College: Involuntary Exposure Therapy
by Jared Kant
|The first day I woke up in my college dorm,
around this time last year, I realized that I had to do the unthinkably distressing: I was going to have to shower in the
same stall as thirty other people I didn't even know. Granted, I had the luxury of not having to be in the stall with them
at the same time; but I couldn't not imagine every microbe crawling around on the tile grout, waiting to anchor in my feet
and hands, and just kill me before I could even start class.
The thing is, I wasn't going anywhere. What can you do at college? It's extraordinarily expensive to
buy your own shower, and I don't think it would be worth the money. Besides, it was just OCD after all ... I did it though,
I conquered that monolith, and I was clean. I was so proud of myself; I simply brushed off the complaints from my fellow dorm
mates that I had single-handedly drained the entire hot water supply for the next six hours or more.
When you have class early in the morning, you can't take your long showers,
clean your room compulsively, and you certainly can't go through a full regime of rituals unless you want to frighten your
roommate into giving you a single. Having a roommate is a really big deal even for someone without OCD, let alone a real basket
case like myself: I had to tell my roommate a couple of things I didn't feel like telling him. After getting through with
explaining what OCD was and what it really, really was not, he seemed rather cool about the idea. Only once did I catch him
on the phone telling his mother in hushed Spanish that, "Mother, my new roommate is a little crazy." I let it slide
though. I just waited until he left the room to tell my parents the same thing about him.
The orientation week was easy. I learned to shower in an infested stall shared by half the world, I
educated my roommate on the lighter side of living with an abnormal college kid, and I managed to make some friends on campus.
It's too bad that I knew for an absolute fact that every one of them was looking at the "tattoo" on my forehead that
said "Obsessive Compulsive." I could see it in their faces. It wasn't paranoia, and I'm certain that it wasn't the
jet black hair or the half inch spikes on my choker. It had to be the fact that I had OCD. They knew I was really weird and
that I did stupid things over and over.
I was ruined. So, I just hung in there. I didn't have a choice.
It isn't like I could just go home and wait for the world to grow up and get educated. I went to classes,
and I did my work. Because I don't drink, I found a niche that made me indispensable. I was the "go to" guy who would
guide people back to their rooms after hours when they couldn't see straight. Finally, I was comfortable enough to ask what
everyone thought about how I was, "you know, different." The girl I was talking to was one of my closest friends on
campus, and I felt I could trust her to give me the low-down on how everyone thought I was a basket case.
She had no idea what the heck I was talking about. She hadn't a clue. I decided that she must've missed
I got to thinking about this. One day I was dumping my contents of my trash can into the extremely
infested, plague-ridden community trash can/dumpster; and I caught myself holding my nose. More accurately, someone else did.
Before I could stop myself, someone asked me, "Hey, what's wrong, don't like the smell of everyone else's filth?"
"Um, err, kind of."
|I had just made the mistake
of opening my mouth near the trash can, potentially letting in the deadly spores of other college kids. I was doomed and I
couldn't run for the safety of Listerine while this other kid watched me. Trapped, again. Around that very moment, the words
of my CBT therapist rang through my head, and I started taking deep breaths. I was breathing in the fragrant air of stale
cigarettes, coffee stained term papers, stale beer, and the bubonic plague. It felt like my brain was on fire. I almost started
shaking in the hallway right there. I had also forgotten about the kid still watching me. Maybe it was time to be a little
honest. I told him, "Hey man, it's a germ thing. This place is a little ... infested."
He smiled, made a joke about how I was acting like I had "severe OCD or something crazy like that." As
he was walking away, I started laughing really hard and yelled: "Yeah, something like that. See you around."
A Mother Helped Others
Even When She Couldn't Help Her Son
Helen Greggans had some good news in October: Her son was in San Mateo General Hospital in California.
After two years on the streets, her 38-year-old son, who has suffered from schizophrenia for nearly 20 years, was finally back in the mental health system. Today, he lives in Belmont and sees
a psychiatrist regularly. He is thinking about getting a job.
Greggans, who is president of the local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
has helped others get treatment for their loved ones, but helping her schizophrenic son had eluded her for years.
He simply did not think he was sick. And she had no legal recourse to force him into treatment. That
is why NAMI has lobbied for Laura's Law, a 2000 state law that allows a court to order treatment for the mentally ill.
Like the typical person Laura's Law is meant to target, Greggans' son had been in and out of
hospitals and jails over the years.
Greggans is not sure why he was taken into the hospital in October, except that he was acting crazy.
And he probably would have been released back on the street if she hadn't intervened. She rushed to the hospital with her
son's medical records and convinced the staff to keep him there.
To help get through the difficult times, Greggans joined the San Mateo County Chapter of NAMI eight
years ago. It was the first affiliate in the nation when it began almost 30 years ago.
The group offers support to the mentally ill and their families and lobbies for better care. Through NAMI, Greggans has fought for more rights for family members and
more authority to get the mentally ill treated. She said this means giving the courts authority to order the mentally ill
into treatment. It means better coordination between police and social workers, psychiatrists and family members.
Greggans said her son, the middle child, was always shy. But at 19 -- when he first became depressed
-- she took him to the family doctor. An example of the ignorance of the time, the doctor told him to start jogging to deal
with his depression. Soon, he began hearing voices. Eventually, he recovered enough to get a job as a seaman, but trouble
started again when he was in Hawaii and accosted a woman he thought was pushing him. He served time in jail and a judge ordered
him into a half-way-house, where he took medication and seemed to improve.
But after returning to California, he deteriorated again and was soon out on the streets. Greggans
said she has felt frustration over the years at her inability to force her son into treatment.
Under her tenure as president, NAMI worked with San Mateo County to launch a Web site last month that offers information, in many languages, on County services, insurance, legal issues, support
groups and research. Families or individuals can set up personal folders to store records online.
Greggans said that because young people are online, she hopes they will turn to this resource.
She said she wants to save others from going through the suffering her son has endured.
"I never thought I'd live to see this day," she said. "For the first time in 18 years, my son admitted
he has a disability."
No Picnic In Sight
by Eric Shapiro
Upon being diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I saw
the reality behind the greatest myth of mental illness, the myth that The Victim Is Unaware of His or Her Own Condition. A
childhood flooded with media depictions of the mentally ill had lead me to believe that the afflicted had somehow been robbed
of their objectivity, thrown into a dark hall-of-mirrors beyond the realm of rational perspective.
Nonsense. My rational mind remained intact, albeit uncomfortably
so. From the lighter corner of my mind, I watched darkness flow in. Obsessive images of violence and amorality. Urges, or
rather, "pseudo-urges" to do things I didn't want to. Yin (the rational mind) duking it out with yang (the imbalanced, irrational
mind) on a daily basis. The word "Hell" was used often when describing this state.
I'm certain that the suffering of many leads to punctured objectivity
and the loss of rational self-awareness. Fortunately, I remained aware. No matter how awful I felt, I could at least articulate
what was going on. The power of descriptive articulation should not be underestimated. It keeps the disorder in context as
a disorder, preserving a firm boundary between the right mind and the ill mind. For me, imagining such a boundary was a vital
survival tool. I focused on finding a day when Yin overran Yang, so to speak.
The afflicted mind has difficulty inspiring itself to seek assistance.
What a complex entity the mind is; even in sickness, it has only itself to rely upon. Unlike somebody with a broken leg, a
person with an anxiety disorder cannot lean on his or her other mind. Overcoming mental duress is like trying to kiss your
own lips. Quite tricky, but possible with enough imagination.
Imagination and resourcefulness, that's what it comes down to.
These strange ailments go just as they came. I knew that elements of my mind were strong; the challenge was getting these
elements to positively influence the weaker ones. This required many analysts, many appointments, many schools of healing.
Psychology, psychiatry, homeopathy, reflexology, reiki, energy healing-- these were all thrown in the pot to little avail.
Finally and unexpectedly, acupuncture provided balance. I've improved significantly. I thank acupuncture and I thank my supportive
family, but, most importantly, I thank counter-mythology even when afflicted, the human mind sees itself. And in itself, it
(Eric Shapiro is the author of "Short of a Picnic," a collection
of stories about mental illness due in September from Be-Mused Publications-- go to Be-mused.com or Barnesandnoble.com &
Amazon.com for details)
1345 N. Orange Dr., #1
Hollywood, CA 90028
Avoid Being A Scapegoat
This letter goes out to ANYONE who has a mental health disorder, whether it is bipolar disorder,
borderline personality disorder, ptsd, panic disorder, agoraphobia, schizophrenia, etc.
You know, there is a lot of
discussion about the families of people who have mental disorders; we now know them as brain disorders which is more accurate.
I have a great deal of respect for these families because let's face it, it isn't easy to live with many of the symptoms of
our disorders and for most of us it seems, we live with more than one disorder.
These kinds of disorders as I always
say, don't like to come alone and love to bring company whether it be panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, attention
deficit disorder, you name it. I have discussed the "affective spectrum" many times.
So I encourage families to reach
out for support but as I have mentioned before, be careful where you find that help. There is much hate in many family groups
and that is an ok place to begin but the goal should be to move past that and not remain in that place. Look for swastikas
However! I am more of an advocate for the person with mental health disorders because I understand this
world better on a personal and professional level. My letter today is a caution against something I see a lot.
many of the symptoms of our disorders are so visible, so easy to see by our families – so obvious, our problems are
so much the focus of our relationships.
For me it wasn't easy to not see the bookshelf coming down, or me clearing
my desk and the last and worse one, breaking apart two wooden tv trays.
The family member can say "See! Look! This
is the reason for all my problems. I have no problems of my own because they aren't so visible and you can't see them so easy
as the person who has the disorder."
Does this mean the person without the obvious disorders don't have deep issues?
Does this mean that the family member doesn't ever trigger the person with the mental health issues? Does this get brought
up in therapy?
It is so common when relationships come to an end for the family member who does not have an obvious
mental health disorder to say to everyone "I left the marriage because my wife/husband acted out too many times." Or "I left
the marriage because I could not stand their disorder another second."
When you hear messages like this, WATCH OUT!
Never is there one simple pat answer to a break up of a relationship UNLESS the person does not want to face their inner responsibility
for their part and that part has NOTHING to do with the other person's disorder. Yes, you heard me right!
disorders are so visible, I'll say this again, we are and can be excellent scapegoats for people who do not want to face up
to their responsibilities. It is so much easier to blame a very easy scapegoat and many do and the sad part is that the person
with the disorder buys into it and takes all the blame.
Not one person is all guilty for a break-up for a relationship.
both people have mental health issues, one party can still blame the other person just the same. Some mental health disorders
express themselves "quieter " but can be even more deadly to a relationship than someone acting out physically. We call that
emotional abuse, emotional violence, being unavailable to their partner such as depression, ptsd, etc.
Have you ever
went out on a first date and asked that person why their marriage didn't work, which in my opinion is not an appropriate question
for the first date? Have you noticed it is a very simple answer and it isn't multi-faceted and it is the other person's fault?
You are hearing a very twisted story.
Remember for those of you that have mental health disorders who are in relationships,
don't buy into the theory that you are lucky to have this person and that not many people would have you. You are very loveable
and many people would love you. Never take second seat.
Remember if your partner has no mental health disorders that
he/she still has issues of their own. Everyone does. Never let them blame you for things that do not belong to you.
if you are out of a relationship and your ex has created a false story, what do you care? Be glad that this person is gone.
Obviously they have a problem with compulsive lying and you want none of that.
Never ever allow your mental health
disorder(s) to make you feel bad or less about yourself. Mental health disorders are brain disorders. You wouldn't feel bad
if you had diabetes would you? Same type of thing.
You are not your disorder. You are still you, just working hard
to feeling better and you have lots of company.
Never ever let anyone make you feel less than who you are because of
your disorder(s) whether it be your work, your friends, etc. In today's society people are extremely uneducated about mental
health so you are likely to hear incredible things that are far from the truth and expected to just "snap out of it."