I never knew what a mental illness was. Like anxiety, depression--no idea what it was. I remember being nervous to go to soccer practice and that was my first experience with it, but I carried on and it wasn't a big issue. Then I got to probably middle school and my mom was friends with the middle school counselor and my mom was like, "Just go see her". So I took basic tests and it turns out I was just a very anxious kid. Social situations were very difficult for me and thinking about school and all that stuff made me uncomfortable. I talked to her for a little bit and it was actually getting into softball season when I was in 8th grade that I got picked to be on the JV team. That got to be a whole issue with going to practice and older people judging me. So I got put on medications and I was like "oh." But there was still no mental illness awareness then, and I was totally blind to the fact. For me, I just get nervous sometimes and I didn't even say "oh, I have anxiety"--I never took on that label. But then I got into high school and things got worse when it came to anxiety and depression. It was really hard for me to get out of bed in the morning and I didn't really know what was going on with me. In a similar time, I knew my mom had a lot of anxiety herself and one day I called my step-dad and found out my mom was put into a facility because she had OCD. That was the first run-in with a label and what things were--I was probably fifteen at the time.
We came home and she was in there for a few more days and then she got out. She was really happy to finally have a diagnosis because she was struggling for a really long time--she's had it since she was young. Watching all of it go down, growing up was really difficult because the way she dealt with it wasn't the best way. Then, probably when I was sixteen or so, I started getting really worried when people were sick and started developing some of the patterns my mom had. That was really strange and weird for me and I tried to ignore it, but I would find myself getting up from class three times to go wash my hands and that's when I knew something wasn't right. I went to my general doctor at the time for a regular checkup and brought it up. She was like, "okay that's not completely normal" so I changed medications. I got set up with a bunch of different psychologists and they were like, "You have OCD" and I was like 'oh, okay great.' I didn't really want, even to this day, for people to know because it's not some big ordeal. It's something I deal with by myself and with my family. The days before I was diagnosed, it didn't change that I had it. But I understand that awareness is huge and people need to understand what goes on inside of people's heads with any mental illness.
So my mom at the time was like, "I think we should try this [therapist]" and we got in immediately. It wasn't a huge ordeal, it was just a place I went once or twice a week and talked about how I was feeling. It was good, it was such a relaxing environment the way it was set up. It was quiet and it had a noise thing that was like waterfalls-- super soothing. The process wasn't super difficult, but at the same time I was still struggling more than I should've been--I wasn't super open and comfortable. It's so hard to go through that. I didn't know who I was, I didn't know what my future had in store--it's the toughest time of your life really and to go through everything asking, "Is this real? Is this not real? Is this just my hormones? What's going on here?" I think a lot of people think that it's going to pass and I think that's a huge problem today--people just not being taken seriously. There's no compassion for people. My thing is, I don't care why you're struggling or what the reason is. Sometimes there isn't even a reason, but you are. So what are we going to do about it. I feel like that's ignored so hard and that it's just not a big deal. How is it not a big deal?
So I got diagnosed with OCD and things weren't getting better. It's a manipulative illness...every day is a challenge worrying about things you're going to worry about in the future--it just manifests so aggressively. But I finally found a therapist I was happy with and I got on the right medication. Then I was ready to go to college.
My family didn't feel comfortable with me going off somewhere and basically wasting money if something blew up. So I moved in with my dad and my freshman year I commuted. Things at that point--I knew how to manage things. Every day is easier, but you have a setback if you're around someone who's sick. It's worst-case-scenario 24/7--not fun. I've progressed in the sense that I'm more comfortable with myself in general and that helps. But unfortunately, the anxiety is still there. If someone around me is sick, or just anything, then my brain attaches on and plays these stupid scenarios out that are completely false and that would never happen. Being able to separate yourself from your thoughts and reality like, 'okay what the hell are you talking about that's never going to happen ever.' There's this one lady who studies mental illness and her motto was, "skills before pills" and that was huge for me. I guess you just have to work on it and have to do the research to understand 'okay, this is how my brain is working, what can I do to handle it' because it's me--it's who I am.
Just going from high school to college is hard anyways I think. I never really lived full-time with my dad before this either and that was a different dynamic. He worked a lot more and by that point I was managing what I had and it was hard for my dad to understand until later when my little sister went through her struggles. Then it was like, 'you have to understand now, like you don't have a choice--your youngest daughter is in a life or death situation' and unfortunately she was. So I just got up, went to school and he was super supportive. I think it overall helped to get out of where I was for so long and getting here [Rochester] was a huge step in general. Luckily things didn't really get worse and I was like, 'holy s**t, I can do this--this is awesome.' By the time sophomore year came around, I was ready to move on campus and nothing affected me in a way I couldn't function anymore.
There's this huge thing about OCD and I have to tell myself, "just think about it later, you're doing this now--think about it later." Any form of breathing exercises or just distractions in general are huge for me. If I find myself sitting around, that's when the anxiety gets worse and depression can easily kick in. When I'm alone, that's when I start feeling like I can't do anything. It's just managing your life in a way that accommodates the unfortunate thoughts you're having. Today, that's where I'm at. Living a positive life, hanging out with my family and friends, just to distract me from the bad thoughts I guess. Then last year, my little sister started literally being unable to go to school--she was fifteen.
She was 100% OCD--like perfectionist, couldn't go to sleep unless her work was done perfectly. Eventually she couldn't go to school and my parents were like, "okay, we know what's going on," But it was really hard for her, she had a really hard time. It was getting really really bad actually and we took her to the University of Rochester Psychiatric Treatment Center for kids and stayed there for hours and they told her this is her reality and she needed to go back to school. That response wasn't acceptable for her whatsoever or my family. So we put her on this wait-list for this place in Boston and she eventually got in six months later--she was there from July until Christmas last year. She was there for six months and she learned a lot and I feel bad of course because it had to hit full force at such a critical time in any person's life. Adolescence: it's just like hormones are crazy, anxiety is already at an all time high and on top of that she was dealing with all of this. With my case, I'm the kind of person who is super quiet about it. Not that I didn't feel comfortable, I just didn't feel like I needed to talk about it to my family. I dealt with it more internally than my sister did. But it kind of took her going there [to the facility] for my family, especially my mom, myself, and my sister, to get close and finally understand each other instead of getting angry. With anxiety, you can come off as an a**hole and by getting angry at each other...ya know, it just kind of kick-started a whole, "this is our situation--this is Us." Emmy [sister] and I have gotten really close and she's actually living at my dad's house right now. Brighton has this really good program where you can pretty much do as much school as you can--as much as you can handle. She's doing well, but she still struggles. She struggles to find herself, but she's made so much progress.
Right now, my younger sister and I have this thing where, 'if you're struggling, call me and if I'm struggling, I'll call you,' That's actually worked out really well. I'm starting to spend a lot more time over there with her and that's big because I think my biggest thing is I can't just sit and be alone. I spent so much time doing that when I was younger and that was one of the most difficult things. Looking back on it it's just like 'why didn't you just get up?' but ya know, sometimes you can't and I shouldn't talk about it like it's easy because sometimes you just can't.
When my mom was going through all of her stuff, it was really hard for us to see that go down--it was kind of crazy. It caused a lot of unwanted selfishness within herself, but she couldn't manage it at the time so there was nothing else she could do. Being so young, all of us couldn't really understand that so that kind of caused some issues. But my thing is, people who are experiencing anxiety, depression...it's such a long process going from start to being comfortable with what you're dealing with. That's how it was then and asking myself 'how am I going to do this for the rest of my life?' It was just a feeling of hopelessness kind of. Right now, my best advice for people who are struggling is that I don't think you need a diagnosis to be taken legitimately. I just have to tell her [sister] 'don't give up.' But really, it's such a long strung-out process that there's so much understanding that you have to be willing to give to people who are dealing with it. Working with that idea and knowing that my sisters and I are close and that we can handle it together has helped.
The biggest thing now is just stopping it [anxiety] as soon as possible because if you let it get to a point where there's no other outlet, than you have to take more serious measures and you gotta go back to the doctor. I don't want to do that again, ya know? Unfortunately a lot of people do go through that and I want to be one of those people who eventually can be like, 'okay, I have OCD, but I'm not that typical.' I don't want to be defined by that. I want to be so high functioning and in order to do that, I have to push through. In the beginning of college, I wasn't even sure I wanted to do softball and that ended up being such a huge help just because you have to get up. You can't not go. I met my best friends there. So getting up, talking about it with my younger sister, with my family, and just recognizing that I can do all these things at one time. It's huge just to know I finally can--I don't know, I have a sense of pride almost.
It has taken a complete 180 from where it started and it's been five-plus years. There's setbacks and just things you have to deal with unfortunately. But overall, it's definitely brought us all closer and closer to people who don't understand it like my grandparents. It's more of a happy thing now than what it was. Both of the conversations I have with both of my sisters are regarding OCD or anxiety. But they aren't sad conversations to have, they're pretty productive. Working through each of our problems isn't fun for us, but we enjoy being there for each other. It's super bonding.
That's how it is. If you ask my friends, I'm not that girl with OCD. I'm not that friend and I don't want to be that friend. Just because I want to show them, and especially myself, that I'm no different than anyone who hasn't experienced this. But at the same time, if you want to talk about it, let's f*****g talk about it. It has to be talked about. It's interesting. It's an interesting life.