When Anxiety is not just Anxiety
I've always been "anxious." Beginning early in childhood, I had intense fears that impacted my daily functioning. Fears that were attributed to me being a "sensitive" and "anxious" child with an "overactive imagination."
When I was 18, I lost three friends in a tragic car accident. On the heels of the trauma I became anorexic and began therapy focused on treating both the eating disorder and generalized anxiety. Though it took many years to recover from anorexia and later, bulimia, I did.
Yet, I was still struggling with what I thought was anxiety.
Years of psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapy with highly-trained, excellent therapists along with my own masters degree in psychology did not make much of a dent in my "anxiety." I sort of just accepted that being "highly anxious" was my baseline and I did my best to use practices like mindfulness to mitigate it.
Therapy did help and I was doing relatively well -in recovery from the eating disorder and managing my anxiety- until I had my first miscarriage. Finding out at my 10 week ultrasound that I had lost the pregnancy was devastating and catapulted my "anxiety" to a new high. My chronically hyper-aroused nervous system led to months of infertility during which I became increasingly fearful and developed many more "quirky" behaviors.
For the next several years, my "anxiety" manifested in many ways which caused significant distress and impacted my relationships, culminating in a relapse with an eating disorder. It wasn't until last year, when my younger son had an overt episode of, what at first seemed like, severe anxiety that I realized my "anxiety" was not really anxiety, and neither was his.
It was OCD.
As a society, the ubiquitous use of the term anxiety to describe any feeling of fear and worry has diluted its significance. Even amongst mental health professionals, there is a tendency to chalk a child's worries, fears and "quirky" and/or challenging behaviors up to generalized anxiety. In fact, anxiety is one of the three most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children, along with ADHD and depression.
But, anxiety is not always anxiety.
In this interview with child therapist and OCD and anxiety specialist, Natasha Daniels, I share more of my story and we talk about why OCD is often missed by therapists and what the repercussions are of treating OCD the way you would treat anxiety. If you have a child with anxiety, or you yourself have had anxiety which, in spite of therapy, hasn't improved much or you're a mental health professional like I was, who isn't educated about OCD,I hope you'll listen.
Living with undiagnosed and/or misdiagnosed OCD is extremely difficult and can be debilitating. Getting the proper diagnosis and the right treatment is absolutely life-changing, as you'll hear about in the interview.
It pains me to wonder about how many kids and adults out there have my same story. My hope in sharing it is that it might lead those who do to get the right treatment so they can experience life without the constraints of what feels like a mental prison.
OCD does not have to be a debilitating lifelong condition. When diagnosed and treated properly, you and your child can learn how to harness the benefits of OCD- heightened creativity, increased empathy, attention to detail to name a few- and lessen its disadvantages.
Please reach out if you have any questions or if you need additional support.
And please visit Natasha Daniels' incredible website for more resources on OCD and anxiety including several phenomenal online courses.