Sea Monsters and West Highland Terrors

“You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.” – Julian Seifter

Good morning, lovelies!

It is no longer Monday, which means that today cannot possibly be as trying as my migraine filled, assignments due, so-much-reading-for-class Monday. No migraine today, which is a good sign that things are already looking up. Cicero woke me this morning by standing on my face, followed by Mika screeching in my ear. Such a sweet sound . . . except not at all. The other cats were waiting at my door, and my personal sea creature (the axolotl) was practically dancing in his aquarium for food. But I digress. I am not just rambling on about mornings and animals, by the way. I do have a point to make. And that point concerns how incredibly helpful animals are when I am struggling with my OCD/anxiety/panic disorder adventure. (I think adventure sounds better than disaster, and I try to keep a positive spin on things.)

Just a little insight for new readers: I am diagnosed with OCD, panic disorder, and severe generalized anxiety disorder. I have been dealing with them my entire life, though I didn’t know what the OCD was until it became so severe that I gave up on life for a while. I also had to take a break from college for a while too, but more about that later. Anyway, I battle with these disorders daily, as even medication and therapy haven’t managed to control them completely, and I’ve learned quite a few tricks and coping skills to help me get on with life. I am not my diagnoses by any means, I am much more, but I do share in hopes of spreading awareness and understanding of the disorders, OCD in particular. It isn’t all about hand washing and cleanliness, folks. If I can help someone else along the way by sharing, that would be awesome too. 🙂

Now, onward with what I was actually talking about.

Now that we’ve hit October, which is my favorite month, grad school assignments have started to collide and grow. That’s always the way of it; big assignments show up all at once and are inevitably due too soon and on the same day. If you add in the lack of specific instructions on how to complete said assignments, you’ve created a perfect storm for me. For those of you new to the many excitements of obsessive compulsive disorder, uncertainty is the absolute quickest way to make me flare up. Unfortunate, because life by definition is uncertain. If I let myself think about it, I would get nothing done at all.

I like to think of OCD as a giant squid-like sea monster, with many tentacles, pincers, a surprisingly high intelligence level, and a mischievous little desire to cause trouble. Anything the OCD squid can latch onto . . . you can bet he does, and pulls me in. Recently, the main trigger for me has been that I don’t know how exactly to do these assignments, so the squid likes to tell me that I must certainly be doing them wrong. And then the anxiety kicks in and brings along the panic attacks . . . and I have a recipe for hopelessness, getting nothing done, and feeling even worse about myself. Nasty spiral, and quick.

The trick is to outsmart the squid before it ever gets started. If you let it get one tentacle on you, more will follow and the trickier it becomes to get out of its less than kind embrace. I must admit that I let it get a little too cozy yesterday, which led to the lack of work and the migraine that kept me out of class. Which is where my animals come in. Somehow, they know when something isn’t right. Mika gets snuggly, Parker hangs out nearby but not too close, and Sidney becomes a faithful lump of cat who keeps out of the way, but watches. And Cicero—Cicero becomes a demanding trouble maker. That means that I have to do something to stop him, usually take him outside, which effectively allows me to begin the process of disentangling myself from the squid-monster. I’ve found that a change in atmosphere is one definite way to help me realize that I’ve slipped into OCD land. The slip is very difficult to catch until it’s gotten very bad (and I mean crying, sobbing, obsessive ritualizing bad), but my creatures help me catch it earlier. Basically, my animal companions help me get out of my head which lets me regain control of the sea monster and plop him back into the aquarium at the back of my head. (I’ll explain more about the reasoning behind my sea monster, aquarium, etc method of viewing my OCD in another post, by the way. It’s actually very helpful to me to see it as a separate entity that can be controlled.)

The West Highland Terror, Cicero

After I walked Cicero, I went through my daily ritual of cleaning creature enclosures and feeding the ones who needed food. Andromeda (citrus bearded dragon) had ruined her terrarium again because that’s what she likes to do, and Teacup’s (leopard gecko) was just as neat as ever. He’s a dear, really, compared to the others. By the time I was finished there, I had mostly gotten over my OCD-induced academic despair, took a bath, and worked on homework. A successful end to my day, despite the miserable hours spent in the claw tipped tentacles of the squid. Again, I try to see the positive. Anyway, just a little insight on one way I deal with the delightful mental illness that is part of my life. If you have questions about the OCD/anxiety disorders, please feel free to send them. Or about anything else! Thanks, dears. Enjoy your Tuesday!