I got mental health counseling, I wasn’t crazy

Three is a stigma in America that if you seek out someone to talk to about your mental health you are crazy, not normal, weird, not to be trusted, ill.

That can’t be any farther from the truth.

Case in point: Me.

 

Years ago I thought I had something wrong with me.  I’ve spoken briefly about my OCD issues in this forum and kept it light hearted.  In the wake of recent events I feet it necessary to mention that seeking out psychotherapy isn’t a bad thing.  It’s actually a sign that someone is willing to deal with what they think are their demons.

Think keeping your feelings inside is manly?  “Suck it up pussy!” Yeah, good luck with that.  The absolute worst thing you can do is shut down and ignore your mind’s reaction to events.

Even worse, I learned, is when your mind draws a correlation you’re not aware of and to deal with it suddenly must adjust other elements of your life.

That is the basis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  It’s funny to see it depicted in movies as a desire to triple check that a light is off or the washing of hands for seemingly no reason, but the subtlety of the illness can almost literally drive you mad.

Have you ever seen a picture on a wall that is not level?  Have you ever wanted to fix it?  Not in your house, but someone else’s house?  Or an office? Or even on TV?  Seems silly, right?  Now imagine you not only want to fix it…you HAVE TO.  It has to be fixed and if you can’t fix it it sticks in your mind for days or weeks.

Have you noticed the rings of water left behind by your water glass at a restaurant?  I sure did.  So much so that I had to place my glass back directly on top of the same ring every time.  HAD TO.  I didn’t want to, but if I didn’t I had to fix it and if someone else wasn’t doing it I noticed and it bothered me.

Once at a restaurant my OCD noticed that the little sugar packet holder was not in the center of the table.  I subtly (or so I thought) adjusted it and a friend put it back with a smile on his face.  Then I put it back and he moved it off center again.  I was immediately angry.  For nothing at all, and yet because it HAD to be in the center of the table, just HAD to.

The worst part was that I had no idea WHY I felt this way and it led to frustration, stress, even to anger some days.

I finally reached out for help.  I was lucky that my union bargains to ensure I have access to mental health care.

I didn’t know what to expect. Doctor’s in white coats with orderlies in high collared white jackets who run through the halls but suddenly walk calmly when they find me?  Am I going to be medicated?  What can they possibly do to fix me?

 

Turns out all we did was talk.

 

I met with a psychotherapist once a week and all we did for an hour was talk.  She had hot water and I was encouraged to bring tea to sip. Her office was comfortable with table lamps, couches and chairs and I could sit, lay down, stand, whatever I liked.  We talked about anything and everything from favorite TV shows, music, family, life, and only on a few occasions did we discuss my need to rearrange the magazines in the hallway outside her office.  Although I suspect she misarranged them just prior to my arrival to gauge my progress.

Over weeks we finally reached an odd correlation between an event in my past and the onset of my symptoms.  My mind had been worrying about something so fiercely that it was doing it’s best to alter my surroundings to deal with it.

Literally the day after that realization I began to notice all the little things I used to do.  What seemed perfectly normal suddenly felt forced, unnatural.  The way I always HAD to roll up used sugar packets and place them into the half opened creamer packet now seemed like someone else made me do it.

 

My reason for sharing is that psychotherapy, therapy, talking about things, feelings etc is not a bad thing to do.  If you think something might be “off” and you have access to someone who knows what to talk about, please seek them out.  They understand what you are going through.  You are not the first, you will not be the last, but I guarantee that if you ignore it or think it is manageable on your own you could reach a point of no return where you will begin to damage your life and the lives of those around you.

 

While my experience was with a low level form of a disorder, there are those who suffer from far more complicated mental health issues.  They need attention and help far more than I did and ignoring their condition or if thinking that dumping them in with the “normal kids” will help you are sorely mistaken.  It can be done but should be done after evaluation by a mental health professional.

 

Call it TMI, call me crazy, call me a fool, but I got better.  I can walk right past a pile of magazines and not care that it’s a mess.

But then again, should I be worried I still notice?  I say no.  My OCD is a valuable tool when company is coming over and we need the house cleaned up fast.  Point is I got therapy to deal with the compulsion, which is what was causing the disorder in my life.  But I’m still slightly obsessive.  I leave you with this observation:

“Obsessive behavior is when the toilet paper absolutely positively must come off the roll in only one direction and in your house you will change it before using it.  Compulsive is changing it at a friend’s house.”

 

If you or someone you love is struggling with something you think is out of their control, help them reach out to resources in their community.  They will not grow out of it, it isn’t just a phase or a form of grieving, it’s something that can benefit from an expert.

 

Thanks for letting me share.

-JS

 

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9 thoughts on “I got mental health counseling, I wasn’t crazy”

  1. I got mental health counseling as well. When several BAD things happened to my family and myself, it all came crashing in. It was when I looked off the 6th floor of the hospital room my husband was in, and had the thought that it really wouldn’t be that hard to jump, and I *wanted* to jump, that I realized I needed help. And I got it. Like you, I had no idea what to expect. I thought for sure I would be hospitalized, medicated, and then seen. Nope. I didn’t want meds, and with counseling, I realized that I just needed a few more tools in the toolbox, mentally-speaking, to make it through.

  2. For me, it was depression and not OCD; but after a few years of refusing to get help, things finally started turning around when I met with a psychiatrist.

    Thank you for discussing your experience; hopefully it will help remove the stigma from “mental illness” and encourage people to get help.

  3. The only drawback to asking for help in the emergency services — and this may have changed in the 20 years since I left the PD — was that eventually the doctor would submit an invoice for payment, and someone in City Hall would recognize the diagnostic coding for psych issues… and one’s career would come to a screeching halt. “We can’t have him out there on the street with a gun, he’s CRAZY.” So after one career in the dept went down the tubes that way, the rest of us went back to the “suck it up” school of career-saving. Yeah, we lost a few guys to suicide, a lot to terminal burnout, and two to psychiatric breaks, we learned to pay the doctors ourselves, without insurance.

  4. With me its hand washing and thoughts. Ive developed excema on my hand because I wash so frequently, especially working as an EMT. The thoughts will keep me up literally all night obessessing over frivolous information (researching every bit I can find on the internet and having to force (or medicate) myself to sleep.
    Ive thought about speaking to my doc but never followed through, maybe I will now.
    Good post

  5. please help. I had 3 drinks in one night over an 8 Or 9 hr period, only to black out, not recognize my mom or my childhood home, and supposedly threaten to hurt her should she come near me, only to pass out, waking up throwing up excessively shortly after. no recollection of any of this. Feel like a psycho and I should become a recluse. Feel like I should avoid everyone. Dont know what’s going on with me. super.scared with no hope. any advice Or support appreciated. thanks. ValerIe.

  6. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing such personal information. I have a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and have had a private practice for over 25 years. I now enjoy training EMS Providers in the area of Stress Innoculation. I would just add a couple observations. OCD refers to the Obsessive fearful thoughts that then lead to the Compulsive behaviors that are performed in order to bring down the anxiety caused by the Obsessive fearful thoughts.
    Underlying many Anxiety Disorders are “control” issues. No one could blame a responsible and caring EMS Provider for having deep feelings of helplessness (not having control) as a result of the very nature of their job. The “positive intent,” if you will, behind having obsessive thoughts is the person’s need to create some semblance, even the illusion of control in order to feel like the world has some order and predictability to it. Who would begrudge you that? Thank you for spreading the word that some short term checking – in with a counselor is a gift that you give yourself; it is not a failure.

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