Mental Illness Looks Like: Isabella
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Q: Do you struggle with mental illness? If so what?
A: I've had OCD since I was about ten years old though it went undiagnosed until this year, at the age of 23. I have also struggled with Emetophobia & Depersonalization episodes - all products of my OCD.
Q: How were you diagnosed?
I've gone through spikes with my intrusive thoughts, but it wasn't until the latest one a few months ago that I reached my breaking point and actively sought out help. I stumbled upon Pure O on the internet, completely unaware that it was exactly what I was and have been dealing with for about 13 years.
Q: What does "insert disorder" feel like for you? Describe your symptoms.
A: My intrusive thoughts have definitely shifted parallel to my current situation in life. As things became increasingly more important to me than others, my OCD would usually latch on to a specific idea related to those themes. As of recently, it has zeroed in on Harm OCD and what some refer to as "Existential OCD" and "Schizophrenia OCD." Essentially my intrusive thoughts center around the fear of "snapping" or "losing my mind" and potentially hurting myself or someone else, which can also be accompanied by thoughts of obsessively questioning my own existence and life/death.
Q: Is there a metaphor or an example you use to describe your mental illness?
A: Think of the things that you fear the most. You think of them, and they make you uncomfortable. But you can let them go, move on, and go about your day. Now imagine those thoughts getting stuck in your brain like a broken record on full volume. You can't let them go, you can't move on, and you feel as though you cannot go about your day, let alone function. They reside in your brain for so long and so prominently that eventually, you begin to believe they are real. That's OCD.
Q: Do your friends and family know about your illness? If so, how did you tell them?
A: Most of them do; details may still be a little blurry. I told my family pretty immediately. I'm extremely lucky to have a supportive and understanding family who takes the time to listen and educate themselves on mental health. I try to be as open and candid as I possibly can; I try my hardest to pull my weight in destigmatizing mental illness. Ever since being diagnosed, I've openly talked about OCD on my Instagram and in my day-to-day life. The vast amount of misinformation that circulates around OCD only delays potential diagnoses and treatment.
Q: Do you believe your illness has held you back in any way?
A: Sure. There are times where I focus on the future and start creating scenarios in which my mental illness will hold me back, be it in my career or hopes of having a family. But I'm really trying to practice mindfulness, an extremely helpful tool taught through my therapy, to focus more on the present and where I currently am in my life.
Q: What have you been able to achieve in spite of your mental struggles?
A: I love questions like this. It's so easy to get caught up in the bad days that sometimes the good ones get thrown to the sidelines. Though I have OCD, I still work full-time, take care of my dog, am in a healthy relationship, hang out with friends - and have even officially enrolled back into school.
Q: Do you go to therapy?
A: I am currently seeing an OCD Specialist weekly. It's truly been the best decision I've ever made in regards to my mental health.
Q: Do you take medication?
As of now I currently do not. Since this is my first time in treatment for OCD, I want to see how I feel at the end and further assess if my therapist and I feel as though medication would be the best next step. I'm a huge believer in normalizing medication.
Q: Do you do anything besides therapy or medication to manage your symptoms?
A: I know you've heard it a million times before, but exercise really does help. Sometimes it seems impossible to get out of bed, let alone workout, but ultimately it does help alleviate some of the anxiety and symptoms of OCD. I've recently gotten into climbing and it's been an amazing way to push me into the right mindset first thing in the morning. I've also found a lot of comfort in going to church and having a personal relationship with God. Everybody has their own beliefs, but my faith and surrounding myself with my church and its community really work for me.
Q: Any stereotypes you'd like to address regarding the disorder?
A: I'll say it once, and I'll say it again: OCD is not an adjective. It's not a quirky trait about liking to keep your closet clean. It's cycles of painful, terrifying, and often shameful intrusive thoughts that can derail someone's entire life. It's not cute, it's not funny, and it's not a choice. It is debilitating, and I would not wish it upon anybody.
Q: What do you want people to know about mental illness?
A: If I could extend one thing to everybody on this planet, it would be a little more empathy. Mental illness comes in many different forms, but ultimately it affects more people than we think, and it does not discriminate. Take the time to inform yourself. Knowledge can literally save lives. And secondly, people with a mental illness are still, at the end of the day, people. We are no different than you. Our brains are just wired a little differently.