The mental health

As I mentioned in the previous post there are going to be six posts with thoughts and updates about mental health, and after them I will continue writing about it more frequently again.

This one is a little update.

Hello to the new people in the blog! My name is Angelina, I’m an artist, living and creating in Athens (Greece), while having OCD. I’m 31 and I’ve had it since I was 17.

It was untreated until 2016 when it reached a point where it caused me to have depression and suicide ideations. And that’s when I got help (if I could go back I would have gotten help much earlier!).

Dealed with all that, have in therapy ever since and I was on meda for 2.5 years until 1 year ago when I stopped taking them (the proper way, tapering, it was my doctor’s decision, etc). And it was some kind of journey going off meds, oh my!

Now, I have reached a point when I will probably go back to them soon, because my OCD isn’t at its best.

For the past 4 years there have been many downs and only a few ups, which definitely didn’t help my mental state: I took care of my sick (with cancer) mama until she got better, my father got sick as well and has been in dialysis ever since, I happen to live next to my grandmother and her husband and they have really gotten old and their needs have been so many for the past couple of months. Plus, I’m an artist that tries to figure things out and reach a point where I can live off my art (not even close to that yet).

But, I have survived all the above, I have a couple of good friends and a very good man. And my OCD.

I’m functional even though my brain doesn’t help me a lot most of the times, I have my routines and my goal is to someday being able to live without it (or at least with a tiny part of it in my brain).

These are some basics about me, for now!

The next one will be about being in therapy, the searching and the discoveries I have made so far.

Take care until then!

OCD & the pandemic

What it’s like to live with OCD through a pandemic?

Well, it’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone basically. It’s like that for everyone I think, but if you have OCD it’s one of the hardcore episodes, the ones that the world as the hero/heroine knew it is coming upside down.

It’s weird seeing everyone doing what you usually do because of a mental condition; doing routines and actions that you have mastered through the years of (unwilling) practice.

Now everyone washes their hands regularly; I wash mine countless times daily, for years now.

Now everyone keeps their distance from others; I try to keep my distance from others all the time, I basically hate it when strangers come too close (aka approximately 1 meter).

Now people use antibacterial tissues, which are basically one of the top 3 essentials I always bye from the grocery store and I use them even inside my own house (and, yeah, now I can’t seem to find any).

Now some people clean their phones, their cash, the groceries, all these things that I always clean.

Now some people throw their clothes to the laundry basket straight after they enter their house; well I have been doing this for years (only wear something once and after I wash it).

Now people pay attention to where and what they touch; this is a constant thing for me.

Normally I’m the odd one out of the norm and, now, my “abnormality” is the new norm.

I have been living with obsessive compulsive disorder for years now. You know that fear you feel nowadays, that you’re going to get sick, that something bad is going to happen if you’re not careful enough? I feel like this each single day; I create through this, doing everyday chores through this, live through this. And it’s not easy at all.

Now, during this weird and hard period we’re all going through, I am cool about it, because this is life for me, I do what I always do, keeping the pieces of balance I have managed to create for myself over the years. And because it’s all these repercussions are second nature to me, I’m quite sure I do my best so I and the people around me won’t get sick.

Think about it, how you feel with the coronavirus pandemic. Imagine having all this pressure and paranoia 24/7 inside your head. This is exactly how OCD feels like.

The madness of this epidemic is like being inside the mind of an OCD patient. And the virus is like every fear and obsessive idea that someone with OCD has. It might not always be so real as this virus, but it’s 1000% real for the brain and the body of the patient.

Maybe all these words are food for thought… something to think about if you’re in quarantine and you have so much free time in your hands.

Take good care of yourself and we’re all going to be just fine in the end!

Things that help with anxiety

  • Journaling.

Putting the mess on paper helps to feel calmer and seeing things written down makes it easier to process thoughts and reach to conclusions. Plus, I believe that writing by hand is the best way to keep notes/a diary, typing on a computer doesn’t feel the same at all.

  • Breathing exercises & meditation.

Exercising your breathing is crusial when having anxiety, it’s a whole new world when you’re able to control your breathing. Personally, I have studied singing so it comes naturally to me know and controlĀ  my breathing. But if this isn’t the case for someone, there are plenty of online courses and videos that can help. And now that I’m thinking about it, IĀ  should write a post about breathing.

Meditation is kind of the next step after breathing exercises and mindful breathing. It’s a deep relaxation and good breathing has to come first in order for meditation to work. And even then it takes lots of practise (also a post coming soon)!

  • Food.

Not talking about over-eating or “eating your feelings”, I’m ttalking about the healthy version of eating. A snack or a beverage makes a full stomach, and a full stomach always makes a brain calmer and happier; everything seems better with a full stomach!

  • Taking a break.

It can be a 10-minute break, a vacation, or anythingin between, the idea is to give yourself and your mind some time to relax. It won’t make the anxiety go away, but it’s going to relieve the tension for a while.

  • Move, be active.

An active everyday life or/and frequent exercise is really helpful for a body that goes through huge amounts of stress.

  • Water.

Drinking water can’t only help you in moments of extreme stress/anxiety, like an anxiety attack, it calms down the resperatory system. Plus, keeping hydrated is nothing but helpful when you suffer from anxiety.

  • Being creative.

Doing something creative, making art, is a great way to express your feelings, and looking at the bright side of things and the beauty that can exist in the world. Coloring, drawing, knitting, crocheting, doing any craft project is a good idea!

So, this is all folks (for now)! Take care of yourselves and breath in and out.

Tired OCD self

For the past couple of years, I have become (some kind of) friends with my OCD. I don’t go against it and we work together.

I’m basically keeping a balance. For example, if a trigger appears, I try to keep my cool and think which is the best way to get over it, I try not to go full compulsive and do as few compulsions as possible. And this system is working pretty good.

For me this is a reconciliation. It’s OCD, it’s here, it has been here for more than a decade, so working alongside it it’s a very good idea.

And here comes the “but”!

Living with an anxiety disorder can be very compounding, for the mind, the body, the life, the person having it. Everyday life is much more tiring when you have to keep whole lists and a ton of checks in your mind. When you have to be careful even about what you touch inside your own house. And in case you’re someone like me, that never gives up, it’s even more tiring. I like to push myself and don’t let my mind taking control. I always try to keep up with my life no matter the OCD, in the best way possible.

But there are moments that I’m getting tired and I’m thinking that life would be much easier without the OCD. These moments have become very frequent for the past couple of weeks.

I’m imagining a life where you don’t have to have a shower before bed, using furniture and objects without first checking if they’re “clean” (sometimes the OCD-clean it’s a different kind than the normal clean, but that’s a story for another post), etc.

I don’t know where this is going to lead, being in therapy is a journey with a lot of unknown paths. For now, this is the fact: I’m tired of life with OCD.

Life with OCD

I think I need something fresh.

I have written so much about my OCD and mental health, but I feel the need of making some changes, refreshing a bit.

My OCD is evolving as fast as life does after all. My belief that each one of us should tell his/her personal story is stil here. One step at a time more awareness can be created.

Here I am; I have spent 13 years with it (unofficially), with only 3 years out of them being officially diagnosed. I live with it, I have created patterns, tricks, some kind of program so I can be functional. But one great truth is that living with OCD is never easy. In my case, an outsider might look at someone who’s figuring things out just fine, when in reality it takes so much energy to keep up with life sometimes.

Yes, I know that so many people, even without OCD have to deal with life. But imagine having to deal with it all and add to this a mind that’s constantly thinking, that constantly needs reassurance, that has to do certain things a certain way (always) and gets irritated and super uncomfortable if things don’t go as planned. It can get absolutely exhausting.

Well, this one is going pretty melodramatic already, so let me continue with some more positive stuff.

I never gave up, I never accepted my OCD and just sat down and waited for the next order from my brain. Yes, things have changed since my diagnosis, there are always ups and downs, but one very important thing is that I never gave up!

In this phase of my life my goal is to have a more relaxed and maybe OCD-free life in the future (long story short), a goal that has many many aspects.

So, I’m going to continue my “Living with OCD” and “Living with-out OCD” series of posts, but with a fresh attitude!

Diary

Summer of 2019 started with my need for rest and relaxation. So, I decided to spend a big part of it with my family, in the house where I grew up.

Well, let me tell you that didn’t go as I have planned. I realized a couple of important things about my family (and the way certain things have eventually effected me), my OCD and I did a lot of work with my art. Hadn’t planned any of it. But things came that way. And in the end I think that in reality I was in the right place at the right time.

So, I have many things to deal with, the project of “living with/out OCD” still in progress, a lot of new artwork done and inspiration to help me create even more.

Tomorrow, I will be back home. And the first thing I’m going to do is a super decluttering! I live in a small flat that’s both home and art studio. I’m definitely a maximalist, and I have many corners/objects that are considered a trigger for my OCD and I keep avoiding cleaning them. And now it feel like such a good timing to do so.

A super decluttering is on the way!

And a new beginnings already happening!

Living with/out OCD (no.13)

To be honest, the title of this series of posts feels a little bit off lately. I started working towards a life without OCD a few months before I stopped my medication (details about it in previous posts). Since the period I stopped my sertaline things have been… difficult. But lately, I have been feeling much better.

The only “leftover” is the increased anxiety levels. For almost three years my brain was used to getting its daily dose of sertaline and I had managed to create a balance in order to be functional.

And now, I’m in the process of reorganizing that balance, with a meds-free brain. I’m researching for ideas to decrease my anxiety.

The process, and all the tons of anxiety I’m going through lately, remind me of a dream I used to have since I was a kid. It was one of those that are closer to a nightmare than a dream.

I was in a car, I was driving (even though I didn’t know how to), I had to find the right way to go and then I couldn’t stop the car.

Now, I see my anxiety as that car. I have to learn how to handle it under the current circumstances and manage to go forward.

Living with/out OCD (no.12)

Going of antidepressants, after almost three years of taking them, while still having OCD and being in therapy.

It’s for the better, but the fact doesn’t make it any easier. I wrote a few posts about the procedure and all the things that I felt. This one is about the time that things got better.

It’s been 5 months since I stopped taking my meds (after a period of tapering tge dose and always under my doctor’s instructions). And, I won’t lie, it was one of the most difficult periods of my life (until now).

The uncomfortable feelings, the massive amounts of crying, the demons and memories awakened.

During all the above, that are totally normal by the way when you stop giving your mind the extra sertaline that it really liked, there was one thing that I realized: how much tired my body and mind were. So, after trying many things in order to feel better until the storm was over, I decided to press pause for many things in my life, take time for myself, learn to do nothing and relax. A couple of weeks after putting my idea in action….magic!

One afternoon I finally felt better. And calmer. The calm I was feeling with the antidepressants. And the storm was quite over. Yes, there are moments that things get weird and tough, but I deal with them pretty good!

In the past months, the progress I had already made with my self-awareness helped a lot, and the therapy was there to help at hard times, but I believe that what was really crucial was the fact that I knew it was just a really difficult period that would eventually end, during which I was willing to feel it all and look for ways to feel better.

And that combo of patience and fighting the darkness paid off in the end.

Maybe now it’s time to continue with my “Living with/out OCD” project!

OCD Facebook groups (a no)

So, I thought of becoming a member of an OCD oriented Facebook group. And I did so!

I thought it would be interesting to read about other people’s stories and share mine. To connect with people that go through their everyday lives with OCD, like I do. Sharing opinions and ideas is always interesting. And as you can see from this blog I think it’s very important for people to share their stories, create awareness and maybe help others by showing how important it is to get proper help when dealing with mental health issues.

I found a pretty popular group and I joined; for two days.

I expected a platform of people who deal with (anxiety and) OCD, who deal with it and work with it and themselves. What I found was so different!

  • So, many people not getting proper professional help for their mental health problems. (I know it isn’t always easy to pay for therapy, but if you really want to, you can find a way to get help somehow).

Having a mental health issue, and not getting treatment for it is so bad. I have been there, and I wish I had gotten help much earlier. You practically don’t know what you have/ how to deal with whatever you have/ what kind of therapy/treatment to get. You have a struggling mind with no support. So, so bad.

  • Many people practically asking for diagnosis and help.

Internet is very helpful sometimes, but asking for help from strangers is such a bad idea! It’s one thing people sharing their stories and tips maybe, and another to ask non-professionals to tell you how to treat a mental health disorder (for which you don’t have a proper diagnosis).

  • An over-exposure to anxiety.

Well, having anxiety/an anxiety disorder is like having a crowd popping thoughts inside your brain 24/7. And that’s only you. So, I believe that being exposed in the similar situation of dozens of others, on a daily basis, makes you even more stressed and helps that cycle that’s called OCD gloriously keep going.

  • Many times people confusing character and disorder.

We should know and never forget that each one of us that has a mental health disorder, has a personality as well, and the two are totally different. We are not our disorder. And not everything that we do/deal with/think/feel is about OCD.

These are the three things that made me leave the group after only two days. I reached the conclusion that I didn’t like the whole thing and that it was potentially bad for all the other members.

Of course, there were a few people that were more collected, knew about OCD, were diagnosed and were dealing with it in the best way possible, but the main feeling of the group was all the above in the list.

I still believe that is important to tell your story, and create awareness, while in the same time dealing with it with its ups and its downs, but I guess a more structured platform would be better. Maybe a place created by mental health professionals who would be able to keep control of everything and truly help people.

And always keeping in mind, and reminding the readers, that myself (and more people out there) are not mental health specialists, but want to share our story and opinions about OCD. So that more and more people understand that it’s here, it’s real, and it’s part of our lives.

And that the best thing to do if you have any mental health issues is to get proper help, have therapy and let a therapist/psychiatrist help you solve your personal problem (it’s different for each one of us and needs to be treated differently).

Health first (a diary post)

My everyday life is quite full usually: I have my two handmade jewelry brands (@daily_art_by_angelina & @psychotrinkets) , my art (@drawing_tales), my photography (@a_mavrogianni_photography), my home/ art studio that always needs something done, my – practically fresh- significant other (we don’t live together, but still there’s quite some time devoted to him), my grandma and her second husband next door to me who are both in their mid 80s and have things that have to be done for them. Plus, I live everyday with my OCD in the background. And for the past 4 months I have stopped (the proper way) my medication which I have been taking, for my OCD, for almost 3 years.

A couple weeks ago I made a decision: to try to chill more and focus on my mental health. Just for the tough period of going off the meds (my sweet little brain has to re-adjust, but until then it shows no particular mercy). A wise decision to focus on my mental health.

I didn’t turn off everything, but I try to do less, so I have time to relax and take care of myself more.

I am a control freak, a multitasker that feels like I’m doing something wrong when I’m not doing something 24/7. But, I realized that I had to somehow take some time off, so I can feel better again, after going off my meds. But, still balancing things.

  • Posting less on social media (main way to promote my work my work).
  • Creating/working less (so, I have a less strict schedule, and more time to relax).
  • Not pressuring myself to do a lot of things during the day.
  • Trying to keep up with my relationships (but not doing so much that I will feel pressured).
  • Doing… nothing (I never do “nothing”, I practically can’t, but I realized that my kind of “doing nothing” is to chill out, do the things that feel good, go through YouTube or Pinterest, not saying to myself “you have to do this and that”, chiiiill; it’s so soothing and relaxing during this tough period).
  • Giving some responsibilities (grandma related) to other members of my family, taking a break for a while from them.
  • Taking a break from things that put too much pressure on me.

In the meanwhile, life happens, and it’s not always easy to keep up with my decision. But, having set the goal to focus on my mental health is important. Each single day, I try to care of myself, my emotions, my mood, and not let go (keep working towards the better days that are going to come). And some days (who am I kidding, most days), it’s pretty difficult, but the bottom line is loving myself and showing myself this love and care.

The world (and everything) will be here even after this tough period ends!