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.

The Power of Our “Different”

desires fear shame guilt box pandora

I may or may not be known for pushing our cultural envelope😬. It’s not because I like to stir things up; I’m a Libra – I like the complete OPPOSITE of stirring things up. It’s because I know what it’s like to be a prisoner of my own thoughts. I know what it’s like to wonder what others would think if they REALLY knew what I was thinking. I know what it’s like to feel like the world is going on around me, and as much I’d love to be “normal” like everyone else, it just won’t happen. 

I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of all that wondering. To have finally pushed far enough passed my shit, that I “get it” now. I know what it’s like to lean in to what I fear the most about myself. I know what it’s like to finally realize that nobody is normal. As a matter of fact – it DOESN’T. EVEN. EXIST. 

I speak about taboo topics for a reason. It’s because it’s in those conversations that people start to let go of their “not normal”. Mental health and sexuality are the two most silenced topics in our culture, yet it causes the most pain for so many of us. So, while I spent the better part of three decades trying to assimilate into “NORMAL”, I failed to understand the power of my “DIFFERENT”. Ironically, it’s not just something I have. So do you. Like I did for so long, many of you have just been hiding it, fighting it, and covering it up. 

Whether it’s mental illness, addiction, past trauma, or sexual fantasies and desires, it doesn’t matter. The foundational issue is the same. We’ve been taught that our “different” needs to be hidden and kept from the outside world. 

People may wonder why I am so candid about my “different”. It’s because I’ve learned that fear, shame, and guilt CANNOT survive in the light. For many of us, those emotions live in a dark room with the door locked – and they thrive in that space. 

Do yourself a favor – walk into the room and turn on the light. Oh – and if you want a hand to hold through it, I’m here. I don’t need directions…I’ve been there before ❤

(As always, feel free to share.)

The Other Side of Anxiety: What ALSO is…

When the outside world seems so uncertain, anxiety rears its ugly head. For those who already have underlying struggles with anxiety, it seems almost unmanageable. I wish I could say you’re the only one. I wish I could say I don’t know how you feel. Both would be a lie.

Living my entire life with OCD (which is usually accompanied by anxiety), I’ve learned coping strategies when times like these hit. No, it’s not easy. No, it isn’t a one size fits all. However, there’s a common denominator amongst us anxiety warriors. We focus on the WHAT IF, and only ONE SIDE of the WHAT IS. But what about the “other side”? The what ALSO IS. Allow me to explain…

Given the current emotional chaos that COVID-19 has caused, let’s use it as my first example. This may trigger anxiety, but try to trust me with where I’m going with it. For many of us, we’re afraid that we might get the virus, and furthermore…die from it. We’re afraid for our loved ones getting sick as well. Understandable? Of course. Because of our anxiety, we are focusing on the WHAT IF, and ONE SIDE of the WHAT IS that exists – people are getting sick and, yes, some are dying.

You want to know what ALSO is?

I have an extended family member (that I am not living with) that tested positive for COVID-19. Guess what? She’s alive, and on her way to recovery – as are many others. As I write this article, there are a total of 103,321 cases in the US, and 1,668 deaths (CDC.gov). So, clearly there are many infected who are also surviving the virus. Anxiety doesn’t want to focus on that, because it doesn’t affirm our fears – and that’s how anxiety thrives. So, it’s critical to not leave out the “What ALSO is”.

Now, let’s talk cancer – another fear of many. Self disclosure – it’s one of my triggers. My anxiety focuses on death, chemo, side effects, financial stress of being out of work, etc. Is any of that valid? Yup! But you know what ALSO IS? The fact that I have several friends and family members who have cancer, and are functioning. I know people who have gone through chemo, and somehow managed to ALSO get through their days – some even stayed at work. Most of those who I know who have had cancer, survived it and are still cancer-free. Anxiety won’t focus on that, though. It’s not scary enough. I mean, how can our brains protect us from what COULD happen, if we are only focusing on what actually IS happening? (rhetorical and massively sarcastic).

How about body image? So many of us have a fear of being viewed as unattractive if we don’t have that Instagram body. We look at cellulite, loose skin, stretch marks, and a lack of abs as if we’re automatically off the market for being attractive. Are there people who are not attracted to those things? Sure! You know what ALSO IS? There’s a gazillion different body types, and miraculously most of us are found to be desirable by someone else – even if we never know about it. But again, anxiety isn’t interested in focusing on what brings us peace – only what creates an utter mind fuck. Am I right?

We get it, anxiety – bad things can happen. Thanks for the heads up (eye roll). It’s human nature to fear the worst. However, I’ve learned that most of the time it’s more of a protective measure, than a productive one. So, even when all of this blows over…and it will…try to remember that there will always be a “What ALSO is”, and it deserves just as much, if not more, attention than anything else.

Dear Human Beings…

I see you. I hear you. I know you. I AM you. 

Dear human beings who suffer from anxiety-related mental health struggles:

Often times when events happen that make the news, or are splattered all over social media, we start to spiral – be it school shootings, medical emergencies, natural disasters, celebrity deaths, etc. Sometimes, what’s happening around us may not even be a specific trigger for us, yet we find ourselves struggling more than usual with anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or depression. 

You see, anxiety folks tend to have triggers – specific things that just “hit different” than others. Some have a hard time going to crowded places. Others may have restaurant-specific anxiety. Some might fear heights, clowns, spiders, dogs, flying, death, certain illnesses, etc. The list goes on. 

What can be confusing to those with anxiety (and certainly those without), is why a random natural disaster, for example, in another country would cause anxiety to someone here in small town USA? Let me try to help provide a visual that I explained to someone today. 

People who live with anxiety typically spend OONGOTZ (might be a fake Italian term?) amount of time subconsciously trying to keep their anxiety at bay. Picture your “regular anxiety triggers” protected in the middle of a circular brick enclosure. These are the things that you are used to causing you anxiety. No surprises here. 

When bad “stuff” happens in the world outside of the enclosure, it’s as if rocks are being thrown at the bricks. After a while of that enclosure being battered, it starts to crumble. This leaves your regular triggers vulnerable and exposed. 

You may not be responding directly to the event that happened in the world (i.e. the Corona virus), but the event caused your regular triggers to become exposed and irritated. 

So, if you find yourself experiencing your anxiety triggers more than usual, if your obsessive thoughts (even if completely unrelated to the world’s events) have sky rocketed, if your depression seems to be more painful lately than normal, understand you’re not alone. 

In times like these, I encourage self care more than normal. Step away from social media, binge watch Netflix, read a good book, color, write, self-pleasure (yes, I mean it), bake, or engage in any other activity that helps you REBUILD. 

It’s ok to get knocked down. It’s ok to not be ok. But then we rest, we wipe our tears, we dust ourselves off, and we ride again…

Xoxoxo 

Nina