Where Quirks End And OCD Begins

Lately I’ve been wondering where quirks end and OCD begins. You often hear people say something about their OCD when they straighten a picture or make their kids wash their hands. For those who suffer from real Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, we know it is so much worse. OCD for me, at least, can create a prison I can’t get out of. It’s like running around in the same circle over and over and over again with no end in sight. I struggle with intrusive obsessive thoughts. But I also have some quirks. Are they quirks or is it my OCD? What do you think?

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I have an obsession with balance—or perhaps evenness would be a better word. I don’t have a problem stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, but if I step on a crack with my right foot I absolutely have to step on one with my left foot and vice versa. If I don’t I get this incredible sense of feeling unbalanced—as if I’m walking around with heavy weights attached to one side of my body. As long as I keep the amount of times I step on a crack with each foot even, I’m good! I’m balanced! Sound crazy? Maybe it is crazy. Or maybe it’s just some weird quirk I have. Or maybe it’s OCD.

I really like things to be even. My kids often ask me what my favorite number is, and I always tell them I don’t have one. Honestly, I don’t get the favorite number thing. Having a favorite number seems strange to me. But if I were forced to choose one—like gun to the head, tell me what your favorite number is—it would be an even number—no matter what!

I am not the kind of mom who makes lavish breakfasts for my kids. Mornings are crazy enough trying to get them ready for school and myself ready for work, so it’s usually frozen waffles or frozen mini pancakes. Those are my six-year-old’s favorites. I always ask him how many he wants, and usually the answer is seven. Long ago, I used to get him eight anyway, because I needed him to have an even number. But after throwing away too many pancakes I decided I had to conquer my quirk or OCD or whatever it is and just give him seven pancakes. Again, it sounds crazy, right? It’s just my obsession with even things.

So, is it really OCD? Is it a quirk? Or am I just really, really weird? Maybe I’ll never know.

What Helps and Hurts

I found this on a fellow blogger’s site, Bipolar, Uninvited, and she told me I could share it here. I get this one hundred percent! Of course, no one wants to feel like they’re walking on eggshells around anyone, but words are real, as are their effects. It would really help for people to know some basics of what not to say around those of us who are struggling with mental illness and things that are okay and could help. I doubt anyone would tell someone with multiple sclerosis to just “snap out of it” and get up and run a mile. It would be completely insensitive and inappropriate. Well the same is true of depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. Hopefully some of you out there can relate and hopefully, for some, this helps and makes a difference.

Taking a Closer Look

The first time I heard the song Come a Little Closer by Cage the Elephant (LOVE them!) it spoke to me—mostly because it reminded me of an experience I had many years ago. It was an incredibly painful experience, but one that also taught me an incredibly valuable lesson.

The chorus of the song speaks of how things aren’t always what they seem to be when you take a closer look. Snowflakes are a perfect example of this.

From a distance, it’s just a uniform sheet of white, but when you put one under a microscope you see its true intricate beauty. Life is the same way. From a distance it may seem to be one way, but upon closer inspection, you may find something completely different.

I had a friend in college. Yes, that’s saying something! I will be the first to admit that I was a really hard person to get along with back then, and I’ve often wondered if most of the people who called themselves my friends were just saying it. If I could go back in time and meet my past self, I probably wouldn’t be able to stand myself! There were, however, a couple of people who saw past the cocky, loudly opinionated person that I was and somehow liked me anyway.

This one particular friend and I stayed in touch even after college, and our friendship grew despite our lives going in different directions. I got married, had a baby and became a stay-at-home mom while she continued her education and had a career. It seemed as though she was always off on some grand adventure while I had my own mini-adventures close to home. The differences didn’t matter to me. She was my friend, someone I cared about and was happy for, someone I knew cared about me. So imagine my shock when one day she told me that she could no longer be my friend because seeing me with my perfect life as a wife and mother, with the perfect husband made her too jealous because it was the life she had always wanted and dreamed of since she was a young girl. And that was it. That was the end. She wouldn’t talk to me again.

Part of the reason this hurt me so much was because my life was so far from that perfect world she had so falsely dreamed up. My marriage was in shambles. It was so bad I knew I had three options—get a divorce, get some serious help to save my marriage or take my own life. Yes, that’s how bad it was. It was the worst hell I’d been through up to that point in my life. All I could see was darkness, and there were times I didn’t know if I could make it through. The ironic part is that I had actually been thinking of telling my friend about what was going on. I felt like I could trust her because I knew she cared about me and would be there for me no matter what—because that’s what friends do, right?

Besides my shattering marriage, I had also gone through severe postpartum depression after having my daughter and it never really went away. While I loved being a mom and was grateful I could be one, I had quickly learned that motherhood doesn’t equal a state of constant happiness and bliss like she apparently thought it did.

It hurt. I hurt. I thought about telling her what was going on, but I knew it wouldn’t get through. She was too closed off to anything other than what she wanted to believe, and I didn’t want to make her feel bad—because I valued her as a person and someone who had been one of my closest friends. Despite the hurt, as I looked at and analyzed what had happened, I learned a very important lesson which I’m still grateful for. It taught me never to make assumptions. It’s so easy to look at someone else and think they have it made, think they have the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house, the perfect job. The perfect life. But it’s not true! Everyone has problems, everyone struggles, and when you make an assumption like that it takes away opportunities for you to serve. If you can just take the time to truly get to know someone and get a glimpse into their life, you often find that you’re more alike that you think and that perhaps you can help or strengthen them in their times of difficulty.

Now, it would have been nice if I had learned this lesson without the painful experience to go along with it. But pain and hurt are a part of life, and one of the greatest things I’ve found is the ability to look back and see what you have learned and can learn from those times—just like I did with this experience.

*As a side note, this experience was several years ago. My ex-husband and I did get help that did save our marriage. But life goes on, things change, people change, and we did end up divorced anyway. The fact that we didn’t go through a completely bitter and hate-filled divorce, the fact that we remain friends and still care about each other doesn’t mean it was some picture-perfect divorce. It was an incredibly difficult experience for both of us and the most alone I have ever felt in my life. I am grateful for the friends I had, who stuck with me through it and allowed me to cry and vent and shared in my pain with me. I’m also grateful for the friends and neighbors I have now who have shown so much love and support to both me and my ex-husband.

Live For These Moments

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This is Happiness!

Not the best picture of me since I didn’t bother to put on makeup this morning, but that’s not what it’s about. Normally, I hate gray, clouded days in the winter – because most days are gray and clouded and gloomy. But today it was somehow enticing, inspiring, so I went out for a walk. It was down-right balmy in the mid-forties for this time of year in Utah! The clouds, the lighting, the snow on the mountains and listening to Renegades by X Ambassadors and Second Chance by Shinedown (yes, I may have sung out loud some of the time because I’m that sort of a person) were exactly what I needed. Nature and music are two constants in my life, things I know I can always count on to lift my spirt and renew my soul. For someone with mental illness and terrible Seasonal Affective Disorder right in the middle of winter, life is all about living for these moments to help take you through to the next.

 

Anxiety’s False Perception

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One of the worst things anxiety can do to a person is weave a false perception around them. At least that has been my experience. I know there have been times in my life when others have thought I was cold or standoffish when really it was just my anxiety causing me to act a certain way. I feel as though I have gotten a better grip on it in the past year—at least when it comes to social functions. I often still avoid big gatherings when I can because those sorts of settings are usually a disaster just waiting to happen for someone with anxiety, but church is one place I usually want to be on Sundays, one place I most definitely want my children to be, so I have to go and interact.

Many years ago, I lived in Phoenix. One of the reasons I loved it there was because the people were so friendly. Most of the families in my ward (an LDS congregation) were like me—they were from somewhere else. Most of us didn’t have family nearby so everyone went out of their way to be friendly, to be inclusive, because if they didn’t they would be alone. It was quite the shock to my system moving back to Utah. I was still in “Phoenix” mode, I like to call it. I had shrugged some of my anxiety off while living there, and at first I went out of my way to try to make friends here. I remember one of my first weeks at church after we bought our new house, sitting by someone I didn’t know and trying to talk to her. She turned away from me and completely ignored me the rest of the meeting. I soon had other similar experiences that pushed my anxiety back to the surface in full swing. I started sitting by myself in meetings, didn’t look or talk to anyone. And thus, my unfriendly, snobbish perception or persona was born again. But the truth is that I acted this way because of my anxiety. I was so incredibly anxious and nervous that I would be rejected again that I could not make myself be the one to “go out of my way” to make friends with others. I avoided people not because I didn’t like them or thought bad things about them or thought I was better than them, but rather because I was trying to avoid getting emotional and having a panic attack. There were times I had to hide out in a bathroom stall while hyperventilating or crying before I could get myself to calm down enough to go back into a Sunday meeting.

So my heartfelt plea to others is to be understanding, to remember that if someone seems standoffish or snobbish or like they think they are better than you, it may actually be their anxiety. In reality, they may be desperate to have a friend, to have someone to talk to, to have someone who will care about them, but they just don’t know how or can’t find a way to do it themselves because of their anxiety.

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For those with anxiety, I think one of the things that helps the most is simply learning to be comfortable with who you are, finding some bit of confidence in yourself. I had a big breakthrough moment last September at a wedding in Alabama. I didn’t know anyone there other than my friend who had invited me and his friend who was the groom—and I had only met him the day before the wedding. When my friend told me about the wedding a week or two before I went down I almost had a panic attack just thinking about it—about having to interact with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I was really nervous when we got there, but that famed southern hospitality kicked in the moment we walked in the door. Everyone was so incredibly friendly and welcoming, and they immediately put me at ease, all anxiety gone. I even went way outside my comfort zone at one point and got up, left my friend and went into the kitchen to see if they needed any help preparing lunch for after the ceremony. I will admit, I was proud of myself! There was a moment, after more and more people had gathered, where my anxiety came back, and I just wanted someone to shield and protect me, but overall I think it was a success. Knowing that I could do it, that I could beat my anxiety for a time, has helped me so much recently.

Church is easier these days as well. I do have to give credit to the people in my new ward, though. They have been very supportive, loving and friendly, and I am so grateful for that. I usually try to sit next to someone rather than by myself and join in conversations. That one is hard because I think I’m a somewhat socially awkward person, and I don’t do well engaging in conversation with people I don’t know really well. But I still try. So never give up hope. Sometimes you can do hard things, even when you have anxiety.

Stigmas, Stigmas Everywhere

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Mental illness isn’t the only thing with a stigma. Stigmas can be found all over the place. I think divorce is one of those things that can have one attached to it, particularly within my religion. Marriage is considered sacred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially when the marriage has been performed in one of our temples. Throughout my life I’ve noticed there is this stigma that if a couple who was married in the temple gets divorced it is because at least one of the two had an affair, has some sort of addiction or was physically or sexually abusive. I’ll admit, when I was younger and only knew how to see things from my own limited point of view, I thought those were the only reasons a couple should ever get divorced. Now, having been through a divorce myself, I see that there is more to a marriage than that. A truly good marriage is more than just being faithful, not having an addiction and not being physically or sexually abusive. Neither I, nor my ex-husband, had a problem with any of those things. Neither of us cheated, neither of us had an addiction, and neither of us were physically or sexually abusive. It’s hard not to wonder if people look at me and judge me because of my divorce, especially when they hear that it didn’t happen because of any of the aforementioned reasons. If marriage is so sacred, then I must be a pretty horrible person to end it otherwise, right? It might be a nice sentiment, but actually comes from an incredibly limited perspective, lacking understanding and any sense of compassion.

It has been six months to the day since my divorce was final. Perhaps that is why I wanted to write about this now, though it is a subject that has been on my mind for quite awhile. Another stigma, or perhaps I should say stereotype, that I have seen attached to divorce is that divorced couples hate each other and fight all the time. Stereotypes do come about for a reason, and, sadly, I have seen or heard about this sort of scenario a lot in the last six months. I will admit, my ex and I got into a couple of shouting matches while going through the divorce process and we continue to have disagreements now and then, but for the most part we were, and have been, pretty civil to each other. That’s because we are two mature adults who love and care about our children more than we care about ourselves. We’ve done everything we can to ensure their happiness through all of this.

Some states, including mine, make you take a divorce education class if you have children under the age of eighteen. I grumbled about it, because I tend to rebel against anything that is forced upon me, but it ended up being a really great class taught by a man who had been divorced himself, with two sons in the middle of it. He shared sad stories of couples who put themselves before their kids, but he also told us that you can make things work. He admitted there were times he wanted to say something bad about his ex-wife or put the kids in the middle, but then he’d think about what was best for them and would make the right decision. He also told us that they would all still go do things together sometimes. One of his sons played hockey so he and his ex-wife would sit next to each other at their son’s games, then they would both take him out to dinner after. What an incredible example of parents who put their kids first. I feel as though my ex and I have done the same thing.

Now, do I still believe marriage is sacred? Of course I do. We had our reasons for getting divorced, but, frankly, that’s no one’s business but our own. Instead of judging or wondering or perpetuating the stigma and stereotype perhaps it would be better to simply accept, encourage and love.

My Love of the Moon

I braved the bitter cold this morning and went crazy taking pictures of the beautiful moon. I’ve had a thing for the moon ever since I was in high school, perhaps because it was a part of my escape. When I was feeling too depressed, too anxious, too stressed, too suffocated I would go into my backyard at night and look at the moon while swinging on the old swing set from when I was a kid. Or I would giddily dance around, pretending the moon was my partner. Sometimes I’d just lay on the ground and look up at its soft, white glow, so much less harsh than the daylight. It was a time I could peel off all of my masks, step off the stage, stop pretending and just be myself. I wrote a lot of poems about the moon when I was younger. Here are a few of them.

alone
in the black night,
no, not so alone,
the white half moon
stalking me as I walk
like a sly black cat,
slinking around
amidst shadows and silhouettes,
waiting for a chance to
POUNCE!

Moon (and me)

standing in a dream
stripped to nothing
no need to hide
only share
the pale yellow orb
cradled in the night’s
smooth and black satin sky

Sky’s Canvas

silver moon
resting like a shadow
in the felt canvas sky,
slowly fading

soft clouds
gently stretched across
the dawning morn
of the felt canvas sky,
slowly fading