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Chelsea Copeland / Red Dirt Report
It’s common to see my things organized like these coins. It’s a ritual to stack my change from the day in size and amount order.
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COWETA, Okla. -When I was 17, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would be added later. If it’s at all possible, I would say I was born with anxiety. I was always the scared child. I didn’t like being without my mom and didn’t like changes in my routine. I had the same breakfast and after school meal for twelve years. I was constantly afraid that I would be left at school one day.

Mental illness runs deep in my family. While I can only speculate about others, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with clinical depression and was prescribed one of the first legitimate antidepressants.

I am mentally ill. I am not crazy or a menace to society. I’m a functioning member of society. I work, I vote, I have a degree. I have no desire to hurt myself or someone else. The craziest thing you’ll probably see me do is squeeze myself into a cabinet to properly clean the inside.

This is a day in the life with my diagnoses at my most stable and fully functioning. I’ve had worse periods in my life. Bear in mind, everyone’s symptoms are different.

I wake up after a night of broken sleep. This can be as early as 5: 00 A.M. or as late 4:30 P.M. in the afternoon. My sleep schedule is always different. I have been a night owl for as long as I can remember. I remember the first time I stayed up all night was in kindergarten and I’ve had circles under my eyes ever since. Even in preschool, I was up late as my parents slept away, watching TV and raiding the pantry. In school, I would go to bed at midnight, sometimes pushing it to 1:00 A.M. in high school. In college, I would sometimes go to class without sleep due to self-induced insomnia. I love my naps and they only set me up for a sleepless night. Sleep plays a big part in these illnesses. Lack of sleep can negatively affect moods which only exacerbates the symptoms.

After I eat my breakfast (or lunch or dinner, whatever meal is being served when I wake up), I take my medication. I take a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It replaces the chemicals in my brain that it doesn’t make on its own. Medication has treated me well. It takes away a lot of my symptoms with very little side effects. It runs like a background program in my computer brain. Still, I have symptoms that I can largely ignore and use logic against.

My brain cycles through worry about my family. Is my stepdad depressed? Is he angry? Did I happen to do something wrong? Is my mom okay? I want her to be happy. Is she depressed? I need to call my grandpa. I need to go see him. I live within walking distance of him, but I fear and hate the silences in conversation. I feel like a bad granddaughter when conversation laps as though I don’t love him. What was that noise from the living room? What ungodly mess are my pets making on the brand-new carpet?

Because of my anxiety of failure and drive to be perfect, I apologize as though it will erase my mistakes from existence. I claim the mistakes of my loved ones as my own as though they were cash prizes. I’d rather be inconvenienced than someone else be.

Two comorbidities of my diagnoses are misophonia and dermatillomania. Misophonia is a hatred of sound. You know those ASMR videos that calm some people down? They make me want to punch a brick wall. Misophonia makes me inexplicably angry at noises; the sound of stepdad coughing, tongue clicking my mom makes when she’s thinking, chewing noises. I could go on.

I pick at my skin like I’m trying to create escape routes from my body. For me, dermatillomania, which is characterized by the repeated urge to pick at one's own skin, often to the extent that damage is caused, is about texture. I like the feel of broken skin. I’ve never noticed any anxiety or self-destruction correlations with this, only out of boredom, routine or desire to feel the texture. I remember when I was in middle school and I fell off my bike. I tore up my knee and it required regular cleaning. After school the day after, my grandma was changing my bandage and cleaning my wound. She left a glob of Neosporin on my calf that I noticed later. I kept myself from picking it off throughout grocery shopping with my mom so it would harden. I picked it off as she was returning the cart. 

Texture has always been a part of my world. I refused to wear anything with tight sleeves as a child. Today, I’m nervous about trying on jeans because they might be tight. I either love or hate certain foods because of their texture.

I have been able to turn these illnesses into strengths. Through my OCD and anxiety, I have saved my own and many other gluteus maximums with my contingency plans. I was the girl with plenty of bobby pins at graduation. Through my depression, I have been able to write the most honest and powerful stories.

However, there are websites like Tumblr romanticize mental illness, especially the ones I have. It’s seen as quirky.

“Oh how cute! She eats her Fruit Loops in rainbow order!”

When in real life, people eat their Fruit Loops that way or else they think something bad will happen.

The people who want a mental illness, are people who don’t have one. It boggles my addled mind, but maybe they think they can profit off of it. They could garner sympathy or have things done for them. Remember James Frey? He profited off his supposed mental illness of drug addiction only for his readers to find out it was heavily fictionalized.

I have an incredible and supportive family who will do anything for me, but I’ve still heard well-meant but ignorant comments from them, mostly due to generational differences- say what you will about my generation, we don’t suffer in silence. Regardless of their support, anxiety based mental illnesses are manipulative S.O.Bs. Because of mine, I wonder if all my family sees me as is an annoying hypochondriac who won’t leave them alone.

Here’s a list of things that have been said to me and a few of my friends with mental illness, what you’re really saying, and what to say instead.

“It’s all in your head!”

Just like asthma is just in your lungs.

We know we’re being illogical. By saying this, you’re diminishing the severity of mental illnesses and brushing it off. These are serious health conditions.

Instead say, “I’ll try to understand.”

“Just be happy!”

Stop growing tumors.

It’s a chemical imbalance. That’s like saying to change the chemical composition of soap just by thinking about it.

Instead say, “It’s okay to feel this way.”

“You have nothing to worry about or be sad for!”

We know. You’re not helping. We may have a nice life, but the illness is still there. It’s a bit like dust in your house. It’s just there. Once again, we know we’re being illogical.

Instead, try to be sympathetic.

“Other people have it worse off than you.”

We know and you’re not helping. You may have cut yourself off from being a safe space for that person in a time of need. They may never open up to you again. It makes us feel guilty and ashamed for having an illness that we have no control over. Also, you’re furthering the stigma of mental illness.

Instead say, “I know you’re going through a tough time.”

“Have you tried…. (yoga, meditation, teas)”

No amount of homeopathy will cure a mental illness. It may help to a degree but you don’t fight illnesses of any kind with just herbs and realigning your chakra. You need to see a doctor.

Instead, ask them how their current treatment plan is going.

“You’re just being lazy!”

It’s not that we don’t want to do something (like getting out of bed), it’s that we can’t. For whatever reason, we feel like that if we do the task or go somewhere, we’ll regret it. Sometimes, we have the mental strength to push ourselves and sometimes we don’t.

Instead say, “How can I help?”

In closing, I wanted to share a quote my first therapist gave me. I feel it completely encapsulates the anxiety disorder experience in one succinct paragraph.

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create -- so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” - Pearl S. Buck 

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About the Author

Chelsea Copeland

Chelsea Copeland is a native Oklahoman, born in Tulsa and raised in Coweta. She graduated from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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