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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged ocd

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“I texted my friend to say I wanted to talk with them about something and it made them really anxious and now they want an apology.”

It’s never fun to get those texts or to be the person who genuinely just wants to have a conversation and finds out someone was distressed by their message. We’ve all been there, probably on either side at some point or another. Whether in romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional relationships, our actions affect one another.

If you’re a person with anxiety, you can probably relate even more. Catastrophizing is a thing we do by definition, and “Hey dude, can we talk when you get off work?” can quickly turn into “Hey dude, I think you totally suck and I don’t want to be friends with you anymore ’cause you’re the worst”.

This  fear relies on the concept that things are being done to us, and that means that we have no control over our experience. By giving into this fear (which, yeah, is real and uncomfortable), we allow ourselves to give any power we do have over our reactions away. And then our fear is enforced. It’s also a way we tend to avoid accountability for our uncomfortable feelings. If we can blame someone else instead of taking ownership for ourselves, that’s a lot easier in the short term. This then allows us to justify our feelings, which are often unavoidable within ourselves, rather than just giving ourselves permission to feel them. I wrote about this before when I wrote about escaping and preventing toxic communities:

Escaping and preventing toxic communities comes down to changing our perspectives from “they did this to me and this feels awful” to “this happened and it feels awful because I’m perceiving it as something that was done TO me that I have no control over.”. The reality is that you do have control over what you do with your hurt. Sure, communicating to the person you felt hurt by may be helpful, but what will be really helpful is you changing your perception (and thus, your reality) of the hurtful thing. It’s not about ignoring the hurt or “choosing not to feel it”. I mean, that sounds nice, but we all know it’s not that simple. It’s about feeling it and acknowledging that it probably had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person/people. What is yours is your reaction. When we accept people for where they are at, it makes for far healthier and happier interpersonal relationships. And when we can’t reconcile where someone’s at with the reality we’re choosing to actively build for ourselves, we get to choose the context in which we relate to that person.

This works on a smaller level than just in the context of community-building. It also works in individual relationships. So here are three easy steps for what to do when someone makes you feel bad:

1. Readjust your paradigm.

Did someone make you feel some way? Or are you feeling someway about something what happened?

2. Take back your power.

Once you’ve shifted your paradigm to a place where you’re recognizing that you have control over your reaction rather than simply being a passive recipient of something someone else does to you, you’ll find you have a lot more choice over how you respond. No, this isn’t a magical anxiety cure- but it does help.  A lot. This is the time to make an in-the-moment decision about what’s going to happen for you. Sometimes, (okay, a lot of the time) that reaction is emotional and it’s totally okay to let yourself feel it. But don’t act on it immediately. Take a breath and give yourself a little time and gentleness to feel what you need to feel.

3. Make a decision about how you want to react.

Sometimes people do things that violate our boundaries, which is one of the most common reasons we end up getting in our feels. The good news is that we’re in control of our boundaries and we can shift them as we need to. Although emotions aren’t always negotiable, actions (and reactions) are. And it can feel really empowering to choose who you want in your life and the context that you choose to have them. Sometimes it’s worth the work to communicate about your boundaries and to negotiate your interactions with people, and sometimes it’s not. The cool thing is that it’s your choice.

I’ve mentioned that emotions aren’t always negotiable, especially for people living with anxiety disorders, but I also need to acknowledge that we live in a social world where so much is out of control. The way our disabled bodies operate in a late-capitalist system, the way race affects peoples’ experiences, the way our gender dictates literally how much we will be paid or how likely we are so be raped… We don’t have control over those things. And I want to be very clear that I am not talking about systemic violence in the rest of this post. It’s also well worth noting that people have the choice to use whatever privilege they may have to hold some space for oppressed people’s reactions for being oppressed. That shit is real.

What this post is about is about how we do our best to operate within this world and how we can tangibly go about standing in our power when we do have control over what happens. Because that’s real too. And all of these things can exist simultaneously.

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Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.