I can make all the jokes i want about it now, because it is relatively under control. I have a tool box of tools (mental tools, not prescription tools) to help me deal with most situations, and aside from the occasional panic attack (COSTCO....) I function like the rest of you.
Back when things were not so good, I was having a lot of problems with anxiety, and almost had to take a semester off from school. I was afraid to leave the house, i was afraid to eat most foods (in case they would give me food poisoning), I was afraid of strangers, public spaces, germs, etc. I definitely didn't exercise in anyway, not that i could have, because i was very underweight from only eating foods that i could guarantee were not going to give me food poisoning (white rice and ice cream.) (it's amazing how the sick mind finds behaviors reasonable....)
When it got so bad that i was too afraid to leave my apartment to go to school, I had to seek some kind of help. There are really two ways to approach anxiety disorders:
1. Prescription Drugs.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Obviously, being afraid of everything else also made me terrified of prescription drugs. I just don't like the idea of altering the human mind with chemicals. (i would make a terrible heroine addict.)
I chose the CBT.
Basically, with CBT you study your behaviors, look for patterns, and try to introduce healthier ways of dealing with anxiety. My OCD developed as a way of dealing with all the anxiety, because repetition is so gosh darn soothing. Apparently, even when i was a baby, i would wake up in the night, cry, and then proceed to bang my head against the crib until i calmed down and went back to sleep. (Also - thanks mom for letting me bludgeon myself to sleep most nights. no wonder my brain doesn't work.) The OCD was feeding off the anxiety, and vice versa, and they both just got worse and worse.
The first step was getting the OCD under control. Eating the same food every day = malnutrition. I slowly started eating a variety of foods (although i still have a lot of anxiety over food that i don't personally prepare.) One standout memory i have is eating salsa. Because i ate a bunch of it, and then looked at the lid and realized there was mold. I had an epic panic attack, and stayed up all night waiting to die from food poisoning. Obviously, i was fine. I didn't even get a stomach ache.
Its funny to look back at times like that, because if the same thing happened now, i would respond with, "Meh, i suppose i should stop eating this now. bummer." I think sometimes being exposed to your worst fear helps you realize that it's maybe not such a big deal.
There have been two things that have significantly helped me deal with my anxiety.
1. Teaching. Teaching at Purdue threw me so far outside of my comfort zone that i had no choice but to adapt. Plus knowing that all those students were depending on me to show up and not be crazy really forced me into taking control of the situation and doing my best. Ever since that, i feel like i can control a room with confidence (even if i am fakin it til i make it)
2. Running. (see, it always eventually comes back to running!) Running, especially for long distances, just helps me focus my mind, and lower my nervous energy. I have a theory that it just leaves me too tired to be nervous, which is totally fine by me. Running, unlike say, Tennis, allows you to perform the sport, but gives your mind the freedom to do other things. I am aware of my body when i run, but its not like i am intensely focused on which foot to move forward- it just kind of happens naturally.
I still have to deal with anxiety on a daily basis (who might have touched my sandwich? Maybe this coffee is expired!! I NEED MORE HAND SANITIZER!) But i feel very able to manage all of these feelings, and keep them too myself. except for in this blog. And when it gets to be too much, an hour of foot shuffling will usually soothe me back down to a manageable level of "Sara." Now i find some of my behaviors kind of endearing, like color coding all the candy, and eating things strictly from smallest to largest, and all the cute portable hand sanitizers.
I feel like both of these disorders are completely misrepresented in the media as either being intensely severe (which they can be. sometimes.) or an exaggeration (again, i am sure some people blow things out of proportion.) But it is also something that
Hopefully this gives everyone a better glimpse into the world of anxiety and OCD!