A Letter to my Younger Self

In Honor of my 40th Birthday Eve and OCD Awareness Week…

Dear Nina,

Well…here you are – the night before your 40th Birthday.

I see you now, and I can’t help but remember the child you were. You constantly questioned your worthiness because your brain made you think that you were bad, wrong, dirty, sick…broken. You referred to your intrusive thoughts as “voices” when you were three-years-old because you couldn’t possibly believe that you were the one choosing to think such horrifying things. The anxiety, fear, and shame were intense, causing you to confess all of your brain’s workings to your family; later realizing that your confessions were actually a type of compulsion.

I know how afraid you were. I can feel the pit in my stomach now just thinking about it. I remember you seeing the world as though you were living in some parallel reality – far away from everyone else. I was always impressed with your ability to make everyone believe you were so comfortable being you.

You successfully hid so much. You had the classic OCD intrusive thoughts that revolved around violence, sex, contamination, and death – often coming up with random compulsions to “rid” your brain of the anxiety. You were exhausted, Nina. God, were you exhausted. Nobody understood OCD in the 80’s and 90’s, and you went from one medication to the next, always terrified that you’d never be “normal”.

“If anyone ever found out what went on in my head…”

I’d hear you say that to yourself time and time again. It broke my heart. I know how hard you wished it would all go away; that one day you’d get up and no longer fear being awake. You would have better phases, only to be triggered, and it would all come crashing down again – sometimes worse than before. I know you truly believed that you’d be caged up in your own brain for the rest of your life.

But – I have extraordinary news for you, Nina…There’s a MAJOR plot twist, so PLEASE hang tight. You DESERVE to see this battle through.

Remember when you said you were afraid to get married? To you, that meant you might see him die at some point (intrusive death thoughts). Yeah, you somehow worked through that and married someone. Oh – and your 100% certainty that you NEVER wanted children, because you were convinced that they would die before you (yup…death again)? Fu*k that – you went ahead and had TWO! You still worry every second of every day, but like…welcome to being a parent 🙄

Remember the bizarre and disturbing intrusive thoughts that came on out of nowhere that had you questioning if you were worthy of even being here? Yup – those EXACT thoughts are what end up driving you to start a career talking about, writing about, and coaching people on ALL of the taboo topics. Come to find out, many people in this world are just waiting for someone to go first – someone to talk about the things that nobody talks about. Many people feel caged in their own brains and are looking for a way out – someone to say, “YOU’RE OK!” Who knew?!

I know you probably think I’m lying, because you are so caught up in the throws of OCD that you can’t see beyond it – and that’s ok. Just borrow my belief until you have your own. Until that day comes (hint: it happens in your mid to late 30’s), trust that every ounce of pain you’re going through, every fuc*ed up thought you’re having, and every “why me?!” moment you go through, will ALL make sense soon. And when it does, I’ll greet you with open arms, a vibrator, and a stiff drink. We’ll sit and talk about it all – but not for too long…people are waiting for us. And we both know how much the waiting sucks.

See you soon, Neen.

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.