Sometimes I get emails from readers of my blog, asking me for advice on how to deal with OCD, other anxiety, or depression.
I am always happy to tell them what works for me. I am not a medical professional, but I do have personal experience with mental illness and treatments. So I try to share.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that not everyone is in treatment or even thinking about treatment.
I’m not going to make a blanket statement and say if you have a mental illness, you need to be in a certain kind of treatment.
But I will say this:
If you are having a difficult time coping with daily life, if life seems dark and just gets darker by the day, if you have intrusive thoughts, if you are abusing substances such as alcohol, if the ways you usually cope with the bad times aren’t working, then I believe you need the help of professionals.
When I first got therapy, I didn’t have health insurance. This was back in 1988, and I was a graduate student in Ohio.
With the encouragement of a friend, I contacted student mental health services at my university and started seeing a psychologist on staff. It was the first step in understanding the pain I had been in for years. It was the first step in a very long journey to a new way of being.
I was able to see this psychologist free of charge because I was a student at the university.
Eventually, she told me she thought I needed the help of a psychiatrist for my continuing depression and for the OCD symptoms that I finally revealed to her. She referred me to a doctor in a nearby town.
I paid out of pocket to see the psychiatrist, who gave me my “official” diagnoses of depression and OCD in January 1990. I was 26 years old.
I started taking medication while continuing my talk therapy with the psychologist.
I slowly began to see light at the end of the tunnel.
I moved back to Virginia in July 1990, and it wasn’t easy to get the mental health help I needed. I wouldn’t have health insurance for three more years.
But I worked with what Virginia has, a community system of mental health professionals which I could access on a sliding scale. In other words, they looked at my income and billed me according to what I could afford.
It’s not a perfect system. Not all mental health professionals are created equal. But I got some individual help and even took part in some group therapy.
I went for long periods of time without active therapy. I stayed on my medications and had good times and bad times.
I read Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s book Brain Lock back in the 1990s, and that helped me a lot with OCD. I began to learn more about meditation. I read a lot about mental health. I began to understand how spirituality didn’t have to be a hindrance or a burden, but could actually help. I began to understand how my relationships with family members and others hurt me rather than helped me.
Eventually, five years ago, I decided that I needed therapy again, and my family doctor recommended my current psychiatrist to me. He encouraged me to get some help from a psychologist on staff, which I did.
I delved deeper into studying and writing about OCD, and I learned a lot about how the disorder was affecting my life.
My mental health has probably improved more in the past five years than in all the years since I saw my first therapist in 1988.
I know the health care system in the United States is not always kind to those who need mental health services. I am blessed to have insurance that covers such care.
I encourage anyone who is having a difficult time mentally to reach out for help. To find referrals to mental health professionals, you might want to start with your medical doctor, a social worker, a teacher, or a minister or rabbi or other spiritual leader.
Make sure he or she is someone you trust and who understands the needs of those with mental illness. Walk away if they don’t take you seriously or try to minimize your problems.
Look on the Internet for help. For example, on the website of the International OCD Foundation, you can find a lot of information about OCD as well as a database of therapists who can help those with OCD.
Other online resources for finding treatment providers include Mental Health America and National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The right treatment can put you back on track. It can enable you to live the life you want to live.
That’s what it did for me.
Note: Where have my photos gone? I haven't been taking many photos lately, but I am working to change that and will have photos with my posts again!