Anxiety Chronicles is a series from The Lily that examines the journeys different women have with anxiety.
This week, we hear from Lotus Rogers, a musical theater major at the University of Arizona.
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I have obsessive compulsive disorder and am living in recovery from an eating disorder. The anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts I experience all stem from emetophobia — the fear of vomiting. Starting around the time I transferred from a small private school to a large public school, I began having general anxiety attacks. Over the years, my fear morphed into frequent panic attacks, disordered eating, and eventually being diagnosed with contamination OCD and ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder). I had seen many therapists, been misdiagnosed, and gone through recovery periods and relapses before admitting myself into treatment. As with anyone’s anxiety, there are layers to my fear: wanting control, fearing embarrassment, not wanting to upset people or be a problem, and living up to the Everest-high expectations I set for myself.
Before my time in treatment, obsessions would lead to long hours of cleaning, handwashing, taking toxic doses of medicine, and extreme avoidance. Thanks to my hard work, these compulsions are no longer a go-to. Now, you will know I’m anxious if I am isolating, tense, or quieter than usual.
My OCD brain is hyperaware of any sketchy activity in my stomach, people who are sick, and “contaminated” items. Obsessions will come into my head saying “You will get sick if you don’t do ___” or “Great, look what you did. Now you’re going to get sick.” My OCD voice can be very sarcastic and sadistic, but I am good at not giving into it’s demands. Nonetheless, the voice will always be there every day since OCD is chronic.
A particularly anxious day shows up in times of stress, holidays or performance days. I will get an influx of urges and obsessions to clean, wash my hands or take medicines. I want to control everything around me and I feel no trust with my body. You may not notice anything out of the norm from me other than some isolation or restricting. The real battle is taking place in my brain and I will do all I can to hide the bloodshed. I will say “I’m fine” when we all know I’m not really “fine.”
Since I am a Gemini, my number one coping tool is to talk it out. Getting my thoughts out of my head and into words or into music helps me defuse from them. Using principles from ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and ERP (exposure and response prevention) have also been extremely enlightening. I’ve learned through lots of practice to tell myself in times of discomfort, “Wow, this really sucks right now. I accept that all of this is out of my control and I can handle this. These thoughts are just a result of abnormal circuitry in my brain and instead of engaging in a compulsion, I am going to move toward my values”.
When an anxious loved one approaches you with their worries, your job is not to fix their problem. You reassuring them with “Everything is going to be okay,” or “It’s not that big of a deal,” will only make them feel unheard. Your job is to be with them in their anxiety by validating their experience for exactly what it is. You can always ask, “Is there anything I can do to support you?” But nine times out of 10, the most valuable thing you can do is to just be there.