This is an open letter to a girl named Addie. She is fighting OCD and the anxiety that goes with it, and her mom has been blogging about it. I suggest you read her blog. Meantime, I want to share some experiences with Addie…
My name’s Bill, and I know a thing or two about what you are going through. It’s gonna be rough at times, but let me tell you why everything will be fine — better than fine.
Anxiety is a nasty thing to live with. I spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s hunkered down in my house because of it. I saw guys looking for a fight around every corner.
Whenever I had to get on a plane, I’d have visions of the plane going down in flames. If I had to make a stand or take a test in school or turn in a big project at work, my mind would spin violently with every negative thought one could have. I would fear for the worst, but never hold out hope for the best.
I worked myself into a stupor over the safety of my wife and children. I had an obsession with cleanliness, which was interesting since depression always meant my personal hygiene took a dive. I was terrified of world events.
Yet I got through each one of those moments.
The first thing to remember is that you have a mom and dad who love you and will do anything for you. They will be your biggest allies. There will be others who will help you through it. Many, many others. Their support is much, much bigger than the things your anxiety has made you fear.
When my children were younger, they watched a show called “Veggie Tales.” One episode focused on a boy afraid of the boogie man. He learned a song called “God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man” and that made his fear much smaller. In time, it went away. God is bigger than anxiety, too. The fears you get from the anxiety are over things that aren’t real. The only thing that is real is the here and now, and what you do with it.
You ever watch Mister Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS? After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he did a wonderful show about getting through bad times. He said:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.
Mr. Rogers learned a powerful lesson from his mother. I wish I had it in my head to focus on the helpers growing up. In hindsight, they were always there:
–The doctors and nurses who saved me from brutal bouts of Crohn’s Disease.
–The therapists who guided me through a diagnosis of OCD and showed me how to manage it.
–My family, especially my wife, and also my father and even my mother. My relations with the latter are in mothballs right now, but I think she tried to do her best for me. The help Erin has been to me is way too big to be measured here.
–My friends, who have always helped me make sense of things, made me laugh and done all the other things a person needs to get through the day.
–Many of the people in my faith community, who showed me how to accept God’s Grace, even if I still suck at returning the favor.
So that’s one of the big lessons: Always look for the helpers. You will always find them.
The other piece of advice is to never, ever let yourself believe that you can’t live life to the fullest because you have OCD.
Have you ever heard of Winston Churchill? He was Prime Minister of Britain during the darkest days of World War II. He often suffered from depression — he called it his Black Dog — and yet he led his country to victory over evil. He had a saying that I think of every day when the going gets tough: “Some people see a calamity in every opportunity. Others see an opportunity in every calamity.”
Do you like music? I find that music — rock and roll, specifically — soothes my soul in times of difficulty and gives me the strength to press on. There’s a band called Def Leppard that has an inspiring story of success despite bad things that could have stopped them cold. The drummer, Rick Allen, had an arm ripped off in a car wreck. A lot of people thought his career was over. Twenty-six years later, he’s still drumming. The example applies to people like us. OCD can only defeat us if we let it.
I’m not about to let that happen. I’ll bet you feel the same way.
I have a final and important piece of advice for you:
Even if you get rid of your anxiety — and I know you will — you will still have plenty of OCD moments. I still check my laptop bag several times to make sure I didn’t forget my computer. I still go on a cleaning tear through my house if too many things are out of order.
That’s perfectly OK. As long as you learn to beat down the part where your mind spins with worry about things beyond your control, the other habits are fine. Since I’m open about my OCD, people don’t look at me funny when I have those “OCD moments.” They’ve learned to see beyond the habits and see me for who I am.
And sometimes, the OCD moment can be put to good use. If you have a big project, the OCD can push you to get it done and done right. It may seem strange, but if you learn to manage it, it can be very useful.
Some of our repetitive motions do look silly at times. Don’t worry about it. Learn to laugh at it instead.
Life is tough. But it’s supposed to be. It’s how we discover who we are and what we are capable of. I bet you are capable of a lot.
Take care of yourself, and keep the faith.