Trigger Warning: discussion of mental illness (specifically anxiety and OCD)
This post was inspired by something I saw float across my Facebook. It was one of the many “fitspiration” images that are sure to get more plentiful as the New Year starts up and it said something along the lines of “The state of your life is simply a reflection of the state of your mind,” superimposed over a lovely picture of a person being active.
This isn’t one of the blog posts that makes a (very reasonable) argument about what kinds of bodies are often represented in “fitspiration” and what they can do to the person viewing them. This bothered me for a different reason.
It bothered me because I’m mentally ill.
I don’t say that to exaggerate. I’ve been mentally ill since I was 13 years old. I’ve written before about my struggle with depression, but that’s an issue that arose from my main mental illness, one that’s more difficult to talk about, less romanticized (although nowhere near as stigmatized as things like BPD or schizophrenia).
I remember, sometime that year, I was struck with the deep certainty that I needed to touch every poster on my wall before I went sleep to avoid getting sick. There was no need to argue the logic behind this certainty. I couldn’t rationalize it away. It was merely True with a capital “T” in my head.
Around the same time, I also started needing to spell everything I said out in my head, matching up the letters into pairs. If the letters didn’t pair up evenly, I’d silently add extra words onto a sentence until they did. I also, any time I touched my leg when walking or swimming, I had to touch the other one an equal number of times.
I got very good at hiding most of these things, because I knew, just like I knew that I had to touch every poster before I went to sleep, that the things I was doing were absolutely not logical. After I checked a few books, I was pretty sure that I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I figured that since none of my compulsions were interfering with my life, I was probably ok. Plus, according to everyone around me, they were ALL OCD because they liked to clean their rooms or straighten their pictures on the walls.
The compulsions and symptoms have changed and morphed over the years, and I’ve generally been good about hiding them, although they’ve often changed my behavior in strange or unexplainable ways. But over the past few years, it’s slowly gotten worse. I’m often too anxious to leave the house, afraid of illness and any number of things outside (sorry to everyone I continuously cancel plans on). Getting myself anywhere uses up most of my courage and my energy reserves. I don’t touch doorknobs anymore. I know exactly how many things I’ve touched since the last time I washed my cracked and bleeding hands. It has affected my behavior and my relationships to an extent that often I’m not sure what they’d look like without my OCD being a factor.
I know how ridiculous most of this sounds to anyone who isn’t inside my head, which is why I generally don’t talk about it to anyone. It’s humiliating to admit that there are no numbers or logic or statistics that can change the way I feel. It’s even worse to try to figure out how to refuse a handshake, high five, or hug as I weigh which is worse – the humiliation of the refusal and explanation, or the hours of anxiety that will follow as I try to navigate the next few hours with hands that are no longer clean enough to touch food or my face or anything else that I’d like to stay clean. I know the things I do and fear are irrational, even as I’m compelled to do or feel them, which adds more anxiety and stress on top of what’s already caused by my illness.
Christmas Day this year, I had a 2 hour anxiety attack (the latest of many this month) which ended when I took a Xanax for the first time (a security blanket prescription I’ve held onto for 8 months…my OCD also makes it difficult for me to take new medications). I also emailed my doctor and finally accepted the prescription for Lexapro (an SSRI that has a good track record of treating OCD) that she’s recommended since she prescribed the Xanax. I’ve long been a proponent of people not being ashamed of taking medication if it helps their mental illness, but it’s curiously difficult to admit out loud that I’m actually taking it myself.
Back to the inspiration for this post…obviously, I don’t think that people posting things they find inspirational are trying to do anything beyond share something that inspired them. And I don’t think there’s necessarily anything inherently bad about fitspiration. But for me, one liners are never going to be able to sum up the complexity of my mental experience when it comes to something like just walking out my door, much less trying to stick to any sort of training schedule.
I have to believe that the state of my life can be better than the state of my mind, because I’ve tried to improve the state of my crazy* mind through willpower, healthier eating, exercise, and better sleep schedules, and it just hasn’t worked. Hopefully chemicals can give me the leg up I need so that all the other things can work better. I haven’t run in a week and a half, partially because of physical illness and partially because of mental illness. I haven’t run the last 3 long runs. I’m having trouble leaving the house to run today. I have to go back to work in 8 days. And there are 7 weeks until the marathon. Right now, I’m feeling like it’s all a little bit impossible.
Here’s to hoping it’s not.
*about the word crazy: it is very derogatory to describe someone who is mentally ill as “crazy.” I like to use the word descriptively sometimes because to me it captures the unbalanced perspective my mental illness provides. But to talk about someone with mental illness, it is much more respectful to use the term “mental illness” or to use the specific name of their diagnosis (i.e. OCD, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, etc.)