I realize I’ve been absent from the blog for over a week now, but unfortunately, it’s not because I have a new baby to tend to, damn it all. In fact, that’s precisely WHY I haven’t written much of anything – I have little to say right now beyond bitching till I’m blue in the face about the distinct lack of baby around here. And everyone, myself included, is sick to death of hearing about that. So let’s discuss something else that’s been on my mind lately, shall we?
That’s always a fun one, no?
There is absolutely no way I could do Dr. Brandi’s job.
And not just because some crazy guy chased her around the nurses’ station one time, trying to stab her with a key, either.
For those of you who don’t know, she’s a psychiatrist, and for those who are unfamiliar with the distinction between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, psychologists have Ph.D.s, whereas psychiatrists have medical degrees, so they can prescribe medication, among other things. And by “other things,” I mean that Dr. Brandi can not only help you not be so crazy anymore, she can also birth a baby and diagnose your gnarly case of strep throat.
She works in a hospital, so she sees a lot of seriously ill people. And I’ve often wondered how the same girl who will literally injure herself laughing at me when I fall for YET ANOTHER of her “deez nuts” jokes can keep a straight face when someone tells her that God speaks to him through his goldfish.
I am being 100 percent honest with you when I say I have never and probably will never possess the maturity necessary to do that.
“How do you not just DIE laughing at them?” I asked her one time.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just think how awful it would be to honestly think God had chosen to reveal His will to me via something I bought at Petco.”
I’ve only ever been to see a psychiatrist once in my life, the summer after I graduated from high school. She was alright, I guess, but she was no Dr. Brandi. The psychologist I was seeing at the time sent me to her to confirm a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder and get a prescription for Prozac, which was a fairly new drug at that point.
That’s right, folks: I’m actually not joking when I say I’m OCD. I really am.
Needless to say, this is one of many traits I hope Harper does NOT inherit from me.
Growing up, I was a very anxious and fearful kid. I worried a lot, but I wasn’t alone in this. If my grandmother, a stunningly beautiful, talented and charming woman, were alive today, she would no doubt have been diagnosed by now with severe anxiety disorder. And though her father, my great-grandfather, had died by the time my mom was born, Mom remembers my great-grandmother describing him as “a worrier” and talking about how she often had to “talk to him and calm him down.”
OCD is basically a form of anxiety disorder. “Obsessive” refers to thoughts that you can’t get out of your head (in other words, obsessing about something), and “compulsive” means you feel compelled to perform certain behaviors – hand-washing, checking doors to make sure they’re locked, cleaning, that sort of thing. Most people who have OCD lean toward one or the other, and I guess I’d say I’m more compulsive than obsessive.
It’s hard to describe compulsions to people who don’t have them, but here’s a pretty good example: When I was little, I remember that every time Nana and I got in the car to go somewhere, I felt I absolutely HAD to touch the dashboard a certain number of times BEFORE she started the car in order to prevent something bad, like a car accident, from happening to us while we were out.
But I couldn’t just say, “Nana, please don’t start the car until I’ve touched the dashboard 18 times.” No, it had to be an organic thing, and if I interfered with it, then this form of protective magic wouldn’t work.
And what if I just didn’t do it?
Then I would panic. I would panic the same way you might panic if you discovered a rattlesnake slithering up your pant leg right now, because we would DEFINITELY get into a horrible car accident on the way to Albertson’s, and it would be ALL MY FAULT.
Sounds crazy, right? That’s because it IS.
But little kids have all sorts of weird quirks, and because Nana was an extremely anxious person herself (I’m not just throwing that word “extremely” around for giggles – I mean it in every sense), I guess she probably felt that telling me to sit down, shut up and buckle my seat belt would be hypocritical at best.
Nana may have indulged me, but my parents most certainly did not. They had absolutely no patience for this sort of thing, being, as they are, the very opposite of worried and anxious. Looking back, I think Mother Bachelor Girl will probably agree that it really wouldn’t have hurt anything for them to worry a little MORE.
But for the next several years, we all managed more or less just fine. Nowadays, we can all look back and see that during times of great stress, my compulsions, like cleaning and checking, would take up HOURS of my day, not just minutes, but still, I functioned pretty well most of the time.
That is, until my senior year of high school, when everything kind of hit the fan.
A number of things happened that year, some good, some bad, but all of which added up to be one of the most stressful years of my life thus far:
–My family moved to Birmingham, AL, which I LOVED, but that meant leaving our home of the last nine years and a few really good friends, including my best friend from childhood.
–I think I might’ve experienced milder culture shock if we’d moved to India.
–I was in so far over my head academically that I practically had to pump water out of my ears after the last bell rang every day.
–Nana died of Alzheimer’s Disease.
I honestly didn’t know if I was coming or going most of the time. Toward the end of that year, I reached a breaking point.
It didn’t matter if it was good, bad or otherwise; the fact is life had gotten completely chaotic, and I didn’t feel like I had anything to hold onto. My dad had a new, high-pressure job; my mom was dealing with the death of my grandmother and trying to figure out what to do with her mentally handicapped sister; and all I wanted was to feel like I had control over SOMETHING.
Enter my old friends, the compulsions.
They began to completely take over my life. EVERYTHING – showering, picking out clothes, making the bed, doing homework, starting the car, leaving the house – had a ritual attached to it. And guess what happened if I didn’t perform each little ritual perfectly the first time?
That’s right: I had to do it again.
There were many, many days when I missed school because I couldn’t get the rituals right, or the very idea of having to do them all was so exhausting that I simply couldn’t get out of bed.
My parents were furious, and I was frustrated and depressed. I didn’t know how to explain any of this to them (or anyone else, for that matter). Everything I knew about psychology and psychiatry came from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sybil. I’d never even heard of OCD. It never occurred to me that whatever was wrong with me might be an actual illness – to tell the truth, I thought the same thing my parents did, that I was lazy and spoiled and unfocused and unmotivated.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my high school boyfriend who, in an act of preternatural maturity and unbelievable compassion, went to my house one day while I wasn’t there and talked my mom into making an appointment for me with a psychologist. He told her that he didn’t know what was wrong either, but he was pretty sure that whatever it was, I wasn’t in control of it and it wasn’t all my fault.
So I went and sat on a couch (I actually asked, “Do you want me to lay down?”) and told a very nice blonde lady what I just told you. And she started asking me all these questions, like, “Do you ever feel like this? And when this happens, do you feel like that? Do you ever do that?”
And I remember very clearly thinking in that moment: Either there’s a name for what’s wrong with me, or she has it, too.
Turns out there IS a name for it. She told it to me, and that, all by itself, made me feel a little better.
She sent me to the psychiatrist, who prescribed Prozac, the drug du jour for OCD (among other things). It didn’t work out for me – I tried it for three weeks, but I couldn’t get over the nausea and the sleep disturbances – so the psychologist taught me some behavioral techniques to manage the compulsions. They worked OK. During stressful times, which, during early adulthood, is MOST times, the compulsions still pretty much dominated my existence. And there was really nothing I could do about the obsessive, intrusive, ruminative thoughts that, as I got older, began to accompany them more and more. Don’t get me wrong: I led a pretty happy life most of the time, but OCD definitely interfered with almost every aspect of daily living. I mean, YOU try explaining to your boss that you’re late for work because you overslept and didn’t have enough time to perform your ritualistic check of the smoke detectors in your apartment AND get to work on time.
One day, Dr. Brandi told me about this new drug she read about that was working really well on OCD patients. So I made an appointment to ask my doctor about it. We decided I should give it a shot.
And it literally changed my life.
All of a sudden, I could do things that were previously impossible for me, like leaving the bed unmade and only checking once to make sure the door was locked before I left for school. The compulsions were still there, but now, I could actually just…you know…not do them.
A couple years ago, my doctor suggested another drug that was getting good results with OCD patients, so I switched, and it works even better. I haven’t been able to take it since I got pregnant (I switched back to my old medication, which has been studied extensively in pregnant and nursing women and is deemed quite safe), but since it passes very poorly into breast milk, I’ll start taking it again once Harper is born…
…And hope like the devil that she gets The Guy’s green eyes, my thick hair and NONE of this mess.
My own experience is one of the reasons I get exasperated with people who dismiss psychiatric medications out of hand or, worse, decry those of us who take them as emotionless zombies who just want to tamp down our emotions and feel numb all the time.
I am not emotionless. (Just ask my husband.)
I am not a zombie.
I am not numb.
I am not stifling my creativity.
In fact, these medications made it possible for me to have my creative career(s). A decade ago, there was no way on Earth I could’ve focused my creativity, my intellect and my energy enough to be self-employed and work from home. And I think it goes without saying that all artists, including writers and photographers, need access to a full range of emotions in order to be successful.
Medication certainly does not give me a happy, go-lucky existence where I just wander through all my days in a drug-induced fog. Believe me, people, there are days when I wish like hell I WAS numb. And make no mistake, I still have OCD. Anyone who knows me personally will tell you that all those old compulsions are still very much there. Give me a piece of bad news, and chances are good to excellent that I’ll start cleaning and straightening and checking doors and washing my hands and worrying and fretting until I just about drive everyone, myself included, half out of their minds.
The difference now is that I CAN stop. I CAN stop checking to see if I unplugged the iron. I CAN stop thinking about The Guy getting into a car accident on the way home from work. I CAN stop worrying that Harper will have some terminal genetic disorder.
Before, I COULDN’T.
Medication is not the answer for everyone. Some psychiatric disorders ARE over-diagnosed. And some doctors are all too eager to medicate their patients; worse, they do so without fully understanding the possible side effects of these extremely powerful drugs (all while sneering at psychiatry as a waste of a medical degree).
But there are also people who pretty much owe their happy, successful lives to psychiatric medications. And I’m one of them.
And just so this post doesn’t come off as one giant after-school special about mental illness or a PSA for better living through pharmacology, I’ll use this public forum to make fun of Dr. Brandi a bit. Hey, it’s the least I can do in retaliation for the “deez nuts” joke she got me with AT MY VERY OWN WEDDING.
So when Dr. Brandi graduated from medical school and began her career, she was justifiably proud. After all, she helps hundreds, if not thousands, of patients every year.
She has also always enjoyed having personalized “vanity” license plates. So when she bought a new car (her first one in, like, 15 years or something), she decided to get new vanity plates celebrating her status in the medical community.
The rest of us took one look and told her to either get back in line at the DMV or else enjoy letting the rest of the world think she’s a gynecologist with poor taste.
On second thought, maybe we’re the ones with poor taste.