There are times that the struggle seems to be drowning me. I desperately grasp for air, while the violent waves pull me in deeper. Other times, I feel at the edge of the precipice, looking down. I’m not sure if I want to fall or just dangle my foot over the edge. I wonder why I don’t feel scared, I should right?
Despite this, I have realized that every day is a new blessing and a new challenge. My burdens are not the product of anything I have done to myself, rather than they are genetics and environmental influences. However, I can control the outlying behaviors that threaten to destroy my own person. Self-destructive behaviors are a way to cope, as they are a way to survive. I am tired of surviving, I want to live. Therefore, I must take a hold of my life, instead of allowing my disorders to control it. The hardest challenge of my life is the one within myself. This is for all those who are also struggling behind closed doors. This is for all those who are scared to face a diagnosis or do not want to be labeled as “crazy”. This is for those who share my heritage, being Mexican-American and having to deal with the same issues that plague our community. This is for all of you who feel alone and defeated. Finally, this is from me to you: a message to challenge the stigma of mental disorders, from one Latina to the community.
Part I: Hidden
I’m not exactly sure when it started, but it began as moments filled with intense fear, trembling, and feeling breathless. I would attempt to collect myself, but it felt like I was drowning. Eventually, I would retreat to a restroom and begin my ritual of picking my skin. I would get lost in the picking, scratching, and pulling. With each imperfection that was resolved, real or imagined, the feeling of calm and serenity would pour in. Getting lost in my picking, I felt no worries or time pass by. Hours could pass by, and I would still be picking my skin. I often did this in settings where I could disappear and reappear, with people wondering where I have gone. I often used constipation as an excuse, preferring the endless jokes that followed rather than having them know the truth.
In futile efforts to stop this behavior, I would avoid any type of reflection. The sight of myself was not only a trigger, but a constant remainder of my self-destructive behavior. The angry red patches of my skin that signaled inflammation and possible infection seemed to scream about my secret behaviors. Well-meaning people would ask why I had so many scars and even suggest treatments, family members would declare that my hygiene was poor enough to cause acne. Shopping for clothes with family always led to questions about the scars and picking marks that extended throughout my body. My mother had named my behaviors as tu cosa or your thing. I would often stop, but relapse soon after. My mother would claim that it was all in my head, she insisted I could stop if I wanted to. I would feel ashamed of my behaviors, and I often saw the clear skin of other girls, wondering what was inherently wrong with me. Porque insisto en destruirme poco a poco?
My thoughts became miserable and clouded, recurring images of violent scenarios continued to plague me. At one point, I didn’t know what was real. Most people like me suffer in silence, but I felt watched. After all, my face and body showed my struggle; everyone could see something was wrong. Then, one day after a stressful day at work, I decided to go to a psychiatrist. I am no stranger at their offices, but I deeply feared admitting to my ailments. I went into the psychiatrist offices, who was obviously invested in Egyptian Pharaohs and their mysteries. I recited the following list that consisted of: my impulses, my violent thoughts, and my other behaviors, while starring at a human-size statue of Anubis. The black lifeless statue seemed to stare at me, and the ordeal felt like a confession – una confesion de mis debilidades para los dioses. My voice broke and I started sobbing, I silently prayed against being committed – nunca lastimaria a nadien que no fuera yo. The psychiatrist kindly offered a tissue to dry my snot, and I told me calmly and simply “You do know that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, right?”.
I remember blinking and starring at him. I blurted my thoughts, “Isn’t OCD being a neat freak or washing your hands excessively?”
He looked at me and mildly chuckled while explaining, “OCD is composed of two different issues, the obsessions and the compulsions. Obsessions are the constant and uncontrollable thoughts, while the compulsions are need to repeat certain behaviors. You are describing compulsions resulting from obsessions. In your case, you have OCD and a related disorder called excoriation disorder or dermatillomania.”
My first thought after processing was a surprised “A la bestia, que pedo conmigo.” The psychiatrist continued explaining more about my case, and how he planned to treat it, “OCD is a difficult thing to treat, since it requires higher dosages of medication in order to stop the behaviors that trigger the cycles of obsessions and compulsions.” That day I left his clinic with several prescriptions which I would later dub the breakfast of champs. Jokes aside, I felt hope about the treatment and I was ready to start.