I am already running late for work. I’m checking my bag, making sure that I have everything I might need: hand sanitizer, contact solution, eye drops, a nail file, Tide to Go, a single tooth pick. My work bag is large, overstuffed. I will lug it around as I wait for the train, and it will sit between my feet for the duration of the 22-minute ride to campus. I will get off at Colfax, and as I walk across campus, this bag will hang on my shoulder, with one strap consistently falling off no matter how many times I fix it.
Before I take the train, I must drive 10 minutes to the station. I lock up my small apartment, and I jog down three flights of stairs because I am running late. I load my large bag in the car, and I place my travel mug of coffee in the cup holder. I turn the key, back out, and leave the complex.
30 seconds later, I am leaving the parking lot. Then, I wonder if I locked the door. I did, I say. I remember turning the key to the right. I remember the sound of the bolt sliding into place. I remember testing the knob, just in case.
But what if it’s not locked?
I make a U-turn as soon as I can. I speed back towards my apartment complex. Now I am running even later. I park my car and run back up the three flights of stairs to my apartment door.
I turn the knob. It is locked. I unlock it so that I can lock it again. I turn the knob again. It is locked.
I head for the stairs. I pause and turn around. I just need to check it one more time. Then, I can leave for work — for real this time.
Not THAT bad
On more than one occasion, I’ve described people or their behaviors as OCD. I’d written off obsessive compulsive disorder as the affliction of television detective Adrian Monk or germaphobes constantly washing their hands or people who can’t tolerate when picture frames aren’t level.
Obsessive compulsive disorder was always a mental health issue that other people had. I only have depression, I said. I’m not THAT bad.
I don’t care if my picture frames are level. My house is hardly ever neat and tidy. I don’t need everything to be symmetrical. I don’t care about those things.
But I will wash my hands dozens of times a day. My hands are always cracked and dry, especially in the winter. I might put on lotion, but then I will wash it off ten minutes later because I touched something and now I don’t like how my hands feel dirty. I carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere; even before the pandemic, I always had some with me. It’s nice to have, just in case. If I don’t have access to a sink so that I can wash my hands, I will use hand sanitizer multiple times a day instead, even when the alcohol stings the cracks on my bleeding fingers.
My own perceptions of OCD meant it had never even been a consideration of mine. OCD had always been someone else’s problem. Until it was mine. I showed symptoms of OCD for about seven years before I was diagnosed. So many years of I’m just checking. That internalized mantra of mine. Just in case. Better safe than sorry. I’m just checking.
Part of being human
I am open and honest about my depression. That one seems relatable–understandable even, given the reality of the world we live in. But OCD is a punchline. I can’t tell anyone I have OCD.
When I decide to share my diagnosis with a friend, they say, “Remember the bible says do not worry. Wasn’t that your favorite verse?”
She’s referencing Matthew 6:34, a verse I had taped on the inside of my locker in high school. I don’t know what to say.
“The bible also says to be anxious for nothing. God has taken care of everything,” she says to fill the silence.
I nod. Because I don’t know how to say that I don’t need bible verses or empty platitudes. I need love, help, and support.
How do we support those with mental illness? How can we be there for people when they are at their lowest lows?
On my worst days, I can’t even get out of bed. I’m so weighed down by anxiety and compulsions, depression and apathy, that everything seems pointless.
I am always aware of all the ways I can never measure up to my own standards, to what God expects from me, and to what the world wants from me.
I know what the bible says. David wrote heart-wrenching psalms. Job lost everyone and everything he loved and experienced immense suffering. Jesus sweat drops of blood in his anguish and sorrow.
And depression and anxiety are part of being human.
You are not alone
My mental health issues don’t change the fact that I’m still a person, not just a problem to solve or a diagnosis. I understand people think they are helping, but when someone quotes the bible to me during my time of need, it feels like they are shaming me for feeling the way that I do. You don’t know how much I wish I could change how I feel or what I’m going through. You might think it’s helpful to tell me to see a therapist or to try a different medication, but I don’t need solutions. I see my therapist, and I am constantly working through the cycle of finding the right meds. And even despite all this work, I still have periods where my depression and anxiety take over.
What I need most are people who are willing to be in the trenches with me. People who are willing to listen and try to feel what I’m feeling. I know some of my friends and family will never understand what it is like to lay on the bathroom floor at 2:00 in the morning, hoping and praying for relief from the relentless numbness or the persistent worry. What helps me the most is when someone is there for me, even when it’s uncomfortable for them, even if we are both sitting in silence.
It’s hard to be in the trenches with someone else. It’s painful to feel what someone else is feeling. I understand the temptation to avoid that discomfort at all costs. But when the people I love are willing to be vulnerable, to step alongside me, to join me on this journey, I know that I’m not alone.
If someone you love is stuck in a deep, dark place, don’t encourage them to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Sit with them in the dark while they wait for the light to shine.