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Overcoming Mental Illness: My Struggle With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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I’ve struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder my whole life, but the past year is when my symptoms started significantly affecting my mental health, relationships, and education.

The way my OCD works is that I will begin to obsess over insignificant, and sometimes unrealistic, worries. Or falling into a despair of intrusive and immoral thoughts.

Pared with that, I will use my compulsions as a distraction from my thoughts, or to make myself ‘feel better’ in that given moment. My compulsions range from counting in fives, fiddling with my hands, making small noises, checking lights or doors, repeating phrases, spelling words in my head, to ritually saying prayers.

Throughout the year, I had no idea that OCD was the problem I was dealing with, and I believed this was the way I would always live my life. I was swarmed with anxiety since I could not control my thoughts, as well as depression because the thought of living like that the rest of my life was unbearable. I felt stuck in a constant cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsions to temporarily and falsely relieve the anxiety.

I can say now that I’m so thankful that I did not give up, even when I had no idea what I was dealing with. As I’ve become more understanding of my disorder and how it works, I’ve found ways to manage it on its worst days. 

OCD can manifest itself differently within each person who experiences it. I had the pleasure of talking with other individuals who shared their own stories, and what they’ve discovered works best for them to manage their day to day lives with OCD.

How does your OCD work?

Jae: I have both where the obsession is that if I don’t do certain things that feel right or that I do all the time, someone in my family is going to get hurt, my boyfriend will cheat on me or stop talking to me or die, and also [I will get hurt]. These fears are ones I don’t think of they just pop into my head at random times. ‘If you don’t do this then so and so will happen.’

Palmyre: I used to have ones with numbers where I have to do certain things four times. For example, to protect my cat when I leave him in the morning I would do 4 series of kisses and each of them was 4 kisses each. I would redo it if I wasn’t happy about how I counted or how I did it. I would have this gut feeling, basically, to dress up in the morning. I follow my instinct and what my gut tells me. If I wear that it’s going to be ok. It goes up to choosing a fork/spoon/knife, a bottle at a shop. I stare at them for a few seconds until my gut tells me which one is going to make things ok. I would have to step on drains on the pavement and I knew that if I didn’t something bad would happen. My rational brain knew that it was stupid and it wouldn’t do anything, but I couldn’t take the risk. I almost lost my job because of the tardiness. It was impossible for me to know how long it would take me to go from point A to point B as I didn’t know which drains I would have to step on, if it would be all of them.

I was scared to leave home as I knew the way people looked at me. My friends were understanding, but I was ashamed. I isolated myself and thought I would end up in an institution.

I even had violent urges against myself because my rational side was angry at the other for saying ‘but what if’.

Oly: My OCD started at a young age. I had to do things in order, check doors, go back to things, etc. if I believed something bad would happen to a family member. In my early 20s, my thoughts revolved around anything I’m morally against, I try to convince myself I’m that person. The thoughts pick up momentum, 4 to 5 times a minute, then anxiety strike and depression follows. Daily, it drains me; on a bad day I’m so wired by the time I get to bed I can barely close my eyes. It makes me feel worthless; it makes me feel like I’ve done something I’d never do. I live the fear and guilt as if I’ve done it.

How do you manage your OCD?

Jae: I surround myself with people who really help. My boyfriend will always tell me it’s okay to do a certain thing because those bad things won’t happen. My other firmed tries to get me to talk about how it makes me feel and just a bunch of that stuff. I am also someone who looks to pray for comfort and that helps me out a lot. Sometimes just trying to muscle up the strength to go against the voice in your head telling you to do sometime helps as well.

Katie: The short answer: low-dose medication. I’m a firm believer that if I was diabetic I would take insulin and a mental illness should be treated no differently. The long answer: unending patience and endless communication.

The only way to face my battles is to recognize them for what they are rather than ignoring them and hoping they’ll disappear.

I constantly remind myself that growth and healing are not linear, but rather a life long journey of humility, excitement, and self-love.

Palmyre: I used to not be able to manage [my obsessions and compulsions] at all. They had control over my whole life. Now every time I feel them coming back I just take the time to think about it and remind myself that It won’t change a thing. CBD oil and therapy helped me get to a place I could be well enough to question them and realize that it won’t change anything [whether I] do them or not because bad things happen with or without them.

Sometimes I question my recovery and wonder if it’s because I’ve given up on life or not. But it’s not. I’m just in a better place in my head. But I know that I can’t take it for granted. We never fully recover, and I know that it can come back or another form of OCD can appear.

It’s a constant fight and as soon as I’m more under pressure, stressed, or anxious, I feel the urge to hide behind my OCD to comfort me, but it won’t help. It’s like a bad drug that an addict would take to escape reality, but it’s destroying them at the same time.

Oly: I turned to running as a form of therapy. I now support, motivate, and inspire others to run against their daily struggles through the support page [on Instagram] @run4yourmind. Running makes every day that little bit easier, it’s honestly saved my life.

Last thoughts?

Jae: I wish I would have known that more people deal with it than I thought. Beforehand, I never opened up about it but to like 2 people, plus my parents, and they did not get it at all. It was weird for them to think how my brain works. And they would try to help me, but they didn’t know where to come from or what to say to me when I would have an episode of it getting bad.

Katie: It’s all completely normal. All the thoughts I had that I thought were my secret shame or meant something awful about me were just very common symptoms of a very common disease. My diagnosis was such a gift.

Even to be able to put a name to the feelings and thought patterns I’d been experiencing my whole life was so liberating and turned my anxieties from a fearsome lion into a tiny mouse. 

For myself, I’ve learned that distractions such as learning, watching my favorite tv-shows, and writing have been able to bring me out of my overwhelming thoughts that OCD causes. I’ve learned that talking through my irrational thoughts, with myself or people I trust, keeps me grounded. Simple things I had no idea would maintain the real me in the midst of OCD when it becomes chaotic have made such an impact on my life.

Throughout my research for this article, I found more alternatives to coping with my OCD. There is a community of people who struggle with this disorder that have made me feel less alone when dealing with the extreme anxiety that OCD brings.

NOCD is a reassurance-free app providing a platform for expressing OCD’s unending thought patterns. NOCD also has an SOS feature, a type of exposure therapy, that, with time, can help OCD sufferers manage the anxiety that obsessions and compulsions arise. For me, talking through my intrusive thoughts with others who could relate, and even shared their own coping skills, has lead me down a path to healing and managing the way I approach my OCD. 

Figuring out what methods help you manage your own personalized disorder is a process. There are no quick fixes or short cuts, it just takes time and self-love. Understanding yourself is part of life, and understanding your disorder just so happens to be a part of that too.

And you are not, and I repeat, are not going through that all by yourself. This undertaking can be grueling at times, as well as weight lifting. But OCD does not have to be your full story, just a footnote that you have the capability to write yourself.

By: Morgan Holland

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College Life

Top 10 Items Every Senior in College Should Have to Survive Their Last Year

Mariah Olmstead

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Person in a blue sweater and dark pants walking in between rows of book shelves in a library towards the camera

As we dive into the fall of 2020, this brings in a new slew of seniors in college. Even though we are fighting through a pandemic, colleges around the globe are opening back up and students are going back to campus. With the anxiety of trying to complete their last year, here are the top 10 must-haves that seniors need to help them get through the tough classes, final papers, and stressful time before graduation. 

1.) Journal 

Journals are not only great for writing one’s inner-most thoughts, but they’re also great for writing those to-do lists, and forgetful notes. Being a senior in college isn’t easy by any standards. About 61 percent of college students are stressed or seek help for anxiety. Even for students who don’t want to talk about their troubles, using a journal to write out frustrations, is great for letting go of all that anxiety. 

2.) Monthly Planner

Let’s face it, we forget things sometimes, and with a jam-packed schedule during senior year, forgetting that important test, or final paper can be scary. Monthly Planners can help with avoiding disasters like missing exams, or classes. They’re also great for writing down appointments with an advisor, peers, or remembering to order that cap and gown. Here is a good planner that will help you organize your to-do list items for maximum productivity.

3.) Highlighters and Pens

Senior year of college comes with a lot of reading and writing. Having a highlighter to go over the important sections of a book for a test, and having a pen is essential for all those writing needs. You never know when the professor will ask you a question regarding the reading and you forget which section it’s in, so highlighting can help with remembering the takeaways.

Woman in a green shirt, jeans, and glasses, looking up towards a large stack of books piled high
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4.) Sticky Notes

This goes along with reading. If you are renting a book, perhaps highlighting isn’t the best plan, but sticky notes are a great substitute. You can write notes on the sticky notes and put them on various pages throughout your book. 

5.) Backpack

Although classes are still online, colleges are opening back up again, which means having a sturdy backpack to hold everything that you need for those occasional in-person meetings, can help you come prepared. There can be a section of the backpack to hold a laptop, pens, pencils, notepads. Don’t forget your mask!

6.) Snacks

Snacks are great for those days when your schedule is swamped and you have no time for lunch. Or for that boost of energy that may be needed during late-night study sessions. Salty snacks may cause a student to be thirsty, so keep a refreshing drink on hand, just in case. Water is preferred in reusable water bottles to save money and the environment. 

7.) Headphones 

Music is great for keeping focused, and for keeping the sound around you blocked out. Using headphones while enduring those long study times in the library can help the time go by faster, and if the classroom is noisy, popping in those headphones can block out all the outside sound to help a student focus better. 

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8.) Portable Phone Charger 

There are days where students can spend anywhere from one to ten hours in the library or computer room studying for exams or writing a paper. Using that time to listen to music or snap chat with a friend can drain the phone’s battery. Keeping your phone charger on you can ensure that your phone stays charged for the extra usage during those long hours of studying away from your dorm room. 

9.) Sweater

Sweaters are great for both comfort and warmth. If the sweater has a hoodie, it’s even better for covering the face and napping. Senior year comes with lots of studying and test-taking, which means less sleep. Sleep is important for rejuvenation and it’s healthy for the brain. Depending on where students study, some colleges have cold classrooms as well. Having a sweater for the cold classrooms, and for napping is essential. 

10.) Notebook 

This goes along with a journal, but instead of writing your inner-most thoughts, a notebook is useful for note-taking, writing essays, and journal entries for college classes.

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College Life

5 Tips for Surviving Remote Learning and Knowing When To Make a Change

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Woman in a dark cardigan and white shirt, looking at the computer, biting her pencil

Remote learning is a complete game-changer. For some students, it might be better than in-person classes. You don’t have to worry about getting yourself out of bed anymore, and the flexible schedules may be a godsend for some.

On the other hand, according to a study, many college students find remote learning to be somehow more stressful and less instructive than in-person learning.

Last spring, many universities adopted some type of pass/fail model. This allowed students who were dealing with difficult circumstances to adapt as well as they could with a fail-safe ready.

This semester, most students have been thrown back into what will look like a regular school year (at least on their transcripts, if not in reality). Here are some tips for adapting to the new school year and things to consider if remote school just isn’t for you.

1. Don’t be afraid to change your routine completely

Remote learning is completely different from regular in-person classes, and you really have to change your routine in order to make it work for you.

For example, a lot of students don’t give themselves any time between remote classes, when in reality they probably need more. Schedule snacks and walking breaks into your class schedule. And since they are already home all of the time, it’s really difficult for some people to come up with work hours.

For some students, this might sap working motivation, and for others, it might put a layer of anxiety over any relaxation time. If you’re the first kind of student, consider blocking out a specific work schedule with breaks interspersed, so you can actually get some work done.

And if you are a more anxious student, consider allocating a specific place in your dorm or apartment, or find somewhere outside, to do your work. Instead of doing work in bed or on the couch, label a specific place as your work area; this way, you won’t feel like you are constantly in a work environment, with all of the pressure that entails.

2. Start your day definitively

Part of what makes remote learning so strange is that your day never really seems to start. You can wake up, stay in your pajamas, go to class, and then fall right back asleep, staying in one room the entire time.

Don’t let this be your routine. Plan to eat breakfast. Consider doing something that makes your mornings just a little bit more pleasant with a little bit of yoga or some meditation. But try your hardest not to make classes a blip in your lounging schedule, because that will lead to disaster.

3. Schedule movement

This is probably the best way to keep yourself motivated and avoid that feeling of overwhelming laziness. As mentioned in the first tip, you have to really mix up your routine sometimes.

Do that by scheduling movement throughout the day. Go for a run in the morning. Take little walks around the block when you would normally have been walking to class.

Do some easy warm-up stretches before sitting down to another Zoom meeting. Consider putting your calls on headphones and just walking around your dorm or apartment while chatting with someone.

4. Give yourself a break

It could take a long time to adapt to virtual learning. The entire country is also in a precarious place in a lot of ways, and anxiety is totally normal. Instead of expecting your usual level of output, it’s okay to see some decreased levels of motivation and productivity.

If you see yourself struggling right off the bat, consider dropping down to a lighter class load. Many universities, though they are reverting to a regular grading system, are giving students more time to drop classes.

So take advantage of that offer if you need to! Employers will understand if you need to take fewer classes. Go for quality over quantity.

5. It’s okay if remote learning is not for you

It’s incredibly important to be honest with yourself. If this fall semester doesn’t go well and you know that a remote semester isn’t for you, consider a deferral.

The current schooling paradigm is a continuous model of going to school for 15 years straight and then entering the workforce. But that does not need to be followed by everyone. If remote learning just goes in one ear and out the other, don’t waste your education or tuition.

Consider taking a semester or quarter off in order to participate in any number of amazing remote opportunities. You can apply for an internship or think about an independent research project.

Check out volunteer positions and roles in your area or get involved with community organizing for a movement that specifically interests you. It’s also okay to take a lighter course load if that would help you retain the information you learn online better.

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College Life

5 Lessons I Learned from Playing Cards with My Grandma

Alexis Dietz

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As I was growing up, my family spent every summer at my grandparents’ house. The grandkids would spend all day outside on the lake, swimming and playing yard games. But as soon as the sun faded away behind the horizon, you could find us all sitting around the card table playing a game of Joker with our ‘Mimi.’ For those of you who are not familiar with the game, this is a brief run-down of the rules:

Each player has five marbles that start in the home space. The objective of the game is to get all of your marbles around the board and into the last ‘finish’ space, similar to games, ‘Sorry’ or ‘Trouble.’ The player who sits across from you is on your team. Both you and your teammate must get all of the marbles around the board and into the ‘finish’ space in order to win. 

You need a face card or an Ace to get out of home, an eight goes backward, a seven can be split between two marbles, and all the other cards are worth their number value. A joker is a special card that allows you to either switch places with your teammate or take someone on the other team off the board. Each player has five cards in their hand, and you draw a card each time before your turn. 

In all our years of playing Joker, I am not sure there was ever a time Mimi’s team lost. This is because Mimi had a list of tricks she would follow and repeat to us over and over throughout the years. As a child I thought she was just teaching me how to be a better Joker player, what I did not realize at the time was she was actually teaching me lessons that would carry meaning throughout the rest of my life, shaping me into the person I am today. These are the lessons I learned from playing cards with my grandma: 

1. Always keep an Ace in your hand.

This first lesson is pretty straight forward. Always keep an Ace in your hand. In Joker, an Ace is a card that can get you out of almost any predicament. It can get your marble out and on the board, but it is also worth the number value of one, which can help sort out your marbles if you are in a jam right before you reach the ‘finish’ space. Keeping an Ace in your hand is strategic, it is thinking ahead and preparing for future trouble you might get yourself into. Not only did Mimi make sure we had an Ace in our hand to get us out of trouble in a game of Joker, but she also made sure we were set up with the right tools to be successful in life; a strong support group, a good education, and a whole lot of love. 

2. Don’t forget you have a teammate.

In Joker, even if you get all of your marbles around the board and to the finish, you still cannot win until your teammate has done the same. There are different ways you can help your teammate throughout the game, usually with a seven or a joker. Mimi would always advise us to help our teammate every chance we had. This is a smart move in the game of Joker because once your teammate has all of their marbles in the finish, they can start playing for you. So, helping your teammate get all of their marbles to the ‘finish’ space is just as beneficial for you as it is for them. 

I have found this to be very true in all areas of life. Anytime I help someone out, whether it be a small act of kindness like holding a door open for someone with their hands full or doing volunteer work, I have discovered I always end up taking away just as much as I had given, whether it be a new skill I learned in the process, a new friend I had made, or a new perspective. The other element to this lesson I learned from playing cards with my grandma is knowing that you always have a teammate to help you out as well. You are never completely on your own during a game of Joker. Mimi has always emphasized that this is true in our everyday lives as well. No matter how much trouble we get ourselves into, we will always have our family doing all they can to help us out.  

3. No ‘table talk.’

Conversation was not only welcomed but encouraged at the card table. This conversation, however, did not include ‘table talk.’ Table talk is when you either directly tell your teammate what you are planning on doing, what card you have, or what you would like them to do. It also includes any suggesting action portraying this information to your teammate. Table talk in the game of Joker is a form of cheating, but people tend to do it anyway.

This is because it is natural for us as human beings to want reassurance and a second opinion before we make a move that might impact the final outcome of the game. I always thought Mimi was so against table talk because it is cheating, and cheating is wrong. What I did not realize at the time was she was actually training us to make decisions for ourselves and believe in our own abilities without the reassurance of others. It can be really scary to make a decision all by yourself without any guarantee that it is the right decision. But you are not always going to know what the correct next move is, and you will have to take a chance and have trust in yourself. It takes a lot of practice to have this self-confidence and I am very grateful for the years of practicing these skills at the card table with my grandmother. 

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4. A card laid, is a card played.

When I was young and still learning the game of Joker, I would sometimes put down a card and then realize it left me in a bad spot or there was a better move I wanted to make. I would ask to pick the card back up and redo it. My grandma would always say, “a card laid is a card played” and point to the next person to go. I always thought this was just because my grandma wanted to win. What I didn’t realize is she was teaching me to think before I act. Often in life, there are no take-backs with the decisions we make, and it is important we analyze our cards and the board in front of us well. To consider all of our options before we make a move. 

5. “The games not over until the old lady sings, and I’m not singin’ yet.”

What frustrated Mimi most in a game of Joker was not being taken off the board by an opponent or having no face cards to get on the board. It was when one of her grandkids would get discouraged and want to give up. Joker is a game that can take a turn at any moment. You can spend turn after turn not able to get out, but once you get that face card, your hand is stacked, and you are quickly back in the game. No matter how far behind or how badly one of us wanted to quit, Mimi would never allow it. Every game we started, we finished no matter the circumstances. This, I believe, is the most important lesson I learned from playing cards with my grandma. No matter the circumstances you face in life, you cannot just walk away when things aren’t going your way. You have to stick it out and see how the rest of the cards fall. 

Over the past few weeks, as I have been living at my grandparents’ house and helping take care of my grandma, I have grown to have a new appreciation for these card games. I have had time to reflect on these games and the lessons they hold. Now, each time I sit down at the card table, I listen closely to what Mimi says while taking every bit of advice she gives into consideration.

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