Probably most of the people who read this blog right now are quite close to me, so none of this is going to come as a surprise. Nonetheless, I'd like to give this update on an official capacity, for those who don't know and for anyone in the future. I imagine you've been wondering why I've not said much about BYU-Idaho, like I'd said I would, or much about my recent personal life at all, actually. The answer is because I've been dealing with some stuff that I didn't feel comfortable talking about on here yet, but now I'm ready.
So here we go.
I arrived at BYU-Idaho on January 3rd. BYU-Idaho has a three-track system, meaning it's got a Fall, Winter, and Spring semester as well as a brief Summer session, and every student is assigned two semesters to attend yearly. I'm Winter/Spring, which is why I started in January.
Classes began on January 6th, without too much trouble. I was immediately bored by most my classes, which were mostly beginning, gen-eds that I have to take to make up for the transfer and all, but otherwise I was pretty okay. Very quickly, though, within that first week, it became clear that I was not doing well.
Those of you who are close to me or who have been keeping up with the blog for a while are aware that I've never had very stable mental health, and I've swung between anxiety and depression my entire life. This came to a head my second semester at college, before I decided to transfer to BYU-Idaho, when I had an emotional breakdown that put me in counseling. I did well in counseling, but over the summer, I had a second breakdown, and this one was worse. This is partially because of the lack of mental resources available both in New Mexico and in my hometown itself. At the worst point, I was suffering from anxiety bad enough that I couldn't leave the house without having a panic attack. With help from the few friends who stuck around, my family, and some church members, I managed to get through that. I knew once I got to BYU-Idaho, I would be able to get real (and free) counseling through the school, like I did at Adams State, and that tided me over.
The first week of school was extremely rough, however. I was having anxiety attacks multiple times a day, and the fibromyalgia wasn't doing well either. I had to get an anti-inflammatory shot halfway through the week to keep the pain down. Finally, at the end of that first week (which sounds quick, but it felt like forever), I was able to get in for counseling. The counselor listened to my story, asked a couple of questions, and then right away said, "You have an anxiety disorder: it's called obsessive compulsive disorder."
Yeah. As it turns out, I have OCD.
It's pretty clear to me now that I've had it since I was about eight. However, like many OCD patients, I've had anxious tendencies my whole life. Now that I know the cause, everything suddenly makes so much more sense. It's like my life fell into place finally. OCD is caused, essentially, by an overactive nervous system, just like fibromyalgia. It seems I was born to feel and think too much.
As a self-professed psychology nerd, I'm ashamed to admit this, but I didn't actually know much about OCD before I got diagnosed--and unless you've experienced it yourself, you probably don't either. I never looked into it because I thought I already knew everything I needed to. The stereotypes about OCD are pervasive in our society, and they make us believe that we know OCD. But we don't. Yes, there are patients with the stereotypical kind of OCD, the people who are always cleaning or washing their hands, the people who have to count everything all the time. But then there are people like me.
My OCD is a lot more internal, which is why it flew under the radar for so long. Some people call my kind of OCD "Pure-O", but my counselor right now doesn't like that term because it's not really accurate. In order to have obsessive-compulsive disorder you need two things: obsessions, or intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety, and compulsions, or behaviors you use to try and stave off the anxiety. There are lots of different kinds of obsessions, which means there are lots of different compulsions. In the case of people like me, with "Pure-O", there are compulsions, but they're all very subtle. I know about my compulsions, but what someone on the outside sees is basically just someone who gets upset or anxious very easily. I've been called a pessimist multiple times, even though at heart, I'm not. It's the OCD that makes me get overly upset about simple things, obsessing over them, trying to fix them all the time.
My primary obsession is with personal perfection, or "moral scrupulosity." It's sometimes called "religious OCD", although it encompasses a lot more than just religion. Basically, I'm obsessed with making myself perfect, and I struggle a lot with feeling "unworthy." My biggest compulsions are avoidance and rumination.
Unless you're OCD, it's hard to understand the truly unstable nature of it. People, even those highly educated about mental disease, tend to put OCD out in its own category. OCD is probably the disorder people joke about the most (along with ADD/ADHD), the one that's most accepted as okay territory for casual conversation, because people think it's weird without being dangerous. But OCD is a lot more like anxiety or depression than people realize. It is an anxiety disorder, in fact, and that's what it feels like, inside your head. It can tear lives apart, it can destroy your capacity to function, and it even leads to severe self-injury and related problems. (There's a really good article on OCD misconceptions on Cracked. If you're okay reading some crude language, check it out.)
Since then, I've been working hard on balancing normal life, classes and such, while trying to get the OCD under control. It's difficult, but I've made substantial progress. Essentially, I'm fighting a battle with my own brain, and that's pretty hard to deal with. Doing this while trying to attend college and have a normal life is extremely difficult. Which is why I've decided to take Spring semester off.
Right now, I'm on my way home. There I'm going to work hard to get the OCD under control in a familiar environment, where I have people in my corner. I'm hopeful that I'll have a better chance there, and I'll be able to return, better prepared and more stable, to BYU-Idaho in January 2015. It'll be interesting, certainly, because I have a whole different brand of challenges to face at home, but I'm confident that if I can overcome things there as well as I have here, I'll be able to face up to anything.
So that's where I stand right now. I intend to apply for jobs, to volunteer at the animal shelter, to take a couple of online classes, and to face up to my varied obsessions/anxieties: to spend more time at social activities and around people, to start driving a car again, and to learn not to be afraid of talking on the phone, among things. Pray for me that it works out, if you will! I'm certainly going to try my hardest.
I want to be free of the control the OCD has over me. I want to be able to be myself without it. I think I'm starting to see now who that is, who Kira is beyond the OCD. It has been something like twelve years with it, so it's a strange prospect, but I like it.
Thanks for your patience with me over these many months, thank you for reading, and please do come back next time for a post on what it's like attending a religious school!
Images via byui.edu and galleryhip.com.
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