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Reframing my Mental Illness(es)

My depression didn’t lift before I conjured the motivation to shift my lifestyle. That little tidbit carries a pretty hefty significance to this conversation. I didn’t begin to feel better, and then change my life. I began to feel clear, and then witness my life change as I participated fully in its reformation. I learned the truth about my depression, I changed my habits in response to that information, and then the feelings followed. I learned that I am not a victim to random or genetic circumstances, and that gave me my power back. That victim story had been both consciously and unconsciously running my life, and once I changed my story – based on my new beliefs – I changed. 

OCD is my superpower. Because with it, I have access to unlimited potentials. Though today I don’t identify as someone “with OCD” anymore, as much as I view myself as having the propensity to react to stress in such a way that aligns with the qualities of obsessive and compulsive tendencies. OCD is not nor ever was truly my identity, it is a pattern of thinking and behaving that I have become intimately familiar with. It, like all of my mental diagnoses, has been an adaptation to stress and/or trauma having been initiated in an (unconscious) effort to self regulate or feel safe/protected. If you’re unfamiliar with the traits of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I want you to imagine a bookshelf with a flashlight shining on a section of titles in the middle row. Each book being akin to a thought, this middle section is what a “normal” or average  (whatever that means) brain “sees”. For someone with OCD behaviors, it’s like discarding the flashlight and directing an overhead beam onto the entire row. Everything is there. Not just the books (thoughts) of significance in the middle, but those way out to the far left and the dusty ones extended all the way to the outer right hand corner. I used to view this seemingly limitless potential as terrible, because since my mind felt so WIDE OPEN it meant any negative/ distressing/ constricting/ terrifying thought I could latch onto (and consequently feel in my body) was ever at my disposal. Like a magnetic all you can eat buffet. There’s a full plate, and then there’s just way too much.

What I didn’t take time to notice (because it can be highly uncomfortable to first start practicing mindfulness when you’ve been in your OCD pattern for so long. The present moment is not a place you tend to want to be) was that because I have access to unlimited thought potentials it also means I have access to those on the opposite end of the fear spectrum. You know… the ones that bring life, joy, passion, lightness, ease, peace. Which was a profound realization for me, until.

Until that translated as nothing more to me than an insight. How did that help me to just ‘know’ that I had access to the highest thoughts as well as the darkest? I had this recognition in my being already on some level, and if that held any real influential weight, then I wouldn’t be hanging out on the fearground so often. I’d just walk on over to the other side where I could live in the light. Right?

Well, really, this insight was actually very profound – it was just clouded over by my own ignorance. Which you have to know, I have nothing but compassion for myself for. It wasn’t until I learned more about the mind-body connection that I could truly allow OCD to become my superpower, making it work for me. 

I’m going to share the tools I implemented to make that initial realization actually hold a weight other than “neutral” in my body.

So the thing is I have this unlimited access to all of these potentials… but I gravitated toward the ones that brought me the most distress, pain, or suffering. Once I realized there was a reason, a scientific explanation if you will for why this was (read: negativity bias) – that fact that I would always go there started to lose its power over me. It started to mean something different. It was a normal biological response. It used to mean that this is just who I am, and there was a lot of power in that toxic belief. It evolved to mean that I had a propensity to think in a way that doesn’t serve me, because it was a habit. I used to think I went to those negative places because the universe was trying to tell me something in the dark – something I had to figure out before I could get into the light. But what it really was, was an addiction. It was a pattern, repeated many times over many years that my brain had an entire neurological network built around. It was the “comfortable” thing to do, not the necessary thing to do. And that understanding let me off the hook, putting the power back in my hands. I am allowed to disengage from this. That was crucial to my recovery. 

Next came the actual transitioning from fear, back into love (what I believe is our natural state) or at least a neutral state to begin with. That was not so easy for me… in the beginning I would have to pry myself out of my obsessive thought patterns with force. But to peacefully disengage from them, a couple things helped. Mindfulness, sitting with the discomfort and allowing – not resisting it – was helpful. “Ok, this is just a feeling. It is not me.” Seperating myself from my sensations. Then if I wanted to change my state, you know… actually feel different or better – I had to re-engage in something else and break the pattern I was in. This is where immediate actions like Kundalini yoga, or literally playing a song on youtube and “creating movement in my body to create movement in my life” (Erin Stutland) came into play. I talk more about the long term feel-goods: Mindset, Food, Movement, Expression, & Community in my (free!) eBook “5 Pillars to Mental Wellness.

Doing this, over time… began to change me – which is to say it began to change the experience I had of being who I am. And when I was operating under less and less fear, I was able to exist in clearer and freer states where I could take in new information that propelled me that much further. 

Enter the science of epigenetics, psychoneuroimmunology, and neuroscience. Welcome to the undoing of what (I thought) I knew about our limits to healing (goodbye psych meds + disease labels) and our bodies innate abilities to self regulate and renew (hello encountered truth.) Hear that I’m not knocking one person’s chosen conventional path to health, because I’m reveling in my own journey of kicking the pills, shedding my diagnoses (as in plural), and coming into my greatest health. What that simply means is, I’m reveling in my own journey. Because for me, that’s something to celebrate. I’m serving as a voice and a beacon of hope to those walking (or shuffling or dragging their feet) in the same shoes I once was in. You know, the ones that are tattered and tight and constricting. The shoes that serve as an insufficient container for a person desperate to break free – and by way of strictly conventional standards, have not been able to. 

For those that are seeking a new call, to finally thrive out of old ways, there is hope for you. There is support for you, and there are resources. I’ve included my own as a great place to start, and I’ll include a few below.

The path that I’ve taken to arrive where I am now… It’s been rocky, it’s been steep, it’s been winding, I’ve lost signal on it and I was miles from any map. What I did have, and what you have too, is an inner compass that’s kept you alive and that you can trust to help you keep finding your way through. (Yes. Keep finding. Do credit yourself. You are here, aren’t you?)

So… now? I’m not bitter toward my journey, I’m better because of it. I feel a deep sense of pride to stand where I am now, because my presence alone is a testament to what’s possible. I feel a deep sense of privilege to walk now as a “guide on the side” (thanks Marie Forleo!) for all who are courageously seeking the freedom their own inner compass is ushering them toward. 

You are brave, you are worthy, and you have the support you need to come into your greatest health. I’m grateful to be here with you. 

Jessi

Further Resources:

Kelly Brogan, Holistic Psychiatrist and Best-Selling Author (with tons of transformational free content!)

MarieTV Episode: Why You Focus on the Negative (and How to Stop)

The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD, of which the “bookshelf spotlight” analogy was inspired by

Stacey Robbins Best-Selling Author, Coach, Speaker & Retreat Leader

Holly Fisher Higgins, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Host of MindSpeak Podcast

Dr. Mellisa Sell and Dr. Steven Ravnstag German New Medicine + Mindset Coaching

Dr. Nicole LePera @the.holistic.psychologist pioneering a movement of Self Healers

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