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Finding the Good in Mental Health Struggles

Written by Jackie Gerbus


I can vividly remember the moment that marked the division between my life before obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and after. I was in 7th grade when the unwanted thoughts and accompanying anxiety began—each day progressively becoming more of a struggle.


Homework was taking me hours each night, because I felt compelled to re-read everything multiple times in fear that I didn’t understand the content “good enough.” I washed my hands incessantly, always thinking I touched something that was going to get me sick. Everything in my room had to be in its right order—and if anyone moved something out of place, it was a catastrophe. Worst of all, intrusive thoughts bombarded me 24/7—each one causing me anxiety, fear and distress. And I had no escape.

 

It went on this way for a few years, as I, nor my parents, had a clue what was causing these symptoms. My mom—a true saint—would listen to my “bad thoughts” all day, every day and reassure me that they weren’t real. Deep down, I, too, knew these automatic thoughts were irrational, but the extreme levels of anxiety made them “feel” legitimate.

 

Eventually, I was at the point where I could barely function—and then a miracle happened. We were referred to a world-renowned psychologist based in New York City. We jumped in the car for an initial assessment, and it took him only a few minutes to determine a diagnosis—OCD.

 

While it was a relief to have an answer on what I was struggling with, I also faced a new hurdle: OCD is incurable. It can be managed, but it will never completely go away. I was defeated, and I was angry.

 

My psychologist gave me a glimmer of hope, though, when he told me that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly effective treatment that helps minimize the symptoms of OCD. But he also warned that the journey wouldn’t be easy; I’d have to walk through an inferno of terror to get to the other side. But wasn’t I there already anyway?

 

I realized I had a choice: I could continue letting the OCD beat me down or I could fight to take back my life. I decided to fight.

 

I started weekly sessions with my psychologist and dove headfirst into CBT treatment, which is all about purposely exposing yourself to unwanted thoughts, rather than running from them, and then making disciplined choices independent of thoughts and emotions to:

 

  • Dispend all efforts to try and get an answer to the questions the thoughts are posing (accept the uncertainty)

  • “Accept the risk” the unwanted thoughts are threatening without seeking relief

  • Take a leap of faith to challenge the thoughts and anxiety without having proof that the danger is not real

 

The ultimate goal is to achieve resilience in the face of the internal storm happening inside you. It’s important to note that resilience doesn’t mean feeling better (which took me a long time to accept). Rather, it means continually making an unjustified choice to treat the thoughts as illegitimate and irrelevant, and then go about your day.

 

I made the principles of CBT a staple in my life. I didn’t see results overnight; it took years, in fact. But I fought to take back control of my life, and I’m proud to say that I was successful. This doesn’t mean I’m not challenged anymore—completely the opposite. I still get many unwanted thoughts every day. But, thanks to my psychologist, who I am forever grateful for, I have the tools to manage the OCD now. And I refuse to let it beat me.

 

Becoming a Stronger Person

I used to view my experience with OCD only in a negative light. But as I’ve gotten older, my perspective has changed. It may have taken me a while to realize, but my trials and tribulations with OCD, along with my journey figuring out how to manage it, made me the person—and professional—I am today. I learned many life lessons far earlier than most people. And I gained myriad qualities that I apply to my life and my job, including:

 

  1. Diligence. Results don’t come for free. To achieve my goals, personally and professionally, I put in the hard work—no matter how tough the task or how long it takes.

  2. Attention to detail. Whether it’s keeping track of my four kids’ sports schedules, delivering client-ready content or turning over every stone in the quest to secure coverage, I pay attention to every little detail to ensure nothing slips through the cracks and to ensure quality results—all the time.

  3. Determination. Not everything in life comes easy. There are hurdles, but I know with persistence and hard work I can overcome them. I don’t quit, and I don’t back down. Take securing tier-one business coverage, for example. This typically doesn’t happen in a day. More often than not, it’s a long and occasionally bumpy road that can deter many people along the way. Determination and dedication is required to stay the course until you reach your final destination—and I got that!

  4. Confidence. I believe in myself. I know what I’m capable of doing. And I’m not afraid to offer my opinion and stand by my beliefs. In the PR world, this can be very beneficial. It’s not always easy to offer your opinion to a client—but no one wants a “yes” person on their team. Clients value your expertise and experience—give it to them!

 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and though it’s not easy to be this transparent, I wanted to share my story in the hopes that even one person may benefit. Mental health struggles don’t have to take you down; they can actually make you a stronger person—one that can take on the world.

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