We All Need Somebody to Lean On

I remember the moment I realized my mental illness was a joke.

On August 14th, 2011 I was in Door County, Wisconsin with a group of my high school friends. For those of you who are not familiar with Door County, think of it as the Hampton’s of the upper Midwest. Although I knew a lot of wealthier families who actually owned cabins and second homes up there, my friends and I would frequently just drive up for the day to walk along Lake Michigan and spend a day on the public beaches.

As we strolled along the narrow roads of a quaint, tourist town called Fish Creek, ducking in and out of shops, the three big letters “OCD” caught my eye on one of the giftshop’s shelves.

OCD Handsanitizer the bottle read. It had a white man with gray hair in a lab coat on the front label, almost making it look like a clinical product. Like all I needed to cure myself was an off-brand bottle of Purell.

I knew it was just a dinky souvenir shop, but seeing the disorder that actively made my brain a living hell for ten years just stamped on a gimmick to be someone’s white elephant gift in four months was awfully invalidating. I felt small, almost used in away. 

The idea that my mental illness was a joke to most people wasn’t a foregin concept to me, but there was something about physically seeing the punch line in front of my face after being diagnosed that sent a chill down my spine. And I remember one question ringing in my head for the rest of the day: “Did anyone actually care about people like me and whether we got better or not?”

The good news was: they did.

After I posted my last blog article about starting to recover from OCD, two readers reached out with similar requests:

(1)“Could you write an article about how to support someone with OCD?”

(2) “Could you wrote an article about how to support someone with HSAM?”

I am an expert in neither of these areas; however, living with both OCD and HSAM the least I can do is give you my perspective as the person who has needed someone to lean on and confide in.

I remember the first time I felt the shame of stigma surrounding mental health issues like OCD in that gift shop almost ten years ago, and since I have come to realize if mental disorders are constantly seen as a joke, the good people who are able and want to lend a helping hand will not think to because to them it isn’t serious, it isn’t real.

I would like to reiterate here that OCD is a mental health condition, while HSAM is ability. Supporting someone overcoming their OCD is going to be more about advocating for them to get help and supporting them through treatment, while HSAM is more of understanding our unique perspective and accepting how wild of a ride our lives can be having this rare ability.

So if you know someone with HSAM, stick around I will get to you next. But first if you love someone with OCD, here are some ways you may be able to support them:

Don’t Listen to the Stigmas and Stereotypes You Hear About OCD

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was a “neat freak” or if I clean all the time, I could retire from the workforce at this point, and I’m 25 years old.

Cleaning seems to be one of the only symptoms of OCD people are familiar with. Because it’s easy to spot? Maybe. But do you want to know the real reason I think it is the most talked about symptom? Because I think people perceive cleaning to be the symptom of OCD that is easiest to talk about. A lot of people can talk about someone’s obsessive need to clean their house, food, and body because they also do these activities but to a lesser degree. Cleaning doesn’t come off as harmful in anyway, so its not threatening.

But you know what is uncomfortable to talk about? Hoarding, intrusive thoughts, strange rituals, numbers that appear everywhere, something inside your brain telling you to do something “or else”, the endless need to check and recheck things.

Here is the problem when we restrict OCD to mean just cleaning: those of us who’s OCD does not rely heavily on a cleaning component are dismissed, even told at times we don’t have OCD. And when trying to overcome a mental illness, this can be very invalidating. Especially when trying to comply with treatment and someone says you cannot possibly have OCD because your room is a mess, disregarding its messy because of the hoarding tendencies that are just another less talked about part of your condition.

Even considering the cleaning component of OCD, for many of us it is less about being clean and more about a fear of contamination. I didn’t care if my room was a mess growing up-ask my mom-but I did care about what was in my food, who touched certain things I had to touch, and if I had to touch dirty objects.

My need for cleanliness probably doesn’t look how you thought it did, and if you listen to the stigmas we would never get past talking about hand washing or needing a picture hung on the wall to be perfectly straight and get to the real meat of OCD.

And you might be thinking, “Why does that matter?” Well, if we as a society adopt false information about mental health conditions as common knowledge, those who could refer someone to get care or even some clinicians themselves could overlook someone who needs help for OCD because their case doesn’t fit into the small box we created.

Help Us Destigmatize OCD

You know who has become a champion at this? Donna Pasternak, my mother.

Although in the beginning she struggled with the idea that I had clinical OCD due to the stigma, now she loves to tell me when she has the opportunity to be a stigma fighter and takes it.

“You know what someone said to me yesterday?” she will say to me over the phone, “They asked a woman next to us if she was super “OCD” about how things were arranged, and I turned to him and I said, ‘Excuse me, that is a mental illness. Do not talk about it like its a joke.’”

This always means the world to me, especially since in the beginning my parents knew little about the condition and were not sure how to think about it.

In college I worked in a research lab, in addition to Dr. Nielsen’s memory lab, that studied the stigma of mental illness. The research I helped conduct and read through for this lab made it clear that the stigma, or mark of shame, put on those with mental illnesses was a barrier to treatment for many individuals. People don’t want to be marked as “crazy”, “dangerous”, “psycho”, or any of the other cruel words we associate with mental health issues, so many avoid treatment to avoid the diagnosis and the label.

Had I bought into the stigma surrounding OCD, I would not be as mentally healthy as I am today, and probably even sicker than I was ten years ago.

To me when my mom shows up for me by calling when OCD is used as a joke, it is another way of her telling me she loves me. Telling me that my experience matters to her and she is not willing to dismiss it because it can be an uncomfortable topic. So next time you see OCD used as a joke or a casual way of saying “I like to clean things,” it would me a lot to me and possibly others with OCD if you took a second to educate them on what it really means to live with OCD.

Don’t Assume My OCD Looks Like Someone Else’s

Going off to college, I was determined to be open about living with OCD. I figured it would just be easier to be honest on the front end instead of having rituals around going to class and little pet peeves about my roommate that I felt had to be a secret. 

My freshman college roommate was very understanding of my condition, and so were a lot of the other girls on my residence hall floor. However, one of my floormates, Gertrude, who lived across the hall from me wasn’t quite as empathetic. One evening she walked into my room unannounced and gave me her two cents ,“You don’t actually have OCD, Markie. My cousin has OCD and she would never be able to walk barefoot in her room like you are right now,” she said as she looked at my bare feet I had just kicked my shower shoes off of.

Just because I don’t act exactly like someone else with OCD does not mean I do not live with it. That is not how mental illnesses work.

When people adopt the mindset my neighbor across the hall had, we risk not getting those who need help into treatment. What if I would have thought Gertrude was right? Taken her words to heart? I could have stopped treatment, told myself I was overreacting, and then where would I be? Certainly nowhere near as healthy as I am today, that’s for sure.

Although Gertrude’s comments did not defer me from going to therapy or taking medication, they did affect my actions for awhile:

One of my greatest faults is that I am a people pleaser. I have to actively push myself to not try to impress or please others when it isn’t productive or healthy for me because I naturally default to wanting to make people happy and comfortable, even at my own expense.

I have gotten better at this in many contexts, but back in 2012 living in Cobeen Hall as a freshman, I thought to myself, “What if people don’t believe I have OCD because I don’t act like it?” and even further than that, “Why can’t I embody the parts of OCD people actually like, such as being clean? Why am I a messy hoarder instead of polished and particular? Maybe people would like me more if I had the symptoms of OCD they wanted me to have?”

So what did I do being the people pleaser I can be? I tried to be cleaner, but to an obsessive point.

I wanted to be what people thought I should be in a really twisted way. But this got me nowhere, and it took a lot of time to be proud of what situations I could handle in regards to cleanliness and own which ones I could not.

But the thing is, they were my symptoms. Gertrude was not a doctor or my therapist, she had no place weighing in on the matter. So maybe instead of thinking, “I don’t think that person actually has OCD,” maybe take some extra time to educate yourself instead about all the different ways OCD can look.

Ask What is Unique About Our Own Recovery from OCD

If I share with you I live with OCD, it’s not always the most informed to ask things like, “Well what are you obsessed with?”

But a more appropriate question could be, “What does that look like in your everyday life?” That way I, or another person living with OCD, has the space to tell you what the inside of our brain is like and how it affects the way we operate in the world.

I would say something like, “I have trouble getting rid of things, but I work really hard at it. I can’t stand socks, I consider them contaminated, so don’t be asking me to do your laundry anytime soon. Noises like chewing sound and breathing sound ten times louder in my brain than what you hear in your head. I obsessively think about calendars, dates, and past memories. And if I notice something happening repeatedly, it is very tempting for my to turn into a ritual to try to control things I can’t.”

If you ask a friend or loved one of yours with OCD the same question, you may get a completely different answer. And that’s fine, they still live with OCD and will probably appreciate that you asked instead of assuming they just need to wash their hands all the time.

Try Not to Reinforce Our Rituals but Don’ Try to Stop Them if we Aren’t Ready

This is a tricky point that may look different for different people, but I wanted to bring it up anyway. 

When I was 13-years-old rituals dominated my life. I had over thirty, yes I said thirty, rituals a day I had to abide by because of my OCD (although at the time I did not know mental illness was the reason for this). These rituals ranged from wearing the same shirt every third Tuesday of the month to only being able to use computers at certain hours of the day. 

As an eighth grader, I had to take religious education through our church because I had switched to public school and apparently six years of Catholic school didn’t get me off the hook. A boy in my religion class, Bryce, who I also went to “regular school” with, told me in class one evening, “Markie, I saw your sister at Mass on Sunday. She’s so hot! Can you put in a good word for me?”

“I’m an only child, Bryce,” I replied with a flat expression.

“No you’re not,” he insisted, as if he knew my family structure better than I did, “I saw your sister and your parents at 11:00 AM Mass last weekend.”

“Bryce, that was me. Not my sister.” 

The rest of the class started to snicker.

“There’s no way! You weren’t even there. It was just your parents and your sister.”

“I don’t have a sister!”

I share this wonderful middle school memory of Bryce not wanting to admit he thought I was a pious, little smoke-show because he had a point: I did not look the same everywhere I went.

Part of my rituals were having outfits, hairstyles, and even make-up I could only wear certain places. Bryce was used to seeing my school look: straight hair, jeans and a shirt from American Eagle with a sweatshirt from a figure skating competition. Obviously his little eighth-grade heart was not prepared for the unintentional “Hannah Montana” I pulled when his family attended 11:00 AM Mass that Sunday. For the first time he saw “Sunday Church Markie” with perfectly curled hair, a pretty dress, and even some make-up, who apparently looked like an entirely different human being. 

Bryce’s story also makes another good point: I looked a lot different on the outside because of things that were going on inside.

And here’s the thing: very good therapy can help people who are struggling with OCD, like I was, be able to stop being a slave to their rituals. Therapists can help us challenge the rules inside of our heads in a safe and clinical space.

Therefore, it is not anyone else’s job to try to disrupt our rituals. By all means urge someone with OCD to get treatment and even challenge their rituals saying something like, “Why can’t you wear that dress to school and only to church?” Because then a broader conversation can be had, especially if the person is not in treatment already. This could be a chance for someone to share what it is like inside their head and you could be the person to refer them to therapy or another place to seek help.

But noticing they are acting differently or illogically and trying to outright stop them from completing their ritual is not your job. If someone tried to force me to wear my church clothes to school, you bet I would have probably just thrown the dress in the trash to get rid of it all together rather than risk breaking a rule.

So I think  pointing out the poor rational of rituals is fine and in some cases can be helpful, but it is a professional’s job to change our behavior. So please keep that boundary in mind.

Try to Be Mindful of Our Rituals

Anyone remember the band, The All American Rejects? I got to meet them at the Mall of America in the 7th grade, and I’m still pumped about it. But anyway, I had a ritual with one of their songs when I was in middle school. 

Remember how I told you all I had rituals around my friend Jenny who was suicidal? Well looking back to August 13th, 2007, I was on AOL instant messanger with her the first time she told me she was thinking about suicide. I remember not knowing what to make of the words across the screen, and almost coming to tears when she went on telling me about all the ways she had already tried to die.

In the background I had music playing, and it was the song, “It Ends Tonight” by The All American Rejects. After that day, I believed if I listened to that specific song, Jenny would attempt suicide.

Here was the other part of my rule, I couldn’t minimize the risk of myself hearing that song because that would be cheating the ritual. I couldn’t simply take the song off my ITunes library (Gen Z friends: ITunes is like Spotify but you had to actually buy each song) or avoid the radio. I had to give the song a chance to play. So believe me when I say putting my little, blue  IPod Nano on shuffle was risky. 

One day, I was in the car with my dad the radio DJ announced, “Next up is It Ends Tonight by The All American Rejects.” I dove so quickly for the radio dial you would have thought something was on fire as the lyrics sang:

Your subtleties, they strangle me. I can’t explain myself at all.

And all the wants, and all the needs. I don’t want to need at all.

The walls start breathing. My mind’s unweaving. Maybe it’s best you leave me alone.

A weight is lifted on this evening.

I give the final blow.

And because I was in the car with my dad and he wasn’t exactly a top 40’s music kind of guy, an urgent turn of the radio dial was fine. But what if I would have been to with my friends? What if  someone would have protested, “Hey, I love that song, turn it back on.” 

I’m not saying it is your responsibility to read our minds and know when something must be a ritual. But what I do challenge you to do is if you know someone with OCD, stop and think when you see them get anxious about something you think is small, “Could this mean something more to them than I know?” 

Keep in mind they may be completing a ritual to put out the flame of their anxiety. And again, feel free to question it, but turning the song back on if you were in the car with “8th Grade Markie” would have resulted in me fearing my friend was going to die that night— a larger impact than anyone could have imagined at the time.

Don’t Throw Our Stuff Away Without Our Consent 

If your friend with OCD is like how I was and has a knack for keeping things, please don’t surprise us by decluttering our space. You may think you did us a favor, but I cannot put into words the anxiety and even anger I have experienced realizing someone had gotten rid of my things. 

Bless my mother for putting up with my clutter for years. But when my hoarding tendencies first started she, like most moms would, she tried to declutter my bedroom for me. And as you know from hearing about my motives for keeping things, what my mom saw as cleaning- throwing away old tickets, planners and birthday cards from years ago- I saw as forgetting memories. My worst fear. 

Over the years my mom figured out how to deal with this part of my OCD, so I will tell you her method to save you some time:

One day when I was a senior in high school she bought some tote bins for me. She told me would could put my things I didn’t need to be right beside me in my room inside these totes instead. She promised not to throw anything inside the totes away or even move the totes themselves without telling me, the bins of my things would be in our basement available to me whenever I wanted them. This gave me so much comfort, and ended up being the perfect compromise.

Recycle Things That are Meaningful to Us

One of my favorite books growing up was about a little mouse named Crysthanamum. In the book, Crysthanamum had a favorite, yellow baby blanket she carried around with her everywhere. Casantramum’s neighbor kept telling her she needed to get rid of her blanket because she was too old to have a baby blanket and couldn’t take it to school. At the end of the story, the little mouse’s mom ends up cutting her blanket into little squares she can take to school as handkerchiefs. 

I am not saying this book was about a mouse with OCD, but what I am challenging you to do is think about what the person you love with OCD holds on to. Is it old mail? Planners? Stuffed animals? Books? And how could you (with their permission) recycle these things into something that is easier to store or could even be useful in everyday life? 

Maybe you take up scrapbooking with your friend who lives with OCD, maybe you could make them a fun little mailbox to keep old mail in so it is not cluttered around their bedroom or house? You could encourage them to donate their books to the local library and reassure them they will always have access to their books by helping them sign up for a library card. You may have to get creative here like my mom did:

Fun fact- I still have the first flower I ever got from a boy.

My first boyfriend, Thomas, gave me a rose for Valentines Day over nine years ago and it is still back up in Green Bay, Wisconsin on one of my shelves. And before you start picturing this, no I do not have a dead, rotting flower from one of my high school boyfriend’s on my bookshelf.

My mom knew back when I was fifteen, there was no way I would throw that flower away- too many emotions and memories were tied to it. She was also well aware that I would have a decomposing flower in my bedroom if she did t do something about it. So one day when I came home as a sophomore in high school, still dating Thomas, I saw my flower sitting on my nightstand but it has been turned into potpourri. This way I didn’t have to be embarrassed for keeping an old flower and she didn’t have to smell it.

Now in 2019, would I really care if my mom threw the potpourri away? No. I haven’t talked to Thomas in almost a decade. But it’s so funny how quickly that simple decoration of potpourri just became part of my bedroom. And now, ten years later, I don’t think of Thomas when see it sitting in my room when I am home for Christmas, I think of how much my mom loved me through my battle with OCD and tried her best to help me feel better.

Embrace Us for Who We Are- Quirks and All

Shoutout to my friends and family for this one: thank you all for embracing things like my love of the number 54 among everything else. Looking back, I don’t think a lot of people would have done that, especially not knowing I had OCD. You all could have just dismissed me as being really weird or even worse, made fun of me for my obsessions, fears, and compulsions. But you didn’t.

Instead my parents bought me jerseys for my favorite sports teams with the number 54 on it, like a Green Bay Packers Football and a Marquette Basketball jersey, for Christmas. One of my college boyfriends, Brogan, bought me the 52 Lists book for Christmas my senior year. This is literally a book that gives you prompts to make lists about once a week for a year. And he was so thoughtful about this gift that he stapled a “4” over the two and added two lists in the back for me.  You all didn’t question or spit at my enjoyment of seeing the number 54, instead you embraced it.

May 1st, 2010 was the Saturday of the Greater Green Bay Figure Skating Club’s annual ice show. The theme that year was “The 50 States”. Our ice shows, basically dance recitals at an ice rink, were usually organized with a theme and skaters were assigned to perform to different songs that fit the theme. We had themes like Disney, another was “As Seen on TV”, there was even one year that the theme was “Love and Cars (I still don’t understand why that was a theme). Anyway, 50 States was a relatively normal theme, and as I was now 16-years-old I go to do more duets and solos, mine specifically that year was to the musical Chicago for the state of Illinois. 

My friends from high school came to watch me and in true loyalty to our friendship, made a big sign with the number 54 on it that they would hold up when I skated, just like the one from the hockey game where 54 first started.

But don’t get me wrong, there were people who did think my whole 54 thing was pretty weird.

One of those people was Nelly, a girl I figure skated with. Nelly and I had been on the same synchronized figure skating team for years; however, one year she decided she was too good for our little, small town figure skating team and up and left to join a better team a few hours away. Once she moved, she had an air about her, thinking she was better than all of us who could only afford to skate in little old Green Bay. 

My friends from high school in the stands reported to me that they overheard Nelly, who still wanted to be in the Green Bay show despite her new rise in status, telling her friends, and I quote, “54 was a bad number because it’s Markie and Jenny’s number.”

This caused my high school friends to hold up their 54 sign as Nelly skated to her ever so prestigious program representing the state of Utah, during which she scowled (and sometimes fell) when she looked out into the crowd and saw 54 glaring right back at her. 

So embrace your loved ones with OCD’s quirks, back them up like my friends and family did. Of course, help get them treatment so not everything revolves around the number 54 or they feel as though they can’t touch a sock. But just show them that you care because to get through living life with OCD, they will need to know that.

HSAM

Alright, I know this may only apply to people who know the 60 people in the world with HSAM, so my audience for this part of the article isn’t a huge one.

Goodbye everyone else! 

However, there isn’t much out there on how to support someone with HSAM, so I’ll try my best to fill this gap in the market.

What I have found most common in interviews with different media outlets, whether its a segment on local news or an interview for a magazine, is journalists love asking me “what is the worst part about living with HSAM?” And I am honest with them, it was challenging to navigate a life with HSAM for awhile because there are not many resources for it.

But then I try to focus more on the positives of my memory because that is how I am choosing to live my life now. However, most journalists always go back to, “but it must be so painful to hold on to all those memories, right?” or “how do you ever let go of things?” Basically, the media seems to be interested in my suffering, what about my memory causes me deep distress because maybe that is what sells? But if any of you reading this know me personally– being a Debbie downer just isn’t usually my thing.

For every time I have been asked what the worst part of having HSAM is, you know what question I have never once been asked by a journalist? 

How can people support you or someone who has HSAM?

The conversation always seems to stop at my misery, when it should really continue into if HSAM can be hard to live with for some, how could you support the person as a parent, friend, sibling, etc. So if no media outlets will ask me that question, I’ll ask it to myself. Here are some tips:

Don’t Doubt Our Memories 

Before any of you get defensive or start thinking I’m pretentious, let me just say I respect that everyone has personal memories. I am not saying that if you remember something differently than your friend with HSAM you have to believe them. But please don’t get into an argument with us about it. I have learned to contain myself, for the most part, when someone is wrong. 

For example, I had lunch with the Dean of Student Affairs at a university I was interning at my second year of graduate school. She was originally from Kansas City and commented on how the Royals won the World Series on her son’s birthday, November 2nd. Well I didn’t want to break it to her over our lovely meal, but the Royals won the World Series on November 1st, 2015. I knew this because I was watching the game with Brogan, who was also from Kansas City and was a huge Royals fan. It’s hard to forget someone grabbing your arm, screaming, and shaking you every time the ball was thrown during the last inning. But I was not in the business of telling this woman she was wrong, why would I? It was her son’s birthday, I’m not that rude.

 So when talking to someone with HSAM, I encourage you to take a similar approach.

These dates are our most valuable possessions, those of us who have HSAM. How would you like it if someone walked up to you and told you your favorite sweater you thought was name brand looked like a knock-off? Did that really need to be said? No. Does it really matter in the end if you are discussing the past and you think something happened on January 28th and we think it happened on the 30th? No. And from weeding through my HSAM, I am able to admit this. But if your loved one has not, remember our memories are like your prized possessions that you hold so dear. Let us marvel at them in peace and come reminisce along with us if you would like.

Ask Us Some Questions About the Past

If you’re a very good singer, I bet you would be flattered if a friend asked you to sing at their wedding. Well, same goes for us. I love when my friends reach out with questions for a purpose. Only a few weeks ago, Jenny texted me because she was trying to find a specific DVD of herself skating, and amongst all the recordings she had she did not know which one her program from the Wizard of Oz would be on. 

“What year did I skate do my Scarecrow program at Skate Green Bay?” she asked.

I immediately answered 2007, and just like that she found the DVD.

“I knew you would know!” She replied. And believe it or not, that small text exchange made my day. 

This is our thing, we are good at this. If you need to know what day something happened on or what year an event occured in, we got you. Don’t be afraid to ask if we can make your life easier because using our talents to help others is fun, just like with any other talent.

Don’t Assume We have Negative Attributes You Think Would be Associated with HSAM

My roommate in graduate school, Katie, said to me one day after we had been living together for almost a year, “You know, after reading about your memory I wasn’t sure what living with you would be like,” keep in mind we had only met once before going to the same graduate program and becoming roommates, “But you are very forgiving for someone who can remember every day of their life.”

To this day, that statement remains one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me.

A lot of people assume someone like me would be notorious for holding grudges, and just like most other humans I have a few things that happened a long time ago that when brought up can make my blood boil. But for the most part I have learned to accept that people grow, change, and ultimately learn.

Even if I remember something someone did ten years ago that was not in the best of taste, I know that person has grown passed the point where they are frozen in my own memory.

Gertrude, the girl who walked into my dorm declaring I didn’t have OCD, won’t always be someone’s cynical college dorm room neighbor. She will go on to be someone’s favorite boss or the love of someone’s life. Nelly, the girl who did a skating program about Utah, won’t always be the uppity figure skater she was as a teenager, and eventually she did grow into someone else.

Why would I insist that these people are the same and hold a grudge when I remember very well how much I have grown and changed myself? Right now you are hearing my narrative, but it is very possible in someone else’s story I play the role of the annoying neighbor or snobby ice princess.

People change, grudges aren’t worth it, and I would like to think with the memory abilities we have other people with HSAM have come to realize this as well.

Take Our Memory into Account in Different Situations

Being mindful of people’s experiences and identities that make them who they are, I believe, is one of the most respectful things you can do. I try to do this as much as I can for my friends, but I’ll admit there are times I too slip up on this.

If you are friends with someone with HSAM, take their memory into account in different situations. Before you say something, think about how many times it may play over and over again in their head. Is it something they really need to hear? 

Before you invite them to a party to show people the cool thing your friend can do, consider how you would feel putting your deepest memories and thoughts on display. 

But also, on the flip side, consider how you would feel if someone had a friendship with you and just ignored your greatest talent.

I can’t sing (which you know very well if you have ever been in a car with me or next to me in church), but man if I could sing I would be pretty frustrated if no one ever asked me to show off my vocal chords. But for those of you who have been blessed with the voice of an angel, tell me this: would you feel more comfortable singing in the middle of a grocery store if someone asked to hear our singing voice or in a concert hall for a show you had been rehearsing for?

Or if you are someone who is bilingual, would you feel more comfortable speaking your second language to someone who can only speak your second language or on demand at bar when one of your friends says, “You can speak German, say something!”

It is a lot more comfortable for me to know I am going to be asked a few dates for a TV show or a research study, or even by some friends for fun rather than on demand in front of strangers. 

Back one summer when I was working at an art studio before graduate school, a person who had read an article about me in the newspaper spotted me while I was working, helping little kids put the correct glaze on their ceramic fish or whatever they chose to paint.

Suddenly a man behind me yelled, “What happened on April 12th, 2007”

I literally jumped and turned around not sure exactly what to do. Probably like someone would if they were in the same situation and they were a good singer. Imagine being at work and some person you don’t know just shouted, “Sing ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston for me!”

Just Listen, and We Will Listen to You Too

“Hey, I’ll be back in Milwaukee tomorrow. Can we get lunch?” I texted one of my best friends from college, Allison.

I was flying into Milwaukee from Seattle before driving back to Indiana to start the last year of my Master’s program. Allison was also starting the last year of her Master’s program but at Marquette. She still lived close to campus, so we met at the Qdoba we frequented as undergraduates for a quick lunch or after a long night.

“I know it sounds kind of silly,” I began, “But on my way home I started reliving that stupid break-up. I haven’t thought about it in like a year but now as I relive it day by day it seems so real again.”

“I was wondering when this was going to happen,” replied Allison, as if she knew me better than I knew myself– and a lot of the time she does– that is what best friends do.

So something I haven’t gone into too much yet is the reality of reliving things when you have HSAM. I think other people do this too, but it may just look a little different for us. For me, if I see a date and it brings back a memory with lots of emotions, I relive it right then and there, especially when I didn’t have the skills to stop my thoughts as well as I can now.

On my way back from Seattle back in 2017, I noticed I hadn’t talked to my most recent ex at the time in year, on that very day. This brought back a lot of old emotions, and to be honest I was really caught off guard at how hard it hit me that day.

So Allison allowed me to just sit and talk to her about something that happened almost two year ago as if it were yesterday.  She had heard these stories and my thoughts about them probably over a thousand times, but there she sat listening as if it were the first. 

We all need someone to listen sometimes, someone to lean on. For those of us with HSAM it might just be more about listening to things that happened a little bit longer ago, maybe that you already forgot about.

And I promise if you provide a listening ear, I (and most likely others with HSAM too) will provide one for you too– and even throw in a couple memories of times you did something really good, something important, something we will always remember about you. Because even if you don’t have HSAM or OCD, in the end we are all human and we all need love and support in order to thrive.

Me and Allison at a Milwaukee Brewers Game when I was visiting Wisconsin back in 2017.

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