I haven’t put pen to paper (or I guess fingers to keyboard) in a really long time. Like, really long. I’m not even sure if these words will ever make it past the draft folder of my computer… but here we are. And truth be told, I am only brought back to this page now because I’m angry. Mind numbingly, relentlessly angry with the mental illness hand I’ve been dealt. I am also painfully aware of how healthy and beautiful my life is with the exception of this tiny caveat. This tiny diagnosis that has become a permanent fixture in the fiber of my being. By all accounts I am privileged. By all accounts I am blessed- lucky even.
Except this tiny thing isn’t tiny to me. OCD is all-consuming. OCD is a leech that has been feeding off of me for so long I can’t differentiate between the two of us anymore. A massive, irrational presence that is impossible to ignore and equally as convincing. No, I’m no longer doing compulsions consistently. Panic attacks are infrequent and don’t even take me out for the whole day anymore. From the outside looking in, it looks like a victory. I beat it, right? I’m healed, right? But here’s the thing: OCD has masked my very favorite parts of myself. It took hold of my love for people and loving on people, and stripped me of the very things that set my soul on fire. And that is devastating. OCD is my cancer-and yes, it is the same thing. Cancer takes life away, and so does mental illness. It chips away pieces, so it may look subtle, but the whole is just a sum of its parts. In each scenario we are left to fight like hell for the life we once had, and that is devastating regardless of which way you slice it.
I love Haiti. I’m fairly certain I’ve written about my time in Haiti on every social platform I have ever had. The people of Haiti have an infectious, unbridled joy that makes no sense… and it’s contagious. It feels like another life, but I used to walk barefoot around villages in Haiti. I held babies riddled with HIV and hands that had endured incomprehensible suffering. I remember moments of sharing my own water bottle with parched lips, feeling nothing but empathy and joy that I could meet this immediate need. My time in third world countries made me feel something. Scratch that- I felt EVERYTHING. I felt alive, I felt close to my God and His people, and I felt absolute contentment. And now? Now I feel a fear so heavy and dark that it makes it hard to breathe.
I don’t travel to foreign soil anymore. In the aftermath of my diagnosis, my dreams of ever returning remain dreams. But I do get to volunteer with Shower Up. I love this organization, and I love spending time with my houseless friends while meeting their most basic human needs. Except now, every single time I leave, I fall apart. Every touch is triggering for me. I coordinate how much I drink prior to my arrival, to ensure that I won’t have to use the bathroom at any point. I don’t take personal items, and I calculate every move based on my access to hand sanitizer. I won’t eat or drink anything because I don’t have the ability to “properly” wash my hands. I can’t help clean the showers. I can’t pick up the trash. I can’t touch my children when I get home until I have fully sanitized. And a little part of me dies every single time. Because I don’t recognize this person. This feels like cancer to me, because it is the loss of a person. It’s the loss of me.
It’s okay with me if you don’t understand. It’s okay with me if you think I’m being dramatic. To be honest, I’m genuinely glad that you don’t understand, because that means it isn’t your cancer. That means, hopefully, you can love on the people that I can’t. You can easily do what I am fighting so desperately to do. I’m envious, angry even… but also relieved for you. Because I know what it’s like to be frozen on the bathroom floor over a drop of blood. I have hyperventilated over a hand shake. This disease, the one that you can’t see, almost took my life. And I don’t need you to believe me, but I do need you to hear me. Hear me for the thousands of others who are still in the darkness. Who aren’t “in remission” yet, or maybe aren’t functioning at all. Hear me tell you that they aren’t selfish people. The aren’t faking it, exaggerating, or using it as a crutch. They aren’t just feeling a little down, a little stressed out. They aren’t just having a bad day. This thing, this mental illness, took something from me that I grieve for every day. And I can guarantee it has done the same for thousands upon thousands of others. So as I sit here and wrestle with words, begging them to string together in a sentence that you can relate to, I am just hoping you can hear the grief. And maybe that will stir your soul to gentleness with people fighting brain battles you know nothing about. Suffering unimaginable losses of self, and grappling with the fall out of a completely invisible battle.
I think that maybe God is okay with my anger. I think he meets me in my intensity, and maybe even welcomes it. Maybe even made me for it. Because, while parts of me are gone for now, I have found infinitely more of myself in this in-between. I am now a fierce defender of the right to grieve. I am acquainted with sadness and rock bottom, and I can camp out there with you for as long as you need. And it turns out that there are a lot of people with intense pain walking around our towns, just waiting for permission to feel.
OCD is my cancer, but it’s not terminal. I have suffered losses, but I am still standing. I live a life where intense joy and profound sadness coexist- and that’s okay. I used to spend my days trying to heal the pain, dissolve the anger, and reach “contentment”. Now I think I’ll just feel it all and show up anyways. Jesus wept, and I can too. Jesus flipped tables, and maybe that would make me feel better. Jesus met people in their joy, but just as often met them in their pain. And none of it scared Him away.
I guess maybe I didn’t lose my ability to love on people after all, I just found a new avenue. Or I was given one, by a Father who knows what he’s doing.