Looking fear in the face and not running
By Sebastian Valdiviezo
It is difficult for me to find a place, a time, in my life to begin telling my story. I guess that I have always felt a little different from those around me. I am very sensitive and I can get easily overwhelmed. Over the past few years, I have experienced an increase in mental health struggles. I began to open up more and more about these struggles and I have found that maybe I am not as alone as I thought that I was. There are actually a lot of people in my family who experience anxiety and depression.
I was raised by a single mother. She endured more than a year and a half of severe depression. My favorite aunt, my mother’s sister also deals with anxiety and panic attacks, even to this day. Ten years ago she lost her husband to suicide. A lot of my mother’s side of the family has struggled with their fair share of mental health issues. In spite of this, we have been resilient. We have stayed strong and close-knit. Our love for each other has been something that I carry with me to this day. The strength in our family bond is one that cannot be broken.
On my dad’s side of the family, there has been a lot of addiction. I know that often addiction can go hand in hand with mental health issues. My dad is a recovering addict. He has tried to continually teach me to stay away from drugs and alcohol. He is someone who has experienced a lot of hardships in his life, starting from an early age. Regardless of any mistakes he has made, he has been a loving and caring father to me. He has always tried to stay in my and my brother’s life, even knowing his marriage with my mother ultimately failed. After this, my mother, my brother, and I moved to a different country.
I think it is very important to talk about generational struggles within my family. I feel as though I am a combination of all of the good and bad things that have come from them. This trauma that has been passed on through the years and generations is now mine to carry and I hope to overcome it.
OCD as a child and into adulthood
OCD likes to latch on to and attack what we care most about in this world. To me, this is my family. As a child, I worried a lot about my mother. I hated to see her suffer. I remember that she would go for runs at night. I would wait by the window and call her multiple times. I wanted to make sure that she would make it home safely.
My parents would argue a lot, they would fight and break up and get back together. This cycle continued until they divorced. Even though I can remember being an anxious child, I never really thought of it as being too problematic until 2018.
I had been living in Canada for 3 years. It was October. I had a garage that I would go and paint in at night. This is something that I found relaxing after a hard day at work. One day, after a particularly difficult day at work I remember I felt really anxious. Usually what I would do in these times is smoke weed and go and paint and this seemed to calm me down. However, on this occasion, that was not the case. After smoking I suddenly felt overcome with scary feelings.
It was the first time I had ever experienced an anxiety attack, at least that is what I would learn this was later. At that moment though, I thought that I was losing my mind. I worried maybe I was dying. Nothing around me was making sense. Everything I saw would frighten me. I spiraled deeper and deeper into fear. I left my garage and went to my living room. I tried to calm myself down. I watched some television but that seemed to only heighten my anxiety. I thought maybe I was experiencing a bad trip. Eventually, I fell asleep and the next day I awoke feeling normal again.
A few days passed and I decided to smoke again. I chalked it up to me just having been extra anxious the few days prior. The same feelings came on again. I threw away the weed, believing it must have been the problem. I began to feel a little bit better. I was reading the book “Catcher in the Rye”. I remember texting my friend about it and them saying something to the effect of “That’s the book that the guy who killed John Lennon read.” I remember fear jolting down my entire body. I had the thought, how can I be enjoying something that someone who killed another human being enjoyed?
A turning point
Things really took a turn for me at this point. I began to have constant, violent, intrusive thoughts about my loved ones. It felt like my mind was broken and something terrible had happened to me. It became a nightmare to be alive, to try and function every day. I could barely go to work. I wasn’t sleeping and I could barely eat for weeks. I knew something was wrong.
All I could think about was that I needed help. I tried to find help on my own. I didn’t want to involve my family. I was hiding whatever this was. I called a suicide hotline and went to a few counseling sessions. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. Things felt desperate. One day while I was waiting for one of these counseling sessions I was thinking of ways that I could possibly explain these violent thoughts to someone without having them think I was crazy. I didn’t want them to think that I was dangerous. I was sitting in a library at the time. I took out my phone and began taking notes in my note app. I wrote all about the thoughts of hurting my family that I was experiencing.
When I went to the counseling office I couldn’t find the words to explain what I was experiencing. I showed them the notes I had made. My counselor just stared at the phone. Then they said that they needed to talk to someone outside of the office. He came back into the room where I was just a little later and sent me home. I was so confused by what had just taken place. When I was getting off the bus, a police officer stopped me and asked if I needed help and if I was carrying anything that could hurt anyone. I said no and they still put handcuffs on me. They took me to the emergency room. I was terrified. From the moment that the handcuffs were put on me and the drive to the emergency room is the most scared, I have felt in my entire life.
Upon arrival at the hospital, I was placed in a little room waiting for a psychiatrist. My mom had been contacted by the police and she was already at the hospital waiting. I was crying my eyes out and thinking that my life was over. I thought I would end up in a mental hospital forever. When the psychiatrist came in, they asked me a bunch of questions. They asked about what my thoughts were and what I was experiencing. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression. I felt a sort of sense of relief. But I also felt like I had been given a curse. I was prescribed anti-depressants and a few more appointments with therapists. After a few months, I eventually started to feel better. I was understanding the intrusive nature of the thoughts more and more. I was also learning how to cope with these, or so I thought.
Dealing with a relapse
Fast forward to November 2019, about 1 year after this all began. I had what I thought was a relapse of symptoms. I had been working in a warehouse by myself. I was still under the impression that I was dealing with GAD and depression. I had injured my heels from skateboarding so I couldn’t skateboard at that time. This was something I loved doing.
I began experiencing what I now know as suicidal-themed OCD. I felt more and more depressed. My dad lost a brother and I lost an uncle and a really special person from suicide. I quit my job and my symptoms did seem to improve. I realized that my environment plays a huge role in my mental health. A few years passed and we experienced a pandemic, where I managed to keep my mental health really good which is something I’m proud of myself for.
A few years passed after a whole pandemic and having these past experiences made me grow so much as a person that I thought my mental health struggles were a thing of the past. Then, last year in the summer, out of nowhere one night I couldn’t sleep and I found my mind spiraling with intrusive thoughts again. I woke up shaking and feeling like I wanted to throw up. At this point, I knew a little about OCD and I also knew that I might be suffering from this disorder. I heard about CBT therapy and its benefits, but I never gave it a try because of my past experiences with therapy. I think at this moment what was in my mind is that I’ve been through this before but now I want to try something different, I want to try this therapy and actually do the work. I tried contacting a few therapists in my area that offer this kind of therapy but all of them had a waitlist and prices I couldn’t afford.
Without much expectation, I scheduled a phone call with them. I was surprised by how fast they answered me and how they explained the process of treatment and the ways I can afford it. I was still doubting it because It was a lot of money and also online therapy so I didn’t know how reliable it could be.
Starting treatment with NOCD
After thinking about it for a while I just came to the conclusion, you know what? I have never done anything like this before and I have spent a lot of money when it comes to doctors for physical rehab of injuries, so why wouldn’t I do the same for my mental health? NOCD assigned me my therapist (Terra) and right away I started therapy.
Then all the work began. I never tried this type of therapy, called ERP, so when Terra told me I have to start looking and reading about stuff that I have been avoiding for a long time, this made me question everything that I knew about anxiety until that point. I would try to avoid these feelings and thoughts as much as I could. But now I had to purposely face them every day and write stories about them. Little by little and still with a lot of doubt in my mind I started to realize I’m way more resilient than I thought I was.
I feel like people living with this disorder are the most resilient, strong, and compassionate of people. That makes me happy and hopeful. The biggest lesson I have learned so far from this journey, and this is something I have to give all the credit to my therapist Terra for, is that I can truly deal with all these difficult emotions. I don’t have to run away, I never needed to run away. Ever since I was a little kid my relationship with fear and anxiety has been a huge part of my life and it’s going to be a part of my life forever and that’s okay. I understand it more now and I can look fear in the eye and be okay. Of course, it will never be perfect and I still avoid things but that’s part of it and I’m a continuous work in progress.
NOCD therapists can help you
If you're struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training.