Resilience, Recovery, and Hope
My name is Ryan and I would like to share my story of resilience, recovery and hope. As an individual who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, ADHD and Tourette’s, my life has been quite the roller-coaster ride of emotions.
I have been told I was a giggly, happy-go-lucky toddler. I was able to read at the age of two, and I have always loved learning new information. In kindergarten, my teacher did not know what to do with me since I could already read, write and perform simple math calculations. I was tested for my ability level and was permitted to attend a second grade English class in the afternoon after attending kindergarten each morning. The following year I was accelerated to second grade and entered the gifted education program. While showing signs of depression, I was diagnosed with dysthymia and later Tourette’s along with ADHD. Fast forward a couple of years, and I was blessed with a fourth diagnosis: OCD. It is difficult to assess for mental disorders when you are also gifted because the giftedness can mask the symptoms of psychological disorders.
The majority of my K-12 years are a blur to me. I believe my mind has developed a defense mechanism that keeps me from remembering a large part of my childhood experiences because they are too painful to relive. Concentrating on doing homework became nearly impossible due to the amount of tics that would occur. Tics are a part of Tourette’s, and are defined as involuntary muscular or vocal movements that you can’t control. Eye rolling, blinking, jumping jacks and wrist flicking were a few of the tics that not only annoyed me, but also annoyed authority figures and peers at school, who couldn’t understand why I was doing these things.
I was involved in a few school activities, and played sports in during my elementary school days, as well participated in Boy Scouts. I eventually earned my Eagle Scout rank. I have been playing the piano since I was four years old, and was involved with choirs in junior high and high school, so music has always been a way for me to express myself. In high school, I made a couple of close friends I enjoyed hanging out with, but I was mostly a loner. In terms of my disabilities, I saw around 15 different therapists and providers, and tried a number of different medications, in addition to trying pragmatic speech therapy and occupational therapy.
After graduating high school and receiving a few college scholarships, I attended a university in a neighboring state for one semester. Over the course of that semester, I experienced what might be called a mental crisis. I stopped going to classes, stopped eating regularly, stopped taking my prescribed medications, cut off contact with my parents and only slept and browsed the Internet. I had become extremely depressed due to loneliness and contemporary political events, and feeling like college life was not meeting my personal expectations. I became obsessed with completing my own personal “downward spiral,” which might have eventually ended in suicide had it not been for my parents intervening.
Since that crisis point, I have been learning to heal through a variety of different methods. Therapy, medication, my small network of friends, my family, and an overall change in my mindset all contribute to my well-being. I have earned my bachelor’s degree in media production, and although I have held a couple of part-time jobs, I continue to search for steady full-time employment.
Therapy had been a great way for me to share my thoughts and emotions with someone I trust. In many ways, having a reliable, understanding therapist made all the difference in the world. My therapist and I would assess different areas of my life where I might want to improve: organization, time management, maintaining relationships, balancing work and social life, etc. We would discuss goal-setting and how to deal with obsessive thoughts in a productive manner. My therapist has moved on to a different position, and I have decided to take some time off from therapy and spread my wings to use what I have learned. I would love to have a peer specialist who gets what I’ve been through, and can also support me in ways that my therapist, family and friends can’t. This currently isn’t feasible since I have private insurance and in the state in which I reside, peer specialist services can only be accessed through Medicaid. However, I don’t know what I would do without the health insurance I have; I worry sometimes about health insurance in my near future.
Prescribed medication can get a bad rap, but I find that it helps me focus and get through my day without having an episode. My family and friends are all very supportive, and without them, I would not be where I am today. When I am working, I also do and feel better because too much idle time is not good for my OCD thoughts.
More so than is typical, transitioning to adulthood while dealing with mental illness has come with many challenges. I want the responsibilities of being an adult, like living on my own and pursuing my dreams, but sometimes I become frustrated by what I perceive as a lack of understanding by others. For example, I wish my high school counselor and career counselor had been able to advise me toward colleges that provided comprehensive disability accommodations. I wish colleges themselves would have been more understanding and put programs and services in place for students that have mental challenges. On top of education, looking for work can be tough considering I need to determine at what point I should share some of my life’s challenges with my employer.
There was a specific time during and after high school where I wanted so badly to escape from my own skin that I believed the fantasies in my head were a part of reality. Paranoia and fear seemed like a constant shadow, following me everywhere, because I believed the world was slowly coming to an end in some fashion. Feelings of ridicule and abandonment were constant because I had experienced so much bullying and depression regarding my disabilities in years prior. This potpourri of thoughts and feelings led me to eventually experience the episode during my first semester of college that almost ended me. Pulling myself back from that brink was the first step towards recovery.
My past struggles and triumphs have taught me a number of lessons, the primary one being: To be open to all of life’s experiences, both its ups and downs. This is the only way to achieve the goals I have set for myself. I have long had dreams of being a full-time musician, as well as a film director. I graduated last year with a B.A. in Communications with an Emphasis in Media Production and a Certificate in Digital Cinema from Boise State University, which is a great accomplishment and a large reason to feel good about how far I have come. That is one of life’s “ups”. Recently, I was diagnosed with diabetes (one of my mood medications was a major contributing factor) and this is another one of life’s “downs” which with I must now contend.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes back into you.” I have come a long way since my darkest days. I can now stare at the abyss, and even if the abyss stares back, I can acknowledge it, turn … and walk the other way.
Thank you Ryan for sharing your life with the TCOM community. Your willingness to share your story helps others know that they are not alone. There is a large community of people here to support everyone through their own journeys.
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Stay tuned next week for a post from Ryan’s mom as she shares her experiences!