Off, off, off, off…tap, tap, tap, tap…41,42,43, 45…off, off, off, off. “am I done” says the little voice in my head-“NO” is the resounding reply. “You messed up the count so you must start over!” So I begin again. I tap the now cooled curling iron again and again and again. I wonder if I can ever stop. Will I ever stop…. You have just been privy to a moment in the life of a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The above mantra is one that is very familiar to me. I know this scenario because those were my exact thoughts and actions 35 years ago. Why, you may ask, would I want to revisit those moments and the many years of rumination, compulsive thoughts and actions I have experienced over the years. The answer is simple. I want to be heard. I want to be validated. I want to chip away at that big mental illness stigma until it no longer exists.
I guess now would be a good time to introduce myself. My name is Mary Pyatt. I am an advocate for people with disabilities. I am employed by L.I.F.E., Inc., an agency that serves people with disabilities and also seeks to employ individuals with disabilities. I have a disability. My disability is OCD and depression. I am also closely related to a person with Tourette’s Syndrome and a person with Paraplegia. I am blessed to work for an agency that celebrates our differences and abilities. I am also honored to be given a forum (this blog) through which I hope to inspire others to speak. You’ve heard of the Me Too movements? Let’s start the I AM movement. I AM A PERSON. I AM A PERSON WITH MENTAL ILLNESS. I AM ALSO A MOTHER, A WIFE, A SISTER AND A DAUGHTER. I AM A VOICE THAT DESERVES TO BE HEARD, FREE OF JUDGEMENT AND STIGMA. I AM MARY.
Those of us with mental illness need not remain in hiding anymore. I AM going to be heard. WE ARE going to make change happen and tear down the walls built on stigma and misinformation.
Okay, so where do we start? I mean, I can write about the changes that need to happen all day long but really, where do we start. WE need a plan.
We can start with positive self-affirmation. I learned about self-affirmation many years ago when I started receiving counseling for my OCD and subsequent depression. Before counseling , my conversations with myself would be as follows: “I’m crazy and weak because I can’t stop thinking crazy thoughts and worrying about the stove and curling iron being left on” My inner voice responded with “Yes, you are very crazy and definitely stupid ” I would tell myself this when my anxiety level escalated and when I couldn’t control my thoughts and my external surroundings. My very capable and caring counselor addressed these negative thoughts immediately. She told me that I could learn to talk to myself in a kind and positive way. She told me I could say nice things about myself. But wouldn’t that be bragging and quite honestly untrue, I asked. She assured me that positive self-affirmation could be one of many tools I can use to stand up to my OCD. She told me that each time I said or thought negative things about myself I would feel it to be true. With each thought, I cemented this idea more and more in my mind. Why does it matter I asked this capable and caring counselor? It matters, she said, because you bow under the weight of your negativity. You become convinced that your thoughts are valid and true. You lose hope and you lose your will to fight. Positive affirmation, she continued is the antithesis of these thoughts and ideas. Positive affirmation can help you begin to heal and to like yourself as you are. Hearing these words from my counselor, I began to feel a stir of hope. It took some prodding but soon I began to think nice things about myself. I would also tell myself “it’s not me, it’s my OCD”-a phrase I borrowed from a book. I sought out peer support by attending a support group for anxiety disorders. While I treated myself better and began to feel hope, I still did not own my mental illness. It was something I tried to hide from my family and friends. I hid it for many years. I wanted everyone to believe that I was fine and in control. I amazed myself with my ability to paste a smile on my face while I was obsessing and ruminating. I was the ultimate multi-tasker. I held down a job, started a family and all the while I was counting, ruminating, obsessing. It was exhausting. I soon realized there simply wasn’t enough energy in me to deal with my mental illness alone. While I was receiving counseling off and on through this period, it wasn’t quite enough. I began to see a psychiatrist who was able to help me find medication that worked for me. The obsessions were still there but they were less intense. I found that I could actually turn off the thoughts for small periods of time. I attribute this to the combination of medication and counseling. So I was learning about my OCD and learning some ways to cope but I still wasn’t owning it. That changes today. Today I AM here to tell you that I have OCD and depression. It is part of who I AM.
I am asking readers of this blog to share their stories and their thoughts about mental illness so we can take this journey together. Please make sure this is within your comfort zone. You may simply want to participate by reading the blog. As I get ready to wrap this up, I want to leave you with my final thought-be kind to yourself. Love yourself. BE who you ARE.