I have always been open about my mental health in the hope others will feel less alone with their own battle. I really believe that the more we share, the more healing can take place for all. We are always stronger together.
About 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and Pure O, OCD (which can be described as OCD of the mind, where you want to keep your thoughts ‘clean’). I started experiencing really scary intrusive thoughts that they now think were a result of a personal loss and trauma – causing my brain to head into a ‘fear response’.
In retrospect though, I think I always struggled with anxiety that would sit in different areas of my life while growing up. I am grateful to be able to have a diagnosis that has ultimately allowed me to seek the very specific help I needed.
I am also an extreme perfectionist, which causes me to place huge pressure on myself, worsening the related anxiety itself.
I can be grateful for my perfectionism, which has played a role in how I show up in various aspects of my life, such as my career and my zest to live a full life. However, there are times that this little meanie inside (that my hubby and I have named Ursula – haha) can really wreck some days. This is when the perfectionist in me takes the form of my anxiety.
When I was given my diagnosis, it was around the time I lost my best friend to her own struggles with mental health. There is almost nothing more shattering and explosive to anxiety, than losing someone you love to mental illness. She had always shown immense appreciation for my openness and honesty, and had asked us to continue to share her story in the hope it would help others. So, I continue to share this with the comfort that she would be so grateful for those of us who share our struggles that ultimately can help so many people. Knowing we are never alone. Love, care and support are here for you.
I would say the past 4 years have probably been the most transformative of my life.
What I want to remind everyone of is this:
You can still live an amazing life alongside anxiety. And that there IS help, you just need to find the right help.
But also, it is a journey that does not really have a perfect ending line. It can also be your greatest teacher and the very thing that strengthens your inner core to live a seriously special, meaningful and beautiful life.
As we know, there is nothing more grounding and humbling than being in the face of anxiety. It has to date been the very thing that has allowed me to realise and feel what truly matters in my own life.
So as the journey goes, I’m learning to sit with imperfection. I’m learning to surrender to uncertainty.
The hustling anxious perfectionist in me has kept me in fight or flight mode most of my life. As I said, my racing and intense mind has had lots of positives and negatives. The positives: it allows me to laser focus and achieve, and work really hard. As my team will agree, it keeps me relentless. It also allows me to give my loved ones and life my all. I am ALL in, and my standards for myself are high. It has also allowed me to be an ambitious dreamer and create and manifest the life I had always hoped for.
The negatives: Sometimes these standards I place on myself are too high which results in painful amounts of pressure. At its worst, when the anxiety sets in or when my deep fear of uncertainty raises its ugly head – everything can all feel very scary, consumingly painful, all encompassing. It takes over and pulls me right down to believe that I am simply not good enough – in anything that I do. Literally.
The gift of therapy (mostly the last 4 years) has taught me to live alongside imperfection, anxiety and uncertainty… and actually has invited me to immerse in these emotions, rather than fight them off.
It’s that act of surrendering to the imperfection, anxiety and uncertainty that brings true and long lasting peace of mind. I did not know how to do that either, trust me!
It’s honestly freedom, however it takes time and ongoing work to get there.
In reflection, I’ve always struggled with surrendering to uncertainty, which causes the actual anxiety for me. My thoughts keep me dizzy with finding that certainty of knowing everything in my precious life will be protected. On top of that, my perfectionist type nature yells at me not to have any of these thoughts all together.
My father in law taught me: “The racing thoughts are like a rocking chair Jess… keeps you busy but unfortunately doesn’t get you anywhere.”
My therapist’s favourite hand gesture to me when my anxiety is trying to keep me in its forceful grip… “hands up Jess” – meaning we can’t know it will all be ok, we have to surrender to the anxiety of uncertainty. It’s this letting go that takes away its power. Though it’s the last thing my anxiety often wants to do, the hands up approach really did lead me to peace.
What I learnt through the right CBT based therapy is that it’s best not to feed those anxious, perfectionist or fear based thoughts… OR fight them. Rather, I needed to choose to live alongside them without a fear based reaction. This literally builds new pathways in our brains (the research is outstanding) and teaches our mind to calm down, in turn allowing your nervous system to drop. Suddenly your brain starts feeling safer over time. It’s very challenging at the start, but became a habit that changed my life.
Also, un-attaching to the meaning of our thoughts (that the brain literally just spits out that are usually fear based) is also key. Learning to manage our thoughts without letting them overtake your mind and body, is what I call a beautiful peaceful life. I hope to always know how to come back to this way of life should my OCD or anxiety rear its head. Truthfully, I’m proud of myself for getting closer and closer to this place, because it’s bringing me more joy and peace than I’ve had probably my whole life. And, if you are struggling, I share this to give you that hope too. I still have really hard days, but I have the tools in my box to know how to sit with it, and let it wash over me, and emerge on the other side.
I also knew I needed to do this inner work before having kids. Though having done the work doesn’t mean I don’t have anxious thoughts. Imperfect anxious thoughts come up throughout the day, but how I react to them now prevents them spiraling to dark places. I am the one in control of my mind.
I wanted to write this as a reminder, that for some of us it is not as natural to have a quiet mind, calm and non-anxious brain. You can still learn to live an amazing life alongside that powerful mind, however it’s wired, but you don’t have to suffer through mental illness alone. And do not forget – it is often that anxiety that shapes a lot of the blessings in our lives.
This is life… beautiful, painful, calm, chaotic, hard, easy, amazing. It’s ultimately imperfect – but unfortunately the new world of social media doesn’t allow us to see that. Some days will be good, and others will be harder. Either way, we will always be okay if we surround ourselves with love and connection, and get the help we need on our mental health journeys.
Finally, it’s important to identify with our challenges, but also our strengths. Our challenges ultimately become our strengths as we navigate through them. So, there is no need to wish them away.
Love and care,
My Top Resources:
I have personally been in CBT and ERP therapy for obsessive/anxiety based thoughts if you want to research more:
- Treat my OCD – Regaining your life from OCD
- My favourite podcast is OCD Stories where you can hear from top mental health experts.
- Medication: I do take prescription SSRI based medication + a collection of research-backed vitamins and botanicals that have been shown to support mental wellbeing. Always make sure you seek the help of a well-trained psychiatrist before starting any medication.
What is PURE O OCD? Read more here:
If you or anyone you know is struggling right now, please reach out to someone or call:
- Lifeline for 24 hour crisis support on 13 11 14 (AUS)
- You can also call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 (USA)
- Text word ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 (UK)