Hope For Those On The “Other” Frontline

Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash

Finding purpose in pain has become a lifelong process for me. I’m not a healthcare professional. I’m not face to face with COVID-positive patients. I am not a first responder…but I am one of many in this world who are on the “other” frontline.

I would sit down to get work done and instantly felt like I was on this “other” frontline. I’d stare at a screen that was riddled with darkness, anger, trauma, disturbing images, virtual funerals, children mourning, hate, friendships ending, lies, harsh truths, and pain. So. Much. Pain. My limbic system was misfiring, over-firing, and sometimes I wished it would just…stop…firing.

I felt like I was in the house of mirrors, searching for the exit. I could see people outside, telling me I’m so close to finding the exit. Alas…I’d whack my head on the mirror that I thought was the last turn I’d have to take. Some people said it felt like groundhog day – the same thing over and over again. To me, it felt more like purgatory – and I’m not even religious.

My therapy sessions were virtual like most. Thank God she knows me and my required therapy style. She’s warm and kind when I need it, but mostly uses tough love – which is how I respond best.

“I haven’t heard you this bad in years, Nina. I’m going to use the word suffering to describe it. You’re in a dark place. We should increase your medication. How do you feel about that?”

I was having intrusive disturbing OCD thoughts that I hadn’t had in decades. It scared the shit out of me, to be honest. The thoughts that would paralyze me in my childhood were coming back. I’ve been on the “other side” of OCD for quite some time now, so this space was unfamiliar and painful. My sleeping was off. I was losing interest and focus. I felt disconnected from my family. I felt disconnected from…myself. Nothing seemed safe, not even my own mind.

I am not one to fight medication. I’ve been successfully treated with a very low dose since my late teens/early 20’s. I’ve tried to go off of medication before, and I quickly realized that this wasn’t about my ego – but my quality of life. With that said, I started thinking of all the ways I could AVOID increasing my medication. I somehow found a teensie bit of confidence in my resiliency, and passed through that month and a half without increasing the dose. I also knew (and still do) that if I hadn’t found the confidence, I would have increased my dosage. I ‘aint too proud – trust me (ok…maybe a little. But I digress.)

Ya know what’s strange, though? I’ve spent my entire life being able to lean on the fact that I knew most of my thoughts were irrational. Even though they felt real, there was always a part of me that knew they weren’t, or at least I knew they were extremely over exaggerated. I could always count on hearing, “Nina, it’s just your OCD.”

But now, it wasn’t “just my OCD” – this was real. My fear of germs was real. My fear of death was real. Everyone was washing their hands incessantly and over using antibacterial gel, and I no longer “stood out” as the germaphobe. Nobody was sharing anything anymore, and people were wiping down every surface around them. For once in my entire life, the world around me was just as scary as the world inside of me – and I wasn’t prepared.

I showed symptoms of OCD as early as three years old – so, I’ve had quite a few decades of learning how to navigate life with this brain wiring (eye roll). However, I definitely wasn’t planning on “relapsing” randomly at 39 years old…yet there I was.

I know you’re waiting for the moral of the story, because I try to always have one, so here it is…

In a weird, almost masochistic way, I’m glad I went through it (and still am, but on a much smaller scale). My ability to hold space for other people in their darkest moments – their most vulnerable or shameful moments – is 100% due to me knowing what that feels like. I know how it feels to doubt your worth, to question your place on Earth, to fear rejection so much that you go through most of your life only showing a fraction of who you are, to believe that if people knew what you were thinking, they’d take a few steps back…

What makes me who I am today is, quite literally, what almost ended me. I often speak about finding purpose in pain, not because I’m a walking obnoxious Pinterest quote, but because I’ve done it…and it has saved my life.

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