Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek Part 7

As today is the last day of #OCDWeek, I'm ending my disclosure series with one of my most powerful disclosures: sharing my diagnosis with my colleagues.

Shame works in mysterious ways. I gradually built up an impressive resume of disclosures to numerous counselors, friends and even some co-workers, all with varying levels of embarrassment and methods of delivery. 

But I still hadn’t told my best friend. Let alone my mom.

My mom and best friend were in the dark. I wanted to keep up the facade that I was “normal," that I was just the worrywart Melanie they knew and loved. They couldn’t discover I worried about killing people when I drove. That wasn’t the Melanie they knew.

I channeled my energy towards letting my coworkers in on my secrets. My supervisor supported my idea to create a presentation to help my colleagues better understand me and the subtypes of OCD I experienced.

This had to be the mother of all presentations.

I came across a quote by Brené Brown that offered me courage: 
"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light"
I took solace that my team didn't know what I was working on. I could still back out. This was voluntary, after all.

But my reveal was approaching and before I knew it, I found myself in a room full of my coworkers about to spill the beans. And I was going all in. I needed their attention. I needed them to know this was important. I fought off tears as I disclosed off the hop. It took effort to control the shakiness in my voice.

This was happening. I was saying the words "hit-and-run OCD" to a room full of people. I had taken what had been trapped inside of me for years and created a PowerPoint presentation. This was of my own volition. This was terrifying.

It was hard to look everyone in the eye. The few people I did manage to catch glimpses of looked at me with encouragement, as if to say, "keep going. You got this."

I shared more of Brené Brown's wisdom: 
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”
My supervisor commended me on my courage. She cried. I cried. A co-worker cried. Someone quipped that I should show the city my presentation for incentive to fix the potholes. We chuckled.

And I'll never forget the moment when one member from my team stood up and began a standing ovation.

I was left empowered but with an incredible sense of guilt. My mom still didn't know. I felt as though I had betrayed her. I had walked the red carpet and didn’t send her an invite.

A month or two went by and the guilt lingered. I didn't want her to hear through the grapevine that her daughter has OCD. She had to know. The amount of time I had waited had created a sense of urgency. I needed her to understand I was more than Melanie the worrywart. The disclosures I had done throughout the years gave me a sense of confidence while being utterly terrified. 

I found myself in her living room, clumsily explaining the type of OCD I experienced. I tried to study her reaction, as I felt my face turning red.

It was anti-climactic. She was neutral. It wasn’t emotional like when I shared with her how intense my anxiety was a year prior.

I awkwardly presented her with a fact sheet I had created for the purpose of the disclosure. I tried to break the ice by sharing how when I was in grade 1, we learned about the garbage in landfill sites. I explained how when I threw things out, I would push them as far into the garbage as possible, trying to save the planet from being consumed by trash.

We laughed.

For something I had held onto for so long, for quite possibly my biggest reveal, it was neutral. I was unsure how I felt afterwards. I was proud that it was done with but now what? Would she ask me follow-up questions? Would there be follow-up discussions?

There weren't.

I was disappointed that she didn’t bring it up when I saw her next while another part of me was relieved. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal. Or maybe it was. Maybe she didn’t know how to talk about this. Maybe I had been right all along in not wanting to share with her. Maybe it was too much for someone from an older generation to digest. 

But then something happened that became a buffer. I won free admission through a random draw to the International OCD Foundation's (IOCDF) Annual OCD Conference in Los Angeles.

This meant travel. 

This meant the risk of my cats dying.

My mom became an outlet to process this with. We processed giving the admission to someone else, the pros and cons of going versus not going. Ultimately, I chose to embrace it as a sign that I was meant to attend. But this meant Brandon's parents had to know.

It was unacceptable that they would find out I was going to California after having missed trips for Christmas, for Easter. It was time they knew. Anxiety could only explain so much.

They took it in stride.

As summer came to a close the IOCDF announced they’d be hosting an OCD awareness video contest, with first prize being a trip to the next conference. You could enter by uploading a video to YouTube. YouTube--a public domain, a place anyone could find me.

And YouTube is exactly where I found myself. I created a video where I stirred and mixed and explained OCD in a cooking show format.

But first, you had to be chosen by the judges as a finalist. It was possible very few would see my video.

I got chosen. 

Second, you had to get enough votes to win. This meant I was going public.

I said to the world, "Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD."

And I won.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek Part 6

Part 6 of my #disclosure series for #OCDWeek.

I was officially diagnosed with OCD about five years ago. The psychologist gave a bleak prognosis: she warned things would get worse. Her words were hollow. The diagnosis felt like a punch to the gut--a punch I had been anticipating yet resented when it finally happened.

I assumed the psychologist had to be wrong. Sure, I had symptoms of OCD but there was no way I had a mental illness. I was functional; I was working full-time; I was in a committed relationship. 

It was unintentional discrimination. It was black and white thinking: if I could work, I was fine. If I couldn't work, then I wasn't fine.

A couple years later, another professional provided me with the same diagnosis but with a finesse; there was a softness in her tone that let me feel safe to share my apprehension. 

The second diagnosis gave me a framework for making sense of myself. I realized that mental illness was not simply divided into functional versus non-functional. Rather than feeling like I had been labelled, I began to view it as information to help me better understand myself. And I wanted others to better understand me too. 

After all, how would I have a close bond with someone without revealing the darker parts of myself? 

Well, I could. 

There’s no contract that says you must reveal your innermost thoughts with friends. But I wanted to. I felt like I was hiding something. 

I avoided friends when I was triggered by OCD. The friend I had already chosen to disclose to was an exception-there was no way others could be as patient and understanding. 

Telling any other friends felt like a legitimate risk of losing them. I feared I would be judged and that they wouldn't want me in their lives anymore. Writing this feels surreal now but you forget how all-consuming shame is. 

I experimented with different ways of disclosing. I had entered an OCD awareness writing contest in hopes to provide education for hit-and-run OCD. I wanted to shed knowledge on a topic I wished had been more accessible when I needed the information. 

I spent hours pouring my soul into the piece, trying to show the world that it’s a thing. I needed to entice people, keep them reading. I called it, “Why I’m Not a Serial Killer.

But then the fear set in. What on earth was I about to do? What if I actually won? My name would be attached to having hit-and-run OCD. What would my neighbours think? There’d be gossip. People wouldn’t want to live near me. My mom would find out about this side of me. It felt like a legitimate risk.

So I found a loophole--I used ambiguous wording when describing my entry. I could be an intellect intrigued by the condition, a psychologist toying with her creative side. No one had to know. I was putting myself out there but with a safety net.

Until I was ready to put a name to my story. I gave a friend a copy, cryptically sharing that I needed her to know something about me.

15 minutes went by. No response.

Okay, maybe she was still reading.

30 minutes went by. No response.

She must be writing me some feedback.

It took everything in me not to pick up the phone and call her. I knew I could challenge myself by holding off, by resisting the compulsion. I didn’t like it but I decided I’d wait.

45 minutes.

Was she in shock?

60 minutes.

There was no way she hadn’t finished reading it.

She was calling the police.

I heard sirens and part of me wondered whether they were coming for me. Like I had written a confession and handed it to my friend to turn me in.

Turns out she had gotten distracted and hadn't yet read it. My fear of being taken away in a cop car broke the ice and we laughed.

One might say I underestimated my friends but every disclosure was new. Every disclosure was a chance for rejection. Each sub-type of OCD felt risky. Maybe they’d be okay with learning about my scrupulosity OCD but hit-and-run OCD could be the deal breaker. 
A photo from my first #OCDweek: experimenting with advocacy but not yet ready to publicly disclose.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hi I'm Melanie and I have OCD #OCDWeek #disclosure Part 5

In Part 5 of my #ocdweek disclosure blog series, I share what my experience was like admitting to family that I have anxiety. But the shame and fear still held strong. Admitting to having OCD wasn't yet an option for me.

OCD can be especially frightening to disclose because of what is known as magical thinking--the faulty belief that saying or thinking something will make it so. I was, and still am, afraid that when I travel out of town, my home will burn down and my cats will die.

A few years ago this particular fear was especially strong prior to a summer trip my husband and I had planned to visit his in-laws who live over 6 hours away. I had been dreading the trip but didn’t know how to tell him. After all, I had made the trip multiple times before. I didn't understand the ebbing and flowing nature of the illness.

He picked me up from work the evening we were scheduled to depart. 

It was happening. I was willingly getting into the vehicle that would start the series of events that would lead to my cats’ demise. 

I sat in the car facing the window, a ruse to hide my blatant distress. For all he knew I was enjoying the scenery. Eventually this led to tears but I faced the window with conviction. Rural farms can make someone emotional, right? 

Luckily, he had to focus on driving. But as we reached the 90 minute mark, I started sobbing. I was convinced that this would be the time my cats would die. I felt it with every fibre of my being. I couldn’t go. I’d regret it. I couldn’t be responsible for killing my cats. Magical thinking’s wand was especially persuasive that day.

We’re not turning around!

Maybe I can call my mom to come get me, I wailed.

Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why’d you have to wait until we’re over an hour out? 

But how are you supposed to say something when saying something makes it so? 

I sobbed. He yelled. And then silence. 

He turned the car around and we drove the hour and a half back. 


I felt convinced we were getting a divorce. I had managed to ruin my marriage in 90 minutes.

I texted my friend, the friend I disclosed to at a restaurant. She was a godsend. Being able to communicate with someone about what was happening, while it was happening and be honest about why it was happening was therapeutic.

He was calm when we arrived home. I didn’t want to pry about what had changed. I would follow his lead. He declared he’d be making the 7 hour trip tomorrow. No mention of divorce court. That was promising.

But he was going to have to contact his parents. After all, we had planned to be there late that evening. He had to explain why I wasn’t coming. They do say the truth always comes out, but I asked him to keep a piece of the puzzle hidden. He agreed not to mention OCD. He could say anxiety, but not OCD. Anxiety felt safer. Anxiety felt more general. Anxiety was scary enough for them to know about.

His father called me and offered support. I felt shy but also incredibly grateful and relieved. His mother sent me a supportive email. I was assured she understood. They were embracing me as me, even though a puzzle piece was missing.

But I also had to explain to my mom why I was still at home. After all, she was our cat-sitter. She couldn’t just show up to feed them dinner and find me sobbing in the living room. 

I hadn't yet uttered the the three letters to her. I kept it all locked away. I had swallowed the key and it rotted in my stomach. I was her daughter. I didn’t want to cause her any shame or disappointment. I felt guilty for assuming she wouldn't understand. But what if she didn’t get it? OCD is messier to explain than anxiety. Anxiety is an umbrella term people are familiar with. People toss OCD around but in ignorance. People claim they are "so OCD” without realizing the agony it inflicts.

Disclosure about having OCD meant providing a mini lecture. It wasn’t like saying, “I have a cold.” People get colds. People know you’ll be sniffling and sneezing and coughing and tired. People know to offer you tissue and some Buckley’s. 

But with OCD, people don’t know you’re worrying whether you've caused multiple deaths even though you know you haven’t. People don’t know you're worried you have the power to cause a fire because of being away from home. People can’t offer you Buckley’s.

So I chose to use the word anxiety with my mother as well. It’s not like this was coming out of left field. After all, I was a self-identified worrywart. But that wasn’t something we talked about much either

That day, I revealed the extent of my fear of something bad happening; I explained that I needed to be nearby just in case my home burned down. Even describing that was difficult. Saying it out loud was an exposure I didn’t realize I was doing. But I didn’t dare mention OCD. 

She cried, having had no idea it impacted me on the level that it did. 

Suddenly three family members knew about my anxiety.  It was therapeutic. It was a disclosure, but with pieces missing. But it was a step. Puzzles aren’t always put together in one sitting.