The Maze Within My Own Mind

As I wrote this, I had the thought, "Who am I to write a self help novel when I, too, struggle with mental health?" I wonder, who am I to preach mental health when I, too, have and continue to struggle with finding the light among the darkness?

Perhaps I can share some of my journeys through The Maze of my own mind in hopes to help others who have or are currently struggling with their own mental health.

I am 24 years old, going on 25, and to be honest, for being so young, I can genuinely say that I have been through a lot of shit in my life.

Now, I don’t say this to place myself at the head of the victim table. I don’t claim to be a victim, as I believe everyone has a story and the things that we experience during this human life are all apart of our own unique, individual journeys. We all have been through some sort of shit. However, I say this with honest truth.

I am grateful to have gathered so much experience within my short time here on Earth thus far to be able to be the strong woman I am today. All the “shit”, trauma, heavy experiences I have been through have taught me valuable lessons in order to grow into who I am today, as well as help me peel back the layers that are covering my Pearlized Spirit even further. These events are a guide to helping me remember who I truly am. While I disclose some dark traumas I have experienced, I do not share them all, for there are many things I have experienced in my life that I do not feel comfortable sharing. So, for the sake of this blog, I will discuss only some of the traumas that I have experienced and keep the rest to myself.

When one is deep in the trenches of darkness, one may feel like they’ll never step foot into the light ever again. And as I write this, I am that person, maybe like you, maybe like someone you know or don’t know, who is looking for that light yet again.

I have experienced depression multiple times in my life. The first time I experienced depression started in 5th grade and lasted until freshman year of high school. 8th grade was the hardest, though. That year was the first year I contemplated suicide. I was heavily bullied every day in person at school, outside of school, and online for my weight. I was constantly being told I was too skinny, that I needed to eat more, that I was anorexic, that I was an infected toothpick (infected because I had staph infection at the time), and so much more. I began eating excessive amounts of food with the intention to gain weight. Yet, I never could. My metabolism was too fast. Looking back, this doesn’t seem like that big of a trauma for me considering all the other things I have been through. However, rather than comparing traumas, it was the first time I fell victim to The Maze of my own mind, lost in depression, and consumed with suicidal thoughts.

After a while, I found my way out and back to the light. Years passed until I found myself at the age of 17. It was then I began to experience very intense health issues that impacted my daily life to the extreme. I fainted for the first time in science class, the last day of school before summer vacation, and to make it even better, the teacher caught me in front of the entire class. After I graduated a year later, my health began to rapidly decline even more. I was fainting randomly, I could not eat anything except for smoothies and soups (blessed for these liquids for I probably would not be alive today without them), and nausea became my “new normal”.

I started to wake up daily feeing sick to my stomach. I began throwing up unwillingly every single day, sometimes 10-20+ times a day. As you can imagine, my weight began to decline even more. I was already tiny, I mean, you’re reading the words from an infected toothpick here! While throwing up became my go to, so did my hospital visits. I practically lived at the hospital. I was admitted about once a week for months, receiving dozens of blood tests, brain scans, ultrasounds, you name it. I even tried so many different diets to see if it was something I was eating, yet the doctors found nothing. I was prescribed to 4 different types of medications, none of which helped. To make the story even better, every doctor I saw did not understand what was wrong. The tests were coming back fine, so I should be fine, right?

Wrong. I knew something was not right.

I remember one doctor asking me if I had anorexia nervosa. This question punctured me deeply, because one of my worst fears at that time was to be referred to as anorexic. And I do not say that to put down someone who struggles with this eating disorder, because this eating disorder is by far one of the hardest things to face. I salute those who are fighting this battle. However, because I felt so insecure already about my weight and “being too skinny,” being referred to as anorexic ignited my insecurity even more. This doctor did not understand how badly I hungered, how I wanted to eat more than anything, yet I physically could not. My body would not allow it. My stomach refused to be fed.

I spiraled deeper into depression with unanswered questions regarding the reason to my constant purging. I lost so much weight that I finally hit 105Ibs., and when you’re someone that is 5’8”, let me tell you, this is a weight you don’t want to reach. I felt hopeless, I mean shit, even doctors couldn’t help me.

After about 2 years of this constant cycle of throwing up and excessive weight loss (which ironically did end up turning into anorexia [WHICH IS DIFFERENT THAN ANOREXIA NERVOSA), this constant feeling of sickness, this constant feeling like I was literally going to die because I grew so ill, and this constant feeling of WANTING to die because I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life like that, finally received meaning. I finally received the proper diagnosis that I needed in order to receive the proper treatment.

ARFID Eating Disorder.

ARFID stands for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. However, to make the story even more interesting, my case of ARFID was highly different than the average person who struggles with it. People with ARFID many times struggle with textures of food, the taste of food, and accepting all sorts of food. People with ARFID also many times carry a deep rooted fear of throwing up and or choking, hence, they will avoid eating all together in order to not experience such fears. ARFID, an already uncommon eating disorder compared to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge, is considered to be the “picky eaters” of the eating disorder spectrum. However, with my case of ARFID, I threw up all the time. I couldn’t stop. I never struggled with the thought that I was overweight, and I never threw up with the intention that I needed to lose weight. In fact, quite the opposite. I wanted to gain weight more than anything. Rather, I naturally woke up for years with my stomach in knots, which led me to purge every single day. But why did I wake up feeling so sick naturally?

I have an overactive connection between my brain and my gut. So whenever I experience stress, anxiety, anger, sadness, nervousness, guilt, just about any emotion that makes my blood pressure physically rise, the connection between my brain and my gut will physically constrict and tighten, which ultimately results in nausea.

It took years to get this diagnosis, and even when I received it, despite being extremely happy and relieved that there was a name for what I was experiencing, it did not solve my problem.

I began eating disorder treatment. My treatment involved seeing an eating disorder therapist and an eating disorder dietitian. I saw them often, and after about a year, I started to get ahold of my stomach issues. Yet, this is when it starts to get even more interesting.

Before, I threw up because I had to. While in treatment, I realized that as I started to throw up less and less, I began to crave it.

My body became so used to purging that it became my go to. Throwing up felt comfortable, and throwing up felt like the only thing I had control over at that time, (although many days, this sense of control was absent). But in recovery, it felt within my control. It felt good, actually, it felt great to throw up. The feeling of bile slithering up my throat became exhilarating. The feeling of my stomach tightening and convulsing became literally mouth watering. Just like a drug addict, I became reliant on the feeling of throwing up because it released a level of endorphins every time I did it. Purging became a drug to me, and I couldn’t stop. I wanted to throw up, it just felt too good to stop.

I went to see my ED therapist one day and told him that because I wasn’t purging as much as I was, I was starting to crave it. I mentioned to him that I believed I became addicted, and his response was, “The correct term is obsessed.”

Obsessed? How could that be when I physically craved it? Wasn’t that addiction? I was confused, but I took his word.

I didn’t want to ~make~ myself throw up, so I used alternative motives so I didn’t need to blame myself. I would brush my tongue after brushing my teeth, so much so that I would intentionally try to gag myself in order to get a hit of my drug. I would be lying to you if I said I still don’t do this. I became desensitized to the toilet, in fact I developed a super power that allows me to simply look at a toilet and the sight itself can trigger my nausea (if I want it to). I loved it, and with this, I didn’t need to blame myself. My body just “did it” without my consent, (at least that’s what I try to convince myself of).

Overtime, as I continued with my treatment, my cravings grew less and less. I kind of missed it, to be honest, because on a subconscious level, it felt so comfortable to me that living life any other way felt terrifying. Yet, even after treatment, although I had gained an incredible sense of awareness on the connection between my brain and my gut, my stomach would still become triggered at the most random times. One time, I flew to Norway with my man and threw up about 13 times on the plane ride there alone. Even when we landed and we were doing the whole tourist thing, I would have to stop and find the nearest bush before I would projectile in front of everyone in public. This happened, (and still happens) way more often than you could imagine.

Now, back to the story. In 2018, while I was still in treatment, my father passed away unexpectedly at the age of 43. He had a heart attack in his sleep. I grew distracted from my need to purge, (even though I still did it almost daily and especially from the stress when my father passed), however it wasn’t the first thing on my mind anymore. My dad was. Yet, something many people don’t know is what happened after my dad transitioned.

I had no idea there was a life insurance with my name listed as the beneficiary. It was a small amount, but it was still something. I was the only child, so my father gifted it to me. Let me tell you, if you’ve never experienced a loss, let alone someone extremely close to you, death brings out the absolute worst in people. Death is by far one of the hardest things a human can be left to face, especially to someone you love so, so dearly.

My step mother at the time ended up suing me for the life insurance. She convinced me that she was supposed to be on it, even after only 3 years of their marriage. I believed her, and at that time, I felt the need to help her and everyone else around me in regards to my dad’s passing, except for myself.

She manipulated me daily. She told me how disgusting my dad was, how disgusting I am, and how disappointed my dad would be in me for even questioning the absence of her name on the beneficiary form. She blocked me from his social media so I couldn’t even look at his own words he typed. She took the money I raised for his medical bills from me for her own personal use. She accused me of stealing from her. To keep it lightly, she severely mentally abused me daily, and it is still something I have a hard time looking back on considering how dark of a time it was. It took 6 months to receive his autopsy, and until then, the life insurance would not be disclosed until we had an answer. It finally came back as undiagnosed coronary artery disease.

I won the life insurance, by the way.

However, for those 6 months, I never had the chance to focus on my loss. I was too busy picking up the pieces for everyone else around me effected by his loss. I was too focused on the war between my step mom and I that I could not stop and sit with the fact that my dad had passed away without me even saying goodbye.

Now, fast forward to this year of 2021. For the first few days of the year, everything was great. That was until January 4th.

January 4th of 2021, I woke up never the same. Out of nowhere, I was flooded with anxiety, fear, doubt, guilt, so much so that I couldn’t even recognize myself. I wasn’t Alex anymore. I was someone else. Something else.

Depression came crashing down on me once again. In fact, compared to all of my other seasons of depression I had faced thus far, this one felt different. This one felt harder. This one was the scariest of them all.

I had no idea at the time what was happening. I was flooded with intrusive thoughts every minute of the day, replaying like a broken record. I began to self harm, and I felt determined to end my life. I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I lived in a constant fight or flight mode. I couldn’t take another season of depression, let alone a season that felt so different than I ever experienced before.

I was in and out of therapies, seeing multiple different doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, coaches, healers, etc. I have spent probably close to $10k this year alone on seeking professional help. Until finally, I got the answer I wasn’t looking for.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I was diagnosed with severe OCD by 1 psychiatrist and 2 different OCD specialists in May of 2021. To be honest, I had zero idea what OCD actually was until my diagnosis. I didn’t even know what it stood for, let alone that it is far from what society has made it out to be.

I, too, believed OCD meant someone was obsessed with washing their hands, afraid of germs, and had to check things over and over and over and over again.

And yes, while these are common OCD themes, OCD is far more complex and most certainly is not limited to these themes. Other themes of OCD are False Memory OCD, Real Event OCD, Harm OCD, Contamination OCD, Existential OCD, Relationship OCD, Scrupulosity OCD, Somatic OCD, Pedophilia OCD, Sexual Orientation OCD, "Just Right" OCD, Suicidal OCD, Magical Thinking OCD, Pure-O, and so much more.

OCD can literally latch on to ANYTHING.

I do not wish to disclose my current OCD themes, for it is something I still have trouble accepting, let alone sharing with the world. And while I am currently going through the recovery journey of OCD, I can honestly say that it is by far the most debilitating thing I have ever experienced. To be honest, I’d rather be back in the hospital throwing up unwillingly 10-20+ times a day than deal with this mental war.

As humans, we all have intrusive thoughts, yet the average person is able to notice that thought, not make a big deal out of it, and let it pass. However, those who suffer with OCD, they simply cannot just “let it go”.

OCD latches onto the things we care about the most. It becomes obsessed with our greatest fears, to the point that these intrusive thoughts become stuck in a persons mind. For those with more mild OCD, it can take up about an hour of their day, (which is actually quite a lot of time). However, for someone diagnosed with severe OCD, like myself, it starts from the moment they wake up until the moment they put their head on their pillow at night, constantly going throughout the day.

As humans, we all experience about 70,000 thoughts per day. However, someone with OCD may experience the same intrusive thoughts thousands and thousands of times a day.

Imagine constantly thinking of something you fear every moment of your life, without being able to control it.

While it is true we can control our actions and our attitudes, we cannot control the thoughts that come into the mind. Thoughts are simply just thoughts, however it is the emotion that is placed on the thoughts by the individual that give the thoughts power to control us. It is the belief in these thoughts that render them to be true. And this goes for anyone, even those without OCD.

I have never experienced such a crippling disorder before, however, after receiving my diagnosis, I realize now that it is something I have suffered from since I was in middle school. My themes back then were severe, yet I never said anything to anyone because I figured that’s just what my brain did. I figured it was normal to think and perform compulsions the way I did. I didn’t question it. It was normal to me.

Until this year, it became so bad that I had to seek help or else I was going to kill myself.

Obsessive compulsion disorder is something I never thought I would experience. In fact, it is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. And because so many people are unaware of it, even many professionals in the medical field, it is a very hard disorder to treat.

OCD makes you literally want to blow your brains out. I know that’s graphic and intense, but only those who have or are experiencing OCD know exactly what I am talking about.

The day I typed this blog on my notes in my phone, I had one of the biggest breakdowns I have ever had in my life. I was screaming and crying out loud in my car like a child throwing a tantrum. I never let myself get like that, but that day, it had to come out. I threw up 5 times while in my tantrum, because you know, can’t forget the eating disorder!

This breakdown was needed, and as I continue along my journey to recovery, I give myself thanks for honoring my body for all that it needs to feel.

I feel exhausted. I feel ashamed. I feel angry. I feel sad. I feel anxious. I feel fear. I feel so guilty. And I feel, at times, like giving up.

But I’m not giving up, because I know it is not my truth. I am not OCD, and this label does not define my true essence.

The random moments of peace and clarity I feel is what keeps me going. Although there hasn’t been many this year, there has been enough along recovery to keep me fighting the fight against my own brain.

Relapses in OCD recovery are brutal. The moment you feel yourself getting better, OCD steps in and says, “Nah bitch, not today.” It can feel like 10 steps backwards. When I notice myself free of anxiety, I question myself. Safety doesn’t feel safe. On a subconscious level, fear feels safe instead.

Now, this post is not written with the intention for others to feel sorry for me. I did not write this to share a sob story because my story has only made me stronger.

This post is written as a form of expression, as a way to connect with others who are lost in The Maze of their own mind, too.

You. Are. Not. Alone. Even if you feel like it.

Anxiety, believe it or not, is actually a gift. It is a message that we need to hear in order to dig up the roots of where the anxiety/trauma is stemming from. Depending on ones perception of their anxiety, it can either make or break you. In many cases, it will break you, and then it will make you, if one is willing to do the dirty, inner work. Alchemizing the darkness into light is one hell of a journey. However, I have hope. I have faced many trials and tribulations before this, and I refuse to let this season determine my life.

In order to heal, one must be willing to do the work. Nobody will do it for you. And the work resides within, and only within.

While I am sad this year has impacted me the way it has, I am also grateful, for it has forced me to see other parts of myself, other traumas, other shadows, that I have never faced or felt before.

This experience I am currently facing is forcing me to peel back the layers from myself in order for me to remember who I truly am.

And that’s where the awakening lies. That’s where the truth stands.

So maybe I am not the most credible person to be preaching self help, let alone write an entire novel interlaced in self help. However, I am so passionate about the mind, that I am doing it anyways. I have been in the pits of darkness, lost in The Maze of my own mind, and I strive to help others along their journeys, too.

Do not give up. Keep the hope. Have faith that there is a higher consciousness that is supporting you every step of the way. Embrace the uncertainty, for the need for certainty will only destroy you bit by bit.

I got this. We got this.

I truly pray and send love to anyone who is struggling with depression. You are so fucking strong to be doing the inner work, and you are beyond courageous to take matters into your own hands.

You are wise enough to realize that nothing outside of you will ever determine your level of happiness.

Only within will you find what you are looking for.

From my heart to yours,

Alexandra Russell

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