A New Year, with a Renewed Fight

“Action expresses priorities.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I hate that I sometimes I have to start off a post stating: ‘I haven’t written here for a while.’ 🙂

I have every intention to, and truthfully it is not the responsibilities and the obligations entirely of the doctorate that get in the way of doing what brings satisfaction and joy… something difficult to admit.

And it’s perhaps cliché now to state that 2020 was a “difficult year” for everyone. Indeed, an understatement for many. I certainly aspired and perhaps needed to be in a different position in my life, at this point. Time is flying by so fast, and there clearly isn’t enough hours in the day, even within “quarantine life.” It is literally true if you are sitting in Wisconsin as these winters make our days seem a lot shorter!

When the new year began, I renewed some important personal and professional goals, as we always do. This time for many of us, it’s a little different. The global Pandemic has reminded us in more ways than we know, how little time we have on earth, and how easily our lives can end, and how easily our dreams can be stripped away from us.

So at the start of the year, I renewed my vows to seriously tackle my chronic, long-term anxiety and depression. I have known now for a little less than a decade that I have some form of OCD; and it is my understanding that I had it for much longer than that. Although OCD is an incurable and debilitating condition, it can be managed so that we can experience a fulfilling life. But If gone unmanaged and untreated, it can get worse, and negatively impact every aspect of our health, our relationships, and our existence.

For the past decade I feel like I have been stuck at the first stage: Identifying the problem and knowing there is in fact a solution for it… Just stuck and unable to break through the extremely difficult external and internal barriers preventing me from implementing the solution. The barriers are hard enough if they are internal. But the collision between the external and internal forces exacerbates any possible remedy.

“2020” made me realize that this situation is unsustainable. I want to put everything I can into fighting this before it takes more control of my life, than it already has. I am determined to “rewire” my “brain’s architecture,” it’s chemistry. I know my entire energy and devotion should be on completing my doctorate, analyzing “the Network Architecture” of international development interventions, but the truth is that, I and only I, truly understand how this current state of mind will continue to create significant difficulties to successfully defend my Dissertation, unless I am able to find the right coping mechanism, the right treatment, and at least be on the road to also fixing or managing a far too long outdated, impaired or broken GPS system.

The treatment is called Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP), which is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy specifically designed for OCD. It basically exposes you to the thoughts, images, situations that creates anxiety, and trains you to make the conscious choice not to resort to the “compulsions” or ritualistic ruminations and behaviors that are triggered by those situations or thoughts and the resulting anxiety.

….

For the past few decades, I would enjoy reading everything in the “self-help” genre, and I remain a big fan of everything “self-help,” from personal initiatives to community self-help iniitatives….

I made more of an effort within the past nine years or so to read more in-depth on beating Depression and Anxiety. And with this new year, as part of the renewed efforts, I returned to some books that were on top of my list, that I did not start, or did not finish reading many years ago. I believe I have noted them in my “mental health repository” (which I plan to update).

But in addition to a few quick Kindle reads by Peter Hollins about forming “good habits”, here are a few resources I am reading/re-reading at the moment:

Feeling Good: The Mood Therapy, by Dr. David D. Burns

Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts: How to gain control of your OCD, Christine Purdon and David Clark

The Cognitive Behavior Therapy Workbook for Personality Disorders : A Step by Step Program, Jeffrey C. Wood

I was recommended this book by Dr. Burns, “Feeling Good” back in 2012. I read a little of it at that time. These other books featured here were also recommended to me. I started reading these again this year with the realization that I have come so far, just scraping by, and sweeping things under the rug, and with 2020 making the OCD so much worse. When reading Dr. Burns again, I read a passage in the introduction that mentioned a term “biblio-therapy” and thought, wow that’s really a thing? It didn’t hit me when I first read this in 2012…

I found this interesting, as it must have come up in other sources I’ve read in the past too, but it didn’t sink in until now… Reading is a form of “self-help,” a legit form of “therapy” that I have been applying for years and perhaps decades – reading dozens of self-help books…and attempting to apply strategies on my own with the absence of professional support. I wasn’t actively reading and applying the past couple of years, due to dissertation responsibilities, but I should not have stopped trying. It’s nice to put a name to the efforts, because it empowers you, and gives yourself that necessary validation for the efforts that you make on your own.

Although my attention has been and must be towards reviewing literature for my dissertation research, I felt it was also important to rededicate just a little time in the day or in the evenings and weekends, to reading these resources, and I am even now, just starting to see such a massive difference already, especially when it’s intentional and there is greater recognition and perhaps desperation for the need for change within.

I like the term “Biblio-Therapy.” I might even rename my “mental health repository,” — “Biblio-Therapy.” It has a nice sound to it!

On what I believe to be a relevant note, during these difficult times, I would again turn to art. I would turn to painting in particular to “heal” some difficult moments during my Phd experiences, the past five years. But I turned to it more often in the past year or two, discovering new styles and new methods… These abstracts emerged in this new year while pushing through some difficult anxiety attacks:

I am beginning to sense how this has been unleashing more creative possibilities, and at the same time, provoking a necessary inward revolution within me that I’ve been yearning for a long time.

In 2020, I also started sketching more human portraits, strengthening the foundations I didn’t have down earlier in life, even though I would always be sketching since I was a child. I didn’t know it was possible to improve something like this at this point in life, until I tried, and I realized based on how much I improved by the end of the year, that there was a possibility for growth, and I didn’t need to have a “natural talent” in it. Just the will, passion, and enjoyment….And it was reminding me about the importance of nurturing the “growth mindset.” I have been working on a special little project on occasion, which I will share when completed.

As part of the “self-help,” I came across this book, “The Artists Way: A Spiritual Path for Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron, to rekindle and nurture the creativity at the same time, and it is great supplementary reading along with the mental health literature, for those who have a passion for everything creative and artistic….

The “morning pages” idea, (writing 3 pages by hand, in the morning, and stream of consciousness), from “The Artists Way,” is particularly helpful when done consistently, not only in fueling creativity, but relieving some of the blocks in the dissertation writing as well!

I know that “Biblio-Therapy” does not fully substitute professional assistance and care when it is needed. Especially for something like ERP, you do require assistance from a professional. But as I noted in past posts, it is not always possible for many of us, and for many reasons.

And I feel we also never get credit for trying. And that makes it harder. It takes a lot of courage to suck up our pride or to acknowledge we do need help. And we won’t be appreciated the way we should be appreciated in that effort, especially when it doesn’t work.

I did try. Again and Again, and I can say even on this day, today, I tried. I thought to myself that I have done enough over the years in educating myself. And I will continue doing so and in a more proactive way. Although I agree with Dr. Burns that there is a possibility to manage and cope on your own, it is one of those things, like if you are able to get the help, let people help you. And there is no shame in that.

So, I tried. I found a 12 week program for ERP and although I was very nervous and skeptical, as always, I thought to try it. My first appointment with a therapist was supposed to be today, on MLK day. I even woke up early, excited about making a stronger effort to make an important change in my life, and on MLK day. Waking up early is hard for me to do these days, since I work on my dissertation into late evening hours.

But the therapist did not show up for this initial 90 minute appointment. 🙁 After 40 minutes of waiting, I left the line and they contacted me after 50 minutes into my appointment, and only after I left a few messages.

In a nutshell, it confirmed and reminded me how difficult it has always been for me to even get the courage to get help and suck up the pride, and EVERY SINGLE TIME I try, I am disappointed, in one way or another. Just bad luck at times, and at times something off about our healthcare system in general. They apologized and offered a free 90 minute call with some other OCD specialized therapist in their network, but I couldn’t. It caused another panic attack, but I went to the gym and managed it.

To the very least, I thought these sessions could just supplement my own efforts, to bring greater knowledge and understanding which is so much better than avoidance, and perhaps help make the OCD slightly more manageable. It can be a very difficult process. But there have been many success stories, so even though I remain a skeptic for myself, I do hope others do try to seek assistance, if you have the ability to access any resources. With ERP especially, conditions may worsen with exposure to anxious situations and thoughts.

But just like these difficult times we face as a collective, it is supposed to get worse before it get’s better. This recognition in and of itself, puts you a mile ahead of your recovery and healing process!

On my part, I am going to have to continue this journey on my own. I am not going to allow another disappointment today, change the trajectory of my determination to get better. 

It is hard to explain this in a world where “finishing that PHD will resolve all your problems,” or “getting married to someone that would meet your appropriate socially constructed dimensions would resolve all your problems,” a world where securing “material realities” could resolve your intangible and invisible challenges. That if you just get this one aspect of your life figured out, everything else will fall into place. Everything that you dreamed of doing would naturally happen….

It’s just not that simple.

I share this as part of my journey, in all honesty, here, for the purpose of my own accountability, and community, even though I know the only visitors in this space are perhaps those spam bots that have left 8900 or more messages for me to trash here.…(to no other fault than my own of course)…And I share this with the recognition that there could be further scrutiny for me, as someone with such challenging and complicated and perhaps confusing identity intersections, and even within a transitional period in my life, exploring different options for the next step, while closing a chapter.

How dare I speak my authentic truth. 

I have spent a lot of time in the past trying to explain why we should not have to hide these truths, and how detrimental it truly is, for ourselves and others, if we hide this important part of our life. I have learned how much it actually harms you, even more, when you try to mask something that is a big part of who you are. Your active struggle to overcome should define you, your character and personhood, more than the condition itself. 

I am aware that even those who may have early diagnosis and early treatment during their childhood, struggle with this throughout their lifetime, and are still struggling to this moment. Millions here and around the world do, but everybody cannot claim they have clinical OCD. It is important to learn and education ourselves, especially if we have loved ones who struggle with it.

I know how Anxiety and Depression has impacted every aspect of my existence. I know how this has created barriers for me in achieving the academic excellence I know I am capable of…I know…. from my memory functions to my ability to speak with clarity and intention, to my ability to complete the most basic tasks and to accomplish big achievements. It has imprisoned me for too long. And if there is something I did to deserve this, than I think I have served my time “in Prison” and It’s time I be awarded my freedom.

With OCD, we don’t ever fully recover, there is no known cure, but we can manage it, and cope with it. It’s easy for the mind to trick us into thinking that we cannot, that all the thoughts and emotions are real and the suffering is permanent. But the truth is we can. We can overcome and beat this. We can be public servants. We can be scholars. We can be leaders. We can find love. We can make good contributions to society. We can have lasting and beautiful relationships. Many with this condition live beautiful lives and find happiness. If we don’t address the root problems, and when “the iron is hot” as they say, we won’t be able to live the fulfilling lives we aspire for…

And we will relapse….we will. I have. Many times. Many many times. But we must forgive ourselves and keep moving forward... stay persistent in the fight…

2020 was indeed a difficult year for everyone. My one issue with this, however, is that it was so difficult for everyone that when it comes down to Mental Health and wellbeing, it has blurred the lines of “the varying levels of difficulty.” This doesn’t just boil down to class dynamics, poverty, and economics. It’s brain chemistry as well. The combination of both is all too commonplace and detrimental as well. And I know enough to suggest that people with pre-existing mental health conditions had doubled the struggles last year.

It might not be a popular opinion to suggest this, but to say “it was bad for all” is one reason why I feel that Mental Health Stigma has worsened, because the unique circumstances of individuals are minimized with the focus on the collective struggle. I have never been a fan of the statement, “You are not alone.” Yes, we must recognize the collective trauma and we can all empathize with each other. And many are in more difficult situations, and we must be reminded of our blessings and express gratitude every day for our life and health. But we can do that without undermining each individual’s unique, different, and often times greater struggles and challenges. I hope this makes sense and I plan to write a separate post expanding on this another time.

But it still does emphasize some connection between the two, the collective and the individual, in terms of implementing the necessary change. Right now, the yearning for change is so strong, at a collective level, and personal level for many of us, and it won’t come right away, but we should never forget that “recognition is the first step to reform.” 

I did not want to struggle into my 30s the way I did in the previous decades. But I want to end by 30s a better, stronger, smarter, more compassionate, more enlightened, more empathetic, more strong, more persistent, more determined, more resilient person than I ever was. There is no other choice. There is no other option, there is no other recourse. This is survival, this is my fight.

Change is so fricken hard. But we have to keep trying. And it doesnt help if “the world” doesn’t allow you to change…. Doesn’t change with you in your efforts. When you work so hard to change your mental health, and the rest of the world is still swimming in the same stigma, it makes that change even harder. This is why we share our stories. So that our worlds can move with us too. So we take control of our own stories and write them, before others write them for you. We must be allowed to change for the better. We must be better at helping others change, to demonstrate mercy and give them a chance to “change their stars.” If we do this, the impact can reach beyond the individual, be far greater, for the larger public good…

Thank you for reading this, and I hope you saw some value in this….

Happy belated New Year and Happy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” –  Mahatma Gandhi

“All your scholarship would be in vain if at the same time you do not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran

‘Everyone has the power for greatness — not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service. ‘ – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace, Warmth, and Blessings,

Your

Elsa

Warrior Queen

“She wasn’t looking for a knight. She was looking for a sword.” –Atticus

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