Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dealing with Health OCD as a Teenager

I received a poem written by a 16 year old girl who suffers from OCD, and she gave me permission to write about it on my blog.  I feel kinship with her, since I was in the midst of health anxiety OCD at her age.  I didn't have the internet to look up symptoms, but I went to bookstores and libraries and read medical reference books.  I am including a few excerpts from Eliza's poem: 


In a crowd, it seems impossible to feel so alone . . .
I tell my friend I have a sharp headache,
And I wonder if she knows that the second class lets out
I will immediately look up symptoms
And pick the worst disease
And that I will convince myself that I have
A brain tumor


It’s this stupid disease,
That makes me obsess over a single worry,
It’s this stupid disease,
That makes me think I have a million others,
It’s this stupid disease,
That makes me hate myself

But I continue, and no matter how hard it can be
I get through it
And because the worry and fear overcomes me,
It just makes it all the more welcoming
When happiness
Knocks the wind out of me

Health Anxiety OCD is indeed the "stupid disease/that makes me think I have a million others."  I hated myself at 16, hated how quickly and intensely I would worry about pains and spots on my skin and symptoms of any kind.  I believed this was a defect in myself, that I couldn't control the worry.  

I had moments "When happiness/knocks the wind out of me" and these gave me a glimpse of hope that I could feel something besides fear.  

I had never heard the phrase "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" or the acronym "OCD."  I knew I had anxiety, but that was it.  When I was 19 or 20, my mother was taking classes to become a counselor, and I picked up her DSM, a manual of diagnoses for mental illness.  I don't remember seeing "OCD" but "Generalized Anxiety Disorder" jumped out at me for describing much of what I experienced.  It was a relief that someone could describe this fear.  

The missing component was treatment, and it took about 15 more years until I was diagnosed with OCD and found an Exposure and Response Prevention Therapist.  There was a strong part of me that hung on, in spite of the fear, and I honor that part of myself and that of Eliza.  You are stronger than you know.