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Mental Illness Looks Like: Kathryn

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Q: What prompted you to share your story with us?

A: I decided to share my story with The Exposure Project because I think it is such a great and equally important campaign. I was very excited to find out that I had the opportunity to share my story because I strongly believe in removing the stigma that surrounds OCD and other various mental illnesses. It remains essential to remove the stigma surrounding these conditions because then individuals are more options to reach out and get the help that they need to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Q: What mental illnesses do you live with diagnosed or otherwise?

A: I’m currently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder.

Q: At what age did you first notice your symptoms, and then when did they become problematic? When did you seek help?

A: When looking back throughout the course of my life, I realized that I have had OCD and anxiety for as long as I could remember, but was only diagnosed at the age of twelve. Specifically, I began having significant intrusive thoughts at the age of nine after reading the book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Shortly after I began having these thoughts, I disclosed them to my parents who immediately put me into play therapy. As many of you know, play/talk therapy is not the right therapy for treating OCD. My mom, who is a psychologist, began noticing my perfectionistic tendencies in school when I was twelve and brought me to an OCD therapist who officially diagnosed me with OCD. Even though my OCD began getting bad in seventh grade, it hit its ultimate climax my freshman year in high school when I couldn’t eat, sleep, go to school, or even get out of bed. At the end of that year, I realized I needed an intensive form of treatment that my weekly therapy sessions could not satisfy. At the beginning of my sophomore year in high school, I was admitted into the Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin where I stayed for over three months, tackling many of my fears head on.

Q: Can you share what your first symptoms of OCD were? When sharing with people who don’t have or don’t know they have OCD it’s super helpful to hear exactly what other people have experienced.

A: My first symptoms of OCD were when I was three, I could not stop ordering and arranging all my toys. According to my parents, I would get very upset when people would touch or “mess things up”.

Q: Besides your therapist, who do you feel comfortable talking to about your OCD?

A: Ever since I became an OCD and mental health advocate, I have been very open about my struggles with OCD. I do though feel most comfortable sharing the details of my mental illness with my parents and close friends who also have OCD.

Q: How do you manage living with OCD?

A: I manage living with my OCD by attending exposure response prevention (ERP) twice a week, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) once a week, and by taking multiple different medications. Not only do these forms of intervention help me manage my OCD, but also the OCD community itself. I found the starting my account @the_road_to_recovery_from_ocd has been such a healing experience through helping and sharing my story with others.

Q: Do you believe your illness has held you back in any way?

A: For awhile, my OCD held me back from being a normal teenager. I missed a majority of my sophomore year in high school due to being in intensive treatment which caused me to miss out on many social opportunities with my peers.

Q: What have you been able to achieve in spite of your mental struggle?

A: In spite of my mental health struggle, I have been able to do very well in school and now I’m able to apply to college, something I thought I would never be able to do.

Q: Can you think of any positive things that have come to your life because of your mental illness?

A: Surprisingly, even though OCD has sent my life into a complete tailspin, it has also given me a sense of purpose. OCD and mental health advocacy have become my passions in life, also leading me to want to become a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating kids and teens with OCD and other anxiety disorders. Not only have I gained a passion, but also an incredible group of friends in the OCD community that I have met through treatment, advocacy work, and at the International OCD Foundation’s Conference.

Q: Use three words to describe your experience.

A: The three words I would use to describe my experience would be tumultuous, debilitating, and life-altering.

Q: What do you want people to know about mental illness?

A: I want people to know that having a mental illness is excruciatingly difficult and is a big part of you, but is definitely not all of you.

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