In October, 2006 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder with panic attacks and depersonalization. At the time, I was actively pursuing a career in music, performing, and recording throughout South Florida. I had experienced an intense anxiety episode for the first time just days prior to seeing the psychiatrist who would give me those labels that I wore for many years. During that episode, I felt helpless, out-of-touch with myself and my surroundings, and terrified that I was losing control and might accidentally do something I couldn’t take back. The panic attack came on strong. I pulled over at a train station, locked my car doors, and I frantically called my parents, asking them to come save me. The next several weeks were spent in constant fear, stuck in my house, as I waited for my new medication, Celexa, to kick in and relieve my pain.
I returned to my normal life, eventually weaning off medication in 2011, as I began to write, record, and perform music again. Constantly “on my grind”, I worked feverishly day and night to accomplish my dreams. And then, one fateful afternoon in August, 2013, I found myself right back in 2006. The train station was now an emergency room, anxiety had taken the mimicked form of a heart attack, and once again I felt helpless and debilitated. Handed Celexa once more, I reluctantly swallowed the little pink pill that could deliver relief. Only this time, it had the opposite effect. After a week of severe anxiety exactly four hours after taking the medication, I decided to stop abusing my system. I would like to note that, as I stated earlier, medication did wonders for me. The decision to not continue taking it was made from my heart, not from pessimism about what had been my saving grace for many years.
To find relief and return to life as I knew it, I tried everything under the sun, except recreational drugs or alcohol. Exercises, video games, hobbies such as ping pong or magic, all helped when I was engaged, but nothing could take away the panic I felt the moment I would open my eyes in the morning. I wish I could tell you exactly how the next part happened, but all I can remember is I found myself seated in my studio, headphones on, listening to a meditation recording. I had tried meditation before, but felt it only intensified the symptoms. However, with nowhere else to turn, I decided I couldn’t get any worse and would just push through whatever arose. So I sat, eyes closed, and repeated the mantra for roughly twenty minutes. When the soft tone of the bell rung, I opened my eyes to a new experience: relaxation. The following two and a half years were spent diving head first into mindfulness, a skill we all possess but rarely use to befriend our emotions, thoughts, or sensations. What I found is that all roads pointed towards one simple lesson: open your heart and accept what you are internally experiencing as it is, without judgment, because we are built to do so anyway.
Daily, I practice this skill of mindfulness. Every moment I can, I turn to my internal sensations and thoughts and remind myself that, “I can experience this too; this is safe.” What I’ve learned is that fear, out of context, is really love misguided; an attempt to keep us safe but often just keeps us isolated and more afraid. I’ve learned that we are much more powerful and fluid than we give ourselves credit for, as we are ever-changing and somehow remain the same wonderful presence of life, unstained and fresh in each moment. I’ve learned that the only limits we have are the limits we place on ourselves. Once I remind myself that I’m limitless and “can experience this, too”, I find that I can experience the intensity of my fight/flight/freeze response with greater ease; the suffering is in the fighting of what’s happening, not what’s happening itself. I’m able to look back at the experience as a reminder of how amazingly resilient we are as human beings.
OC87 Recovery Diaries is proud to feature this exclusive music video for Shawn’s song, Kinfolk.
The song “Kinfolk” is sprinkled with this message of coming back home, with “home” referring to our basic state of fluidity. Whenever old symptoms of anxiety arise, I notice that an old habit of wanting to escape arises as well. This escape is seeking shelter, a safe place that can make the pain go away. But there is no external place that can do so because wherever we go, the sensations follow. The only difference is that I give myself permission to feel what I’m feeling when I’m in a place I deem safe. No matter what’s happening within me, I can observe it as a passing experience. This ability we have to observe is the difference between jumping into the rapids, or watching them go by. In the end, I am the safety I seek. My perspective is that the sensations, emotions, and thoughts are not meant to hurt me, like some outside intrusive attack. They are my own powerful life force reacting to my needs and the world around me.
We can get thrown around by our beliefs about who we should be, what we should do, or what should be happening. Judgment is a heavy burden that often precedes emotional suffering. But these too are just passing experiences we can observe and be at peace with. If we can step back and allow them to naturally come and go, we can stop being dragged around by their presence and begin to find peace in the moment just as it is. I hope this song and music video can serve as a gentle reminder to come back home to yourself. We are the home we seek. We are the love and acceptance we long for. We all search for the same sense of peace and happiness. In this respect, we are all Kinfolk.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
I broke down on a cold December evening and rested my head on the window.
I didn’t know how unclean I’d become, until I watched the world fill with snow.
My parents always did everything they could for me. It was the seventies. There was hardly any psychiatric medication to speak of then, cognitive therapy was barely emerging and, in general, the information on mental illness was not there to discuss, if you wanted to. I first felt it when I was about eight years old. Depression. When I was sad, I got comfort from my stuffed animals. I wasn’t their king. I wasn’t their leader. I was their peer. Whole stories were told in a small Wisconsin house in a single evening. And although I liked to be alone often, to make up my own world, I had many close friends. Aside from getting beaten up occasionally in middle school, most of my childhood was happy and without trauma. (more…)
“OC87” is a term coined by one of my therapists. It refers to the year 1987: the year I wanted to control everyone and everything.
The year before, life had been significantly out of control for me. I was a freelancer in the film industry in Philadelphia. For a guy just a year-and-a-half out of college, that meant a lot of unsteady employment and a big lack of structure. This is a transitional period that most college graduates are able to weather but I have always had problems dealing with unclear situations. I get stuck and scared when a journey of mine has no clear destination. Since I have obsessive compulsive disorder and I am still trying to cope with uncertainty in life, (the core of OCD is a need for one hundred percent, absolute certainty), I was literally going crazy back in 1986.
The way I attempted to cope with this loss of structure was to force myself to take a full time job in a store that sold and rented video tapes (this was pre-internet and pre-Netflix). For me, the job was avoidance — a misdirected attempt to structure my time and life, but also an easy escape from the field that I loved: filmmaking.
Because I was out of control in my head and my mood swings fluctuated from manic to depressive (I had not been diagnosed with OCD or bipolar yet) I felt I needed to be in control and in charge of my external world. Financially, I could do this because I was self-sufficient through the graciousness of my family. Therefore, in my mind, I was in control of everything and everyone. Why? Well, it didn’t matter how I acted or behaved socially at a job. If I got fired I would get another job — all that mattered was that I believed I was in charge.
That year, 1987, later became known as Obsessive Compulsive 87; the year when I tried to control everything and everyone. Luckily, my plan never worked because, if it had, or if I had believed fully in it, I would have continued to go severely psychotic.
Even though, at the time, I told myself that I didn’t need social attachments, I did need them. I was going psychotic because I was very lonely and because I was trying to do everything myself. The psychosis set in for the simple reason that, with very few meaningful relationships, I resorted to navigating my world by totally using my mind. For example, I would be in a conversation with two people at my job and, instead of being emotionally connected to them, I would tell myself,
“Stay connected, look at Steve. Now look at Dan — pay attention — watch yourself! Look back at Steve, now Dan….”
I still do this a little bit. As you can see, this would be maddening for anybody, let alone somebody who was frightened, angry, and paranoid. Back then, I trusted no one!
Eventually, my psychiatrist said that enough was enough and I was placed in the outpatient, day program at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia. It was there, in 1990, that I developed my first meaningful friendships since I left high school in 1979. It was eleven years before I started to experience any type of re-bonding process with other human beings. I had been hurt by a friend’s nasty remark right after twelfth grade (we have since mended our relationship) so life was empty for me until I began my “work” in this program. I use the term “work” because Friends stretched me out of my comfort zone.
Another social milestone was the making of the film documentary, OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie. Because of that film, the term OC87 has taken on new meaning for me because now it also represents a giving up of control and an ability to trust people outside of myself. Even though I was making a film about my life, film is never a solitary process– it is always collaborative. And for somebody with anger and trust issues such as me, making that film was a very challenging task. I had to deal with not getting my way on many occasions — challenging for most, very difficult for me. I knew that, if I wanted the film to be good, (which I believe it is), that I had to rely on individuals who possessed technical and artistic skills beyond my own in some respects. Every project that somebody makes is important but this one I hoped would help others — and I hoped it would help me.
And it did.
The film helped me begin to trust people again. For the viewers, I hope they feel that they, too, can tell their stories, which is one of the reasons we started OC87 Recovery Diaries. This ability to rely on others is also transformational for recovery, and one of the reasons our site is named OC87 Recovery Diaries. We want the site to help and guide people who are in their own recovery. And it’s important for me to say that, even though I am the Publisher of the site, I don’t control everything that happens here. Even when I was Editor in Chief, I had to pay attention to, and acknowledge, other people’s ideas, especially when they were better than mine.
The old term that “nature abhors a vacuum” is particularly true for me. In 1987, I was so hurt and so angry that I wanted to live in my own vortex of a world — an alternative universe. That is why I wanted to live totally in the intellectual caverns of my mind. Luckily, it didn’t work because, even though life is still difficult for me, I realize that I’m not alone in this world anymore. Life is difficult for everyone! And, perhaps, it’s in that shared struggle that we begin to heal.
For many artists, that’s what their chosen profession is all about: healing. OC87 Recovery Diaries is a journey of struggle and healing. Now that you’ve read about a 1,000 word definition of what OC87 means I hope is it is no longer a curious hieroglyphic but, instead, a term that means transformation, hope, and connection; for me, and, maybe, for you, too.
Publisher; OC87 Recovery Diaries
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
Finding stability, like anything else worthwhile, takes time and effort. It also takes an openness to learning, and and an openness to failing. Finding stability a process of nearly unparalleled complication as you work, practice, and commit to wellness and discovery. Achieving stability has been the overarching goal in my life up to this point and to say that I’m perfectly healthy and stable would still not be the truth. Living with schizophrenia brings the instability you feel as part of the illness. This includes not only the psychosis, delusions, paranoia, and other symptoms, but the overarching experience of living life with mental illness.
Maybe schizophrenia causes you to be unable to interact with people due to debilitating anxiety. Maybe it causes you to lose your concept of self and everything that you had going for you: school, work, family, friends; all of these can deteriorate slowly, or quickly, depending upon the severity of your illness. You don’t know how to keep afloat in the world because, compared to the things that are going on in your head, reality is so seemingly inconsequential.
You have a special mission!
The government is reading your mind!
You’re a prophet and you’re communicating with aliens!
In any of these cases, normal life has little to no relevance to you. Once you’re diagnosed and you come face to face with the reality that the things you experienced were only in your head; you are now on the long road of rebuilding your life and your relationships to a point that’s stable.
Stability requires a great deal of awareness and reflection, as well as the ambition to put the discoveries you make along the way into practice. It’s taken me eleven years to get to a point where I don’t have to worry every day about paranoia and delusions. It’s been incredibly challenging, but also endlessly rewarding. Many young parents talk about how having a child is a second full time job–I think that finding and maintaining stability is probably just as consuming, taxing, and life-affirming.
Looking back on when I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, I can remember the consuming confusion and pain I felt at having been told I was “crazy.” On top of that, I was still trying to cope with delusions and paranoia. I believed that words, song lyrics, or circumstances had special meanings, that everything was interconnected and intertwined and that I could figure out the secrets of the universe, if I just paid enough attention. That contributed to a heightened awareness that has stayed with me, but I also desperately wanted to forget my diagnosis and be normal, so I essentially devoted my life to practicing being “normal.”
What I mean by “finding stability” is getting to the point where I was as normal as they came. This meant working on unwinding my delusions and paranoia, but also studying and practicing human behavior. I had to come to terms with, and refute, the things my brain was telling me by analyzing my thoughts that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I had to learn to recognize these thoughts for what they were: a result of my imbalanced brain chemistry, and I then had to learn and accept that the things they were saying had little to no basis in reality. Essentially, they were just components of my own insecurities — haunting me with every social interaction and every public appearance. I had to confront these insecurities that were so deep-seated within me that I’d spend hours and days obsessing over them and cowering in fear.
In therapy, somewhere along the line, I learned about acceptance, but it didn’t really register until almost a year later. I was sitting on my porch thinking about how painful and harmful my own thoughts were to me. The notion that, if I accepted these insecurities, I wouldn’t have to fight them so hard appeared in my head, and this notion changed the entire course of my recovery. Instead of trying to find a way around my insecurities, anxieties and paranoia, I learned to embrace them as facets of who I am. Accepting my anxieties took an enormous amount of pressure off my shoulders and showed me that I could relax into being me. The meds helped, but these techniques– recognizing, analyzing, and accepting– improved my clarity vastly. Pretty soon after I learned to accept myself and my thoughts, I learned to relax and I found that social interaction and appearing “normal” came so much easier. I was allowed to not worry about how I appeared to other people and I was allowed to not worry about whether or not I was crazy because I had completely come to terms with the label of crazy. “Crazy” was a part of me, but it wasn’t all of me.
I was able to take a deep, powerful breath and see that I was okay.
I was perfectly valid as an individual, and my thoughts were valid. Realizing your own validity and worth– that you are not some disgusting animal for having mental health challenges– is something I wish I could tell everyone I come across. It’s important to know that you matter in this world and that your thoughts, though at times these can be terrifying, are just thoughts. That’s where I found the most stability; in that notion of acceptance alone. After that, things seemed easier, more real, and I was empowered to claim some semblance of control over my life.
As the years passed, I continued to practice my social interactions, and my attempts at normalcy in every interaction that I had with another human being. Even completely inconsequential encounters with the pizza guy or the lady at the gas station were opportunities to rehearse my act of playing a “normal human being.” While things got somewhat better, I still suffered from anxiety and fear of what people thought of me. I still tried hard to appear as normal as possible for a long time. I tried to appear friendly and gregarious– like the social butterfly I was in high school. But I was still afraid.
Finally, after a long day of trying, I was laying on my couch listening to a hip-hop record, wondering to myself where it was that these rappers got their confidence. I decided, in that moment, that I was going to try not to be afraid anymore. That was another major turning point in my journey to find stability. In every situation where I felt my anxiety levels rising, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I am NOT going to be afraid.” This meant that I didn’t have to try to be normal anymore, I didn’t have to worry that people wouldn’t like me if I wasn’t normal. If you think about it, nobody’s normal. Everybody has quirks and crazy moments, but it’s okay because they are who they are, and you are who you are. I am who I am. Not being afraid meant that I could be who I am. What the process comes down to is learning how to be you, not learning how to be a perfect human being. I wish I had known that eleven years ago but, in the end, I wouldn’t change the whole process of self-discovery and finding stability for anything in the world.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
I lost my hearing in a psych ward.
Let me explain. It was not so much that I lost my hearing; it was that I could not hear well. I suffered from a terrible earache. I used to get earaches all the time as a small child. This one was the worst, or perhaps my capacity for dealing with such pain had simply decreased over time. I had not experienced an earache in over ten years when this particular earache occurred. When I was in the psych ward.
This earache affected the way I could hear, meaning I couldn’t really hear much at all. I was in the psych ward for a number of reasons, some of which I still don’t understand. The doctors explained the reasons for me being in the psych ward with precise, medical terms. I recognize that that wasn’t all of it, though. Those medical, clinical words could not explain the sum total of why I was there. I did eventually recognize, however, that that is how you get out of a place like that: voicing an understanding of why they say you are there, in their terms, and complying with the way in which the doctors believe you can safely live outside of the hospital. They did not want to hear my side of the story. This was not about justice; it was about compliance, as are so many other things in life.
The doctors thought that my mental illness was clear. They did not want to know what could lead a person to this mental state. They just wanted to diagnose it, and give me pills. The earache, on the other hand, confused the doctors. They could not figure out how to help me hear well again. They could not figure out the best way for my ears to heal. They could not determine exactly what the issue was, although they recognized that an issue existed. The insides of my ears were red and irritated.
I was red and irritated. I wanted the doctors to see that. I wanted the doctors to stop looking in my ears because they were not helping my hearing and because there were much more pressing matters at hand. I knocked on their doors to say, to scream, “I don’t belong here!” I only screamed because I couldn’t hear properly. I did not realize I was screaming. Believe me; I wanted my ears to be fixed as well. I’d have been happy to take medicine for my ears but I didn’t want the medicine they were telling me I had to take for my brain. I wanted to address that medicine, the pills that they wanted me to take, before addressing the issue of my ears. So, I said, “Listen doc, I’ll take a flu shot, I’ll take all the vitamins you have, please give me any antibiotics I need for my ears, but that is all!”
And the doctor asked, “Why are you screaming? Your mood seems elevated. There are pills for that you must take.”
And I said some mean words; I said some paranoid words, but only because I was mad and it felt like he was out to get me, not to help me. The conversation was irritating on several levels, one being that I could not hear very well. I had to listen so closely and I had to keep saying, “Please speak up.” I also had to keep repeating myself with phrases like, “no,” and “that is not true.” There was a lot of explaining. There was a lot of repeating.
Perhaps it is important to talk about how I ended up in a psych ward. Perhaps it is important to talk about how I ended up having an earache. I can explain pieces of the first thing. I still do not know why and how I suffered from the earache. I will never understand that earache. I will never understand why I could not hear. I like to think my ears were protecting me from all the medical language, the words from the doctors and nurses about what they thought was wrong with me; I did not want to hear. I like to think they knew, my ears, that is. My ears knew that I did not want to hear those words. Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if I had not lost my hearing, if I had sense of everything going on around me. I think my experience would have been altered completely. But my ears seemed to know that I did not want to be there. I wish my throat had known too. I wish I had lost my voice, so I would not have to comply, again.
There were many senses I wish had been altered while I was in the hospital. The starchiness of the bed sheets against my skin. Clothes worn days in a row, beginning to smell. The hospital food; the heavy feeling that it left in my stomach. The pill I’d let dissolve in my mouth, the pill I did not want to take, day after day—sliding roughly against my dry throat when I finally swallowed, as instructed. The constant over-stimulation of the television, forever on in the community room. People coming and going. The dampness of tears on my cheeks and the cries from others in rooms and hallways and bathrooms. It was too much at times. But I continued to be a part of it, in a way that felt against what I wanted, needed.
I feel like I am always complying. It makes me so sad; compliance is a complicated thing. That complication may be one reason I ended up in a psych ward. There are a lot of reasons I was there, but compliance is a recurring theme in my life, or maybe just in life, not only mine. Maybe I’m just bad at dealing with it. Maybe I’m bad at not being heard. Maybe I’m bad at those times when “no” is not an accepted answer. I had been in such situations, several times. I’m angry about them and so sick about them, mentally ill, some may say. I am not only mad (could be read as “angry” or as “crazy/insane”) about those moments but mad (the same thing goes for this “mad”) about the way in which they are dealt.
I wanted justice, not compliance. I wanted justice; I did not want to prove myself. I did not want to always fight for my case. I did not want to always explain the ways in which I was not crazy, the ways in which I was just in fucked situations, the ways in which I was fucked, literally fucked. I did not want to explain. I did not want to need medical proof. But they wanted it, the justice folk; the folk who served the justice. They wanted all of the proof and paperwork. They talked about it in a dramatic, legal way. Again, I didn’t want to comply. I was done dealing with all of it, with all of them. I was going to deal on my own, I decided. So I ended up in a psych ward with an earache. It was painful in so many ways.
When I found the way out of the psych ward, (that way, of course, being compliance), I put some ear drops in my ears. I could hear again, but it sounded too loud. So I cried. I cried for all the loudness. I cried for the lack of understanding. I cried for having to interact with the noise constantly. I was confused and the volume was suddenly so loud. I adjusted though. We adapt; we comply. Sometimes we can hear the things and sometimes we choose not to hear. I’m trying to figure out how to do this and remain thoughtful and aware. I consciously check out a lot these days; I make a decision to choose not to hear. I think it’s what I have to do, for now. I hope it is not what I have to do forever.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITORS: Bud Clayman and Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman