“Why did you glance over there? Were you trying to cheat? You are a cheater!” my mind shrieks.
Before a high-pressure exam, these falsehoods stampede through my mind like a bulldozing running back. And they are just as powerful.
My offense: glancing over at the neighboring test taker.
But reality doesn’t stop the incoming tsunami of intrusive, unwanted thoughts. “Maybe you are a cheater; maybe you were trying to get an unfair advantage,” my mind barks.
At this point, I am drenched in sweat; my hands dripping like a leaky faucet.
“Open your blue book; you have an hour and a half,” the exam proctor announces. With that, I gamely (attempt to) shift my focus from my mind’s chaotic musings to the exam at hand.
Welcome to OCD’s alternate reality. In this alternate universe, my mind blurts out more falsehoods than a well-oiled car salesman. And they are just as persuasive.
Yes, the distressing thoughts are distracting, aggravating, irritating–any negative characterization will suffice. And, yes, my mind has convicted me of more offenses than you can shake a pair of handcuffs at.
But having navigated law school, multiple Bar exams, and the working world, I am well-versed in my mind’s language — and torment. Thankfully, I have learned to manage the burdensome thoughts and overwhelming emotions.
While I can bemoan mental illness — and, believe me, it is tempting some days, the dreaded thoughts and throbbing anxiety have provided a platform. Even, dare I say it, an identity. I am a featured contributor for Psych Central, chronicling life’s unpredictability in pithy columns. With brutal honesty and savage humor (most of it directed at myself), my articles empower me and my inspiring readers.
Even more importantly, my self-help revelations have mainstreamed mental health conversations among my extended family. Playing mental health alphabet soup (OCD, ADD), my extended family and I now openly discuss mental health trials and tribulations. While my family may not fully grasp OCD’s depth or despair, their understanding has normalized these emotionally fraught conversations. And, to think, they once dismissed mental health concerns as “certifiable” or a “whack job.”
Mental illness — dare I say it — has enriched my life. And by helping others overcome their own harrowing struggles, mental health has ensured that I am not cheating — life, that is.