower with my six year old. I feel better. I am practicing mindfulness: being present, focusing on all five senses. I count five things I can see (my daughter, the white shower tiles, the shampoo, the yellow sand bucket holding water toys, my razor), four things I can touch (the water, the soap, my daughter’s hair, the tub with my feet), three things I can hear (pounding water on porcelain, Mad World by Gary Jules playing on my Pandora, my daughter telling me “This is fun!”), two things I can smell (peppermint in shampoo, eucalyptus in soap) and one thing I can taste (shower water).
When I distract myself I relax and get back to normal, and in those moments I celebrate the breaths which flow freely.
I can put an end to this recurring panic attack quickly if I took my prescription Klonopin. Now is exactly why I have the prescription but it's been eight hours and I still haven’t taken the pill to magically take me out of this mental purgatory. It can calm me down, silence the “check-in” tick, and put me to sleep. A quick fix today, but tomorrow I wake up hyper sensitive waiting for the follow-up attack and detoxing, even the smallest dose creates a whole new set of complications for me. So I try to get through it on my own. I try to get over the hurdle, emerge with butterfly wings and use this as evidence later to remind myself I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.
Two weeks ago we buried my aunt, who had shared many of my mental health challenges. I was the first one to defend her when my father didn’t understand why some things which seemed so easy for him were so difficult for her. But I did. When I knew she was a few days from dying, I had this idea to bury my psychosis with her. My husband thought it was the most genius idea I’d ever had. The day of the funeral, though, I stared at her pine box and couldn’t think of my mishegas; it felt disrespectful. “Going to someone’s funeral is the biggest mitzvah you can commit because they can never thank you,” the rabbi said. I wanted to do it all correctly. I wanted to be a perfect funeral attendant. She deserved that. So I buried my aunt six feet under and inadvertently held onto these mind terrorists I can’t seem to eradicate.
If I drew them, can’t I erase them? Apparently not because you can’t un-see what you saw, can’t un-live what you lived, and can’t un-worry just because I tell myself not to.
But I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep fucking trying.