I grew up on a small “Indian” (Native American) reservation in Idaho called The Fort Hall Indian Reservation. I am partially Native American, but I am enrolled with the Uintah Band of Utes tribe in Fort Duchesne, Utah.
I had a very normal childhood growing up and couldn’t have asked for a better launching pad into the world. I played sports, had plenty of friends, and most of all, I had all the family support I could ask for. After graduating from high school in Pocatello, Idaho, I obtained a Bachelors of Science degree in Psychology (BS) from Idaho State University. In 2009, I furthered my education and went on to graduate school in San Diego, CA to complete a Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) and graduate from San Diego State University in 2011; all before age 23. Ever since graduate school, I have been living and working in San Diego, CA for the last 6 years. I have been working in the mental health field providing mental health rehabilitative services to the community.
To be straightforward, I have been clinically diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Social Phobia (Social Anxiety), and Depression. If I could summarize what it’s like to experience these symptoms, it all starts and ends with my OCD. I am very susceptible to becoming anxious, but if I ever do, it’s generally because of the OCD symptoms impacting me. Anxiety manifests itself differently in everybody, but some of my core characteristics include over-thinking (future-based), constant worrying (about anything & everything….literally), extreme doubt in myself, inability to relax or concentrate, lack of enjoyment in activities, uncomfortable in my own skin, racing thoughts (over-analyzing anything & everything), and ultimately, when you add all this together, it becomes excruciatingly draining. But that’s not even the catch, the more distressed I become, the more my anxiety triggers my mind to race, become hyper-negative, and over-analyze every little thing to the final straw. In other words, the more my stress levels rise, the more severe the other symptoms become. I could probably write a whole book on what it’s been like living with these symptoms alone, but I’ll keep it to a couple paragraphs for now.
And I already know what you’re thinking, when is he going to get to the washing his hands part…no I do not wash my hands hundreds of times throughout the day, nor do I jump over cracks on the sidewalk, or lock and unlock the door 10 times before leaving, and I am definitely not simply just a “neat freak.” Basically, I have all of the same mindsets and components of these type of individuals with OCD. However, the severity of my symptoms manifest more in my mind than they do outwardly.
I’ve reserved to the idea that regardless of what happens, what day, what time, or how I feel, it’s important I continue to best manage these symptoms so I can focus on my everyday tasks and routines. Over the last couple years, I have literally put blood, sweat, and tears into this struggle madly searching for some kind of balance and/or relief. And struggle is the key word as it is a constant battle, back and forth. At this juncture in my life, I am finally learning how to perform at an optimum level in life, while still managing and balancing the symptoms brought on by my mental health conditions. Ultimately, after a couple years of some serious self-discovery, I finally think I have found the courage on how to best articulate to the world the ups and downs I’ve had living with these various mental health conditions.
Initially, I had a difficult time trying to describe and explain any aspect of my mind and how it worked without feeling like I would sound crazy. I often found myself trying to down-play the intensity and severity of my over-thinking truly believing that nobody would really understand or believe me. Even if they did, there is absolutely no way for me to describe why I feel the way I feel. There never has been a shortage of damage inflicted upon my psyche as my mind is great at creating negative, pessimistic, and pre-emptively debilitative thought patterns.
Take for example, every single public setting/situation where you were actively having a conversation with somebody and during the whole entire conversation, you’re identifying and analyzing every single person that walks into the store, their clothes, the colors, their walking style, what their facial expressions say, while also thinking about the distinct tone or volume of the person’s voice you’re still talking to as well as everybody around you. All the while, still attempting to predict their (everybody’s) motives (e.g. who, what, why, where, etc.) as well as everybody else’s in my immediate vicinity. Yet, I am still listening just well enough to carry on the conversation. Well enough that nobody could ever know that it appeared I wasn’t listening.
However, there is a major aspect to OCD that makes it so I can’t help, but to identify every worst-case scenario of every situation and circumstance. Leading me to become preoccupied with these thoughts, I begin wondering about how this person talking to me might become angry or upset with me since it appeared that I was not listening or paying attention for those brief moments where I couldn’t ignore the mental-chatter in my head.
Worst-case scenario…without fail, this is how I have lived my entire life, all day, every single day. One of the most prime and key components to having Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Having negative worst-case scenario thoughts in every situation and circumstance imaginable, yet, all the while, being unable to shake these thoughts or feelings no matter how hard you try. In fact, the harder you try ‘NOT’ think about something, oddly enough, the harder you CANNOT stop thinking about it. For example, do me a favor and do your very best to NOT think about a monkey eating a banana for the next 15 seconds. Think about anything, but the monkey and the banana…..but what do you notice? That all of a sudden you can’t get this stupid visual of a monkeys and bananas out of your head.
OCD, particularly, has a large biological component meaning I was born with this condition and obtained the genes hereditarily. In general, a specific part my brain releases more chemicals than it should which causes my mind/brain to be on overdrive all the time.
One interesting component that makes OCD, OCD is that we recognize the craziness of these thoughts. I am completely able to notice and recognize the absurdity of my excessive, unwanted, repetitive thoughts….that WILL NOT go away. With an emphasis on ‘will not’, believe me, I’ve tried. And the problem is because I am aware of these thoughts all the time, I am subject to being paranoid about how much control I am losing and how badly I am “losing the war.” However, at the end of the day. One thing people need to know is that my mother never let me be a quitter. And that’s something that has been ingrained into my DNA ever since. Never have been, never will be. At the beginning of 2014, I became dead set on finding the solution to my mental health concerns through self-analysis and self-critiquing so intensely that instead of finding me, I almost lost all of me.
I guess I mean that in more ways than one. I can recall numerous times feeling so caught up with identifying my symptoms and dysfunctional mind that I literally felt like I did not know who I was. Not because of anything I did specifically, but because of how uncomfortable and unhappy I became within myself. You tend to forget what side you’re on. I was losing touch with reality. Of course, when you’ve been brought to your knees, then is only when the symptoms of OCD truly begins to rear it’s ugly head. With the inability to avoid thinking in a worse-case scenario mindset, I became convinced that things really might not ever be okay again. When you lose faith in yourself, you risk losing everything. I flirted with this line one too many times. I wondered how I could ever let myself become so defeated. I came face-to-face with myself time and again knowing what it truly feels like when you’ve lost all hope.
I could not find relief no matter what I tried. I honestly felt like suicide would be the only way to end the misery, the constant non-stop pain. I know how severe and intense that sounds, but at the time, I had no other way to escape the hurt I felt so deeply. Every waking second I was being tortured by my own mind. One can’t help to begin believing that they will forever, innately, never be enough…and there are not many emptier feelings than that. To sit there and say you wouldn’t have done the same, I’d invite you to spend a day in my mind. Then, if you thought it wasn’t so bad, I’d invite you to do it for the next 27 years. I can’t tell you that my battles and struggles are any better or worse than the next person’s, but what I can tell you is that it DEFINITELY has been one hell of a battle and it is by far the most difficult obstacle I’ve had to learn to overcome.
Unfortunately, when anxiety is a primary component of how you feel (nervousness, inability to focus, overwhelming stress about anything & everything [literally]) the key is not to attempt to cover up, ignore, or avoid whatever it is that’s causing these feelings of anxiety. It seems counterintuitive, but gradually exposing yourself to the triggers will eventually help improve your anxiety surrounding that issue. Ironically, the more I attempt to avoid, mask, or escape anxiety…the more momentum it gathers and the greater the negative impact will be on my emotional well-being and overall confidence. Truthfully, when making this realization is where I developed the concept of combining the words “flow” and “momentum” to create Flowmentum. I realized that we all have a constant momentum we carry with us and that when I was at my lowest, so was my “Flowmentum.” I had as close to zero as it can get. Compiling all these obstacles only made future barriers and everyday stressors that much more difficult.
Eventually, by the time it was way too late, I realized that I had ceased all control to these illnesses and the symptoms associated with them. At this point, climbing out of a hole that deep became the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life. I don’t mean that lightly either. No matter how much I knew what I needed to do and how I needed to do it, it’s still a completely different battle to MAKE yourself do them. Dealing with self-doubt is a challenging task, but once it has wrestled you to the ground, you’re always playing from behind. By that time, I learned how to not believe in myself and it became all I knew….climbing back up appeared to be an undefeatable foe. The amount of fight required in recovery takes more than what we think we were ever capable of…think about that. The amount of fight I thought I had is not even close, not even close at all to the amount of fight I truly gave and possess.
It’s a lifelong war. One battle after another dictating the weather of the war. But I have come a long ways…I can only liken it to the cliche “to hell and back.” Twice. At least. I know it sounds like I am exaggerating, but I don’t know how to better articulate the mental hurdles I’ve had to overcome just to get here. Today. Just to survive and live every day the best I can just like you. Just like everybody else I try to do my best and still strive for my hopes and dreams. I can’t let my mind win. I never will. No way, no how. We live to fight another day and there’s always a tomorrow. With immeasurable courage, we have to continue pushing forward. Never forget that while the path may not be easy, it will be worth it.
Thank you so much for reading. I genuinely hope it helped to enlighten your life today.
Catlin A. Palmer, MSW