Navigating My Mind
by Ari Dassa
It’s July 2006. I’m 21. I’m sitting at the edge of my bed lost in my mind. But this inner feeling is rising out of the struggle. “I have to write a script. I have to find myself again. I have to find a way to re-engage with who I am or else I’m going to die”. It’s been too long and too hard being in battle with this puzzle called OCD that’s inside my brain and it’s do or die right now. So I rose off the edge of my bed and opened my laptop and starting writing a script....something I hadn’t done in 3 years…and this was the moment I saved my life and began a healing process which is still going to this day, no matter what challenges and new battles I’ve dealt with since. My love of movies saved my life and allowed me to find myself again. I have to start with that, because the way film is part of my DNA is a major reason why I’m still breathing right now, and it’s the core essence of me being….me.
This might get confusing….
But before I talk about my life post-2006, I’ll take it back to my childhood before then. Because 2006 was a re-birth of sorts, a new beginning with its own wild road to talk about. I’m not trying to sound too dramatic, but “re-birth” is honestly the best way I can describe it.
It took me a while to understand what OCD meant. It took research and conversations and seeking answers to understand that my brain had this thing in it known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as other symptoms that arose which were connected to depression and bi-polar tendencies and who knows what else. Dark stuff. OCD is not easy. It can hurt in ways that are difficult to properly articulate, but I’m going to do my best to describe it so this essay will make sense. Because OCD does not work in logic or reason, it is absolutely illogical and deals in nonsensical puzzles that you have to navigate.
The beginning stages of OCD….it wasn’t OCD. It was “insecurity”. I didn’t know what OCD was. I had never heard the term ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’. Because I was 12. It was 1997. Something was off, but because you hear things growing up like, “puberty can be difficult”, I thought maybe whatever was happening in my head had to do with puberty and growing into my teenage years. But something was off with the way I was thinking of certain things. Actually, something was off with the way I was THINKING. Period. Things I knew as fact….I kept repeating in my head as if I wasn’t sure they were fact.
But I knew they were facts. And yet they are not facts.
This is frustrating me, right? I know this thing is a fact (general example: the sky is blue) and I’m making myself feel like it’s not. The sky is blue. No it isn't. Yes it is. No it isn’t. I know the fucking sky is blue. Why am I trying to make it false? These intrusive thoughts would manifest…for example:
You don’t like a certain thing....so then of course you think of that thing.
This is extremely bizarre and clearly distracting. What the hell is going on? Why am I doing this? It seems like I’m trying to hurt myself. This is self-destructive. I don’t want to hurt myself….and yet that's what I'm doing.
I didn’t think I had a mental disorder or anything like that….so I just came up with this term….”insecurity”. I’m just insecure. And I have to get “secure”.
I’m not going to use my specific examples of the actual intrusive thoughts I dealt with because it’s too personal, but i’ll use other general examples throughout the essay as their replacements so it’s easier to understand what I’m talking about.
My OCD seemed to be based around two things as a kid. 1) honesty. Honesty was something VERY important to me in my life because I knew someone I was related to made a life out of dishonesty and I didn’t want to grow up to be like that. So I have to be HONEST. The earliest stages of OCD had something to do with questioning honesty as a kid. I knew I was honest to myself, but this impulse in me is trying to fuck up all my beliefs and feelings and FACTS.
And I was also as a kid conscious of this concept of “Reward” and “Punishment”. This was because of certain religious ideas that were shown to me growing up. When you’re a kid, and impressionable, you hear things about God and whether you’re doing right by your religion or whatever. I will say right now, and I’m not trying to offend anyone……but I am obviously NOT FOND of religion and my experiences with it helped ignite my “insecurity” as a kid. If you’re religious and get something meaningful and beautiful out of it, more power to you. I’m glad it works for you. It just doesn’t work for me and had a negative impact on me as a kid. In fact, it makes me very uncomfortable and I rather avoid it at all costs to this day. Because as a kid, I WAS fearful of being “punished” by God if I did something wrong. So from that fear….a certain structure took form in my head to avoid doing “wrong” things and only do “right” things. Hence I’d be “rewarded”, not “punished”. From this structure, my OCD impulses just basically found a form.
It is very very very confusing to navigate illogical thoughts. At 12-years-old I was sorta alright with it. It was confusing, but not devastating yet. The symptoms were starting, but I had a mostly good year being a kid. My summer was tough, when it was forming, but the rest of the year was good. I managed to get a hold of how to navigate “insecurity” at 13. I had a certain set of things I’d do to maintain a sense of “good luck”. Or “good form”. Before school every day I’d look at the poster for this Van Damme film “Hard Target” on my wall. Van Damme was a symbol for badass strength, right? So if that poster was the last thing I’d see in my room before leaving, I’d be strong mentally for the day. That transitioned into putting on a VHS tape that had trailers for some Van Damme movies on it. I’d watch the same trailers every morning to start my day “right”, which made me feel good, thus lessening the chances for “insecurity thoughts” or being “punished”. It was like a "ritual", and as long as I did the "ritual", I'm allowed to be okay mentally. This actually worked REALLY WELL when I was 13. 1998. That was a great year. I had my “rituals” that allowed me to keep a linear form of normality and happiness. Even if I didn’t watch the movie trailers every morning, like in the summer, I would replace that with other rituals connected to movies that were just as effective.
When I was 14…summer 99….everything fell apart. Suddenly the OCD thoughts were more consistent and I wasn’t feeling as good or secure, and I got pretty down and out of it for a while. I realized I was starting to connect my OCD impulses to memories, and I was getting frustrated and concerned that my OCD feelings/images (which represent “dishonesty/punishment”) would be related or attached to the PRESENT situation I was in, thus tainting or compromising how I actually wanted to feel in the Present, which was good and healthy (represented by “honesty/reward”).
This might be really confusing. I hope this makes sense….I’ll keep trying to explain it better.
So how did OCD work at this point in my life? It’s like this…..
I’m using a general example here……there’s a person with a white shirt and a yellow stripe positioned diagonally on it. We’ll call this person “yellow stripe”. You may or may not like Yellow Stripe. It doesn’t really matter, although if you dislike the person wearing the Yellow Stripe, it could make it harder to deal with. Anyway, you keep thinking about “Yellow Stripe”. You tell yourself ‘who cares?’. But you see the image of Yellow Stripe. It’s stuck in your head. Stop thinking about Yellow Stripe. Then it gets more vivid. You’re trying to concentrate on school, or the videogame you’re playing, or anything really. But Yellow Stripe won’t leave you alone. Yellow Stripe is just there in your head, like its poking at you, looking for weaknesses in your armor, just waiting for the opportunity to carve inside you and SHUT YOU DOWN. Eventually it does….you’re just gone. Stuck on Yellow Stripe. It’s like you’re screaming out from inside your brain to destroy the image, but the image is there. At 14….I shut down. You know the “Sunken Place” in the film “Get Out”? Think of it that way. You’re lost in your head, falling into a pit.
That’s what I called it as a kid….”the pit”. At 14 I started to find a way to climb out of the pit, and started to figure out “defensive strategies” to COUNTER the “insecurity” thoughts. It involved using a "good thing" from my childhood memory as a weapon against the “insecurity”. Again, I was a kid here using childish concepts. So the COUNTER STRATEGY would be something like this: ”if you put another yellow stripe against the first stripe, it makes an “X”. X is like “X-Men. I watched X-Men on tv when I was 9 years old when I was healthy ("good thing"). Wolverine ("good thing") is one of the X-Men. So the Mantra becomes - “Yellow Striped X-Men Woverine.” Okay, that works. “Yellow Striped X-Men Woverine”. Okay, not bad….”Yellow Striped X-Men Woverine”. That's the ritual.
Now do that again….”Yellow Striped X-Men Wolverine.Yellow Striped X-Men Wolverine. Yellow Striped X-Men Wolverine. Yellow Striped X-Men Wolverine. Yellow Striped X-Men Wolverine”. REPEAT on and on until the initial “insecurity” impulse “dissipates out”. I’d even feel a little “oomph” type feeling in my body when I was connecting the puzzle. Then once I felt good about it, I would break down “Yellow Striped X-Men Wolverine” into a shorter phrase. “Yellow SX-Wolverine. Yellow SXW. YSXW. YW. W.” So I could just think “W”….and I knew I was "good". "W"had now re-written or overwritten the original bad impulse.
It’s hard to explain….
Again, that’s a general concept of what I was doing using childhood “defensive strategies”. That’s not an actual example, but it’s similar to what I was thinking/doing, using movies or cartoons or movie-related characters and actors/etc as my defensive armor. Yes, it’s incredibly silly and I was aware of it even then as a kid. You’re saying a lot of stupid things to just to FEEL RIGHT and be able to FUNCTION.
Eventually those “Counter Strategies” worked to the point where I was ready to “MATURE”. This was my code word for “heal”, or “cure” back then. Because again, as a kid, I didn’t understand it was OCD. I was still thinking I’m just “off” and I need to get better and eventually as I grow up it will take care of itself and “insecurity” will mature into “security”.
At 16, I had a big breakthrough. I felt like I was growing up a bit, I was happy, and in summer 2001, I basically clicked off my “insecurity”. The OCD impulses had subsided, and I was IN THE CLEAR. It was amazing. I literally turned it off. I felt ready to move on and be free, and so I did. For a year, I really was FREE. From summer 2001 to summer 2002…..I was only thinking what I WANTED to think about. I was confident, I was relaxed. The cloud had gone. There was ONE tiny symptom that was still there (i can’t describe it, too personal) that in retrospect I should’ve seen/understood as being OCD, but otherwise, I was GREAT. But in summer 2002, at 17….the OCD came back. The pattern returned. I was surprised, even though I shouldn’t have been, but it came back and seemed to be a bit different, maybe a bit more potent.
So from 12 - 16 years old was basically the introduction to this condition. That one clear/free year was a bridge from Part 1, the preamble, to Part 2, the main event.
At first I dealt with the return of OCD okay. I immediately reverted back to my “counter strategies” and still had a good year in 2002. I was in some pain, and it was building, and I felt down and sad at times because I was upset the “insecurity” came back, but I managed. There were enough “down” or “sad” moments to feel like it was impacting me, but I still had happy moments and strong moments too. That said, I do remember on my 18th birthday I blew out the candles on a cake and quietly wished for “insecurity to go away”. I also broke down that night in tears because I wasn’t sure I was growing up properly, or if I was advancing at the normal rate a kid should be advancing at because I was afraid the OCD was holding me back and disrupting my life too much. That emotion had an easy solution though…..I bought a Playstation 2 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
That game made me feel….soooooo much better.
I was stealing cars and fucking with the cops and visiting videogame strip clubs. C’mon. This is heaven. My birthday was saved. And in the end, it seemed like my wish was coming to fruition in a way. 2003 was a great year, maybe the best of my life up to that point. 18 was fun. 2003 had the Matrix sequels, Kill Bill, Lord of the Rings, etc. I was good. Plus I really started exploring film history and was watching classic movies, foreign film. Just learning and developing my love for movies. Movies have been my calling since I was 8 years old. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to make movies. Movies were EVERYTHING to me, my whole life. Anyway….I was managing the OCD pretty well. It was there….but I was still ME. I was still feeling strong and good and countering it easily. I had a great year.
The next two years would change however. The next two years would be a collapse. I called it “the fall”. I actually still to this day think of it that way. “the fall”. 19 and 20 years old. What should have been an exciting time in my youth, transitioning into a young adult and developing myself and my interests, my intellect, etc. Nope. The OCD grew immensely, the condition hit way harder than before, and this time, I couldn’t counter it. This time I felll into “the pit”….and I was fucking stuck.
And when you’re stuck in that pit, and your counters aren’t working, that’s when things get really, really, really dark. Usually my OCD thoughts would center around the same general concept of “honesty/reward" and "dishonesty/punishment”. But in those next two years, I lost all control. EVERYTHING was OCD. Again I can’t tell you the exact things, it’s too personal, but it was pretty much as cuckoo as this: let’s say I didn’t like the way a one-dollar bill looked. The image of a one-dollar bill would carve into my brain. I couldn’t control ANYTHING. It wasn’t just related to my memories now….everything could become a trigger.
I still don’t know how to properly describe what that pain feels like. It’s all mental. It’s like a parasite eating away your mind. There were times I had trouble speaking, because for example: “one-dollar bill” would be the only thing I could think of. The REAL me fell deeper and deeper into the pit. I barely knew who I was. Whenever I had conversations or did things with people….if I spoke, I swear, I can’t remember a single thing I said. If I spoke in coherent sentences, then I’d be surprised, because I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on. I had no idea who I was. My body was talking and walking….I was not there. Again, like “Get Out”….I was in the sunken place. I was not there. The real me was drowning. Actually that’s what it’s like….you’re drowning under an ocean of illogical thoughts and images. I got very quiet those years. I was very sad. It was hard to wake up in the morning. I preferred to sleep. Sleep helped. You shut down when you’re asleep. I was very depressed, my emotions were all over the place. Mostly just down and sad, but also anger was there, self-loathing, hatred for everything. It was just bad.
By 20….I wanted to die every single day, I was just too afraid to cause myself physical harm. Like cut my wrists? Too gory. Shoot myself? Too intense. Gas? Maybe the easiest….but it’s slow, right? I dunno…slow death scares me too, can’t do it. But I was on a death march, every day, when I was 20. In order to give myself moments of relief from “the pit”, I would bury my head in a pillow and scream, but without making a noise. It’s weird. Like I was screaming in agony but not screaming. I didn’t want people to hear me. Screaming/Fake Screaming and crying helped alleviate the rapidity of the OCD thoughts. The emotion takes over, and you’re momentarily consumed by the intensity of the emotion. Then I’d pass out. Then wake up. Then everything restarts. I couldn’t write stories (my passion), although I did manage to write movie reviews somehow. (more on movies in a bit). I really couldn’t do much of anything, even though I went through daily motions as if I could.
Watching a lot of movies also gave me momentary relief. I realized this quickly. The ME who was lost in “the pit”, that Me would still somehow see the movie and a glimmer of my humanity would peak through the abyss of pain. I wasn’t in school anymore. I don’t know if I would’ve been in school anyway….I always wanted to be a filmmaker and go my own route, but with OCD fucking up my life, school was out of the question for sure. I can’t drive either. I still, to this day, don’t drive. I remember learning briefly, taking a couple rides behind the wheel and thinking, “oh shit, this is dangerous. If I have an episode on a freeway….I’ll die, or maybe accidentally kill someone else. I can’t do this. I gotta concentrate on the road and my ocd? No way. ”. I still don’t feel comfortable to drive….it’s just not right…yet. But I’m hoping I can get there one day. But back to those years…
I watched, maybe, 600 - 700 movies a year, because it was the only way to feel that glimmer of humanity again. I would watch 2, 3, sometimes 4 movies a day. Writing reviews of them helped too. Movies somehow gave me a life-line. Otherwise “the pit” was all consuming. Everything in life was fucked up. I was going through hundreds of mantras/counters/rituals just to TRY to function. It could take me up to 45 minutes to get dressed. Like….put your pants and shirt and shoes on. It could take forever, because I wasn’t letting myself think straight in order to get dressed. Like “getting dressed” as a concept, became an OCD disaster, and if I didn’t do it with the correct line of thoughts, I COULDN’T DO IT or I’d have to start over. Because at that time in my life, my counters/rituals had to be linear to be successful. I would change this later in life (more on that in a bit).
I knew by now, that “insecurity” wasn’t actually insecurity. It was an illness. I had a condition, this is clearly an illness, I need help. But I didn’t know who to go to, how to get help. At 20….I just wanted to die. Every single day. Please someone end the misery. Because my day was basically like this…..let’s use this image as a general example: a green leaf. (i like trees - more on that soon - so i’m using this as general example to make it easier for me. again, not my actual personal examples. I can’t reveal those. So i’m using a good thing here, “a green leaf”.) When you read “a green leaf”, that’s the internal thought in my mind.
wake up in the morning….a green leaf. a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf. DIE. a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf..PLEASEKILLME.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.PLEASEPLEASEDIE.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.ICAN’TTAKETHISa green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.SCREAMING/AGONY/CRAWLING ON THE GROUND/CRYING……..(pass out)…….wake up…..I don’t know who I am. a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.IMDYING. a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.AGONY.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.GOODNIGHT. Sleep………..it would just stick with me.
It would be there....all the time....driving me crazy.
This didn’t always happen when I was alone. I would STILL try to go through the motions of a “normal life”. So again “a green leaf” is the INTERNAL thing in my head.
I’m gonna work at the video store today. Okay, here’s a customer. I have to ring up the dvds and help this guy…..a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.WHAT’S YOUR LAST NAME?a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf. DO a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.YOUa green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.HAVE.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.AN a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.ACCOUNT.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.WITHa green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.US?a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf..
constant internal intrusion while I’m externally trying to communicate with someone.
insanity, right? Yes. I felt like it was insanity.
Someone tells you a joke….you have to process the joke and laugh…..between….a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.a green leaf.
a green leaf…..carving into your brain. In those years I used to imagine the way to heal OCD was by taking a long knife and impaling my head where the OCD felt like it was located, and just PULLING IT OUT. Like I wanted to just PULL THIS THING out of my head. (I’m glad I never tried that though). But I would mimic the motion of it….like imagine I was holding the blade that could stab the OCD and pull it out.
It’s like you have these multiple tasks working in your brain, the one function that’s SHUTTING YOU DOWN (OCD) and the one that’s trying to be NORMAL and just SURVIVE (the real me).
So I tried to survive. Eventually I came up with a piece of “armor”. The colors Black and White. They became “good luck” colors to me. (this is true, by the way, an actual example). Black and white, which are colors you see a lot….became a survival line. And because you see those colors a lot in the world….it helped. I would imagine objects or things with “Black and White” elements on them. I’d start to “overwrite” the bad image with the image of someone or something else dressed in “Black and White”. This created a basis for how to feel better. I started wearing black and white colors on my clothes. White shirts became the norm for me. I think I went 3 or 4 years wearing nothing but white shirts or black shirts.
I still didn’t want to see a therapist for some reason….or seek help. Was too scared. I don’t really know why. It’s tough to admit you’re sick, I guess.
Those two years were lost to me. Just utter pain and desperation and agony. Then in 2006, I turned 21….for some reason, a light from the base of “Black and White” seemed to shine on me. I started to feel better. I started to find “defensive counter strategies” again. I still watched a ton of movies. I was going through the OCD, but felt like maybe I was climbing from “the pit” just a little bit. I felt like I survived the worst period of it, and the only place to go from there was UP. I began to find a METHOD to break down the intrusive OCD images/thoughts and gradually make it dissolve out of my head. Again, I’m only 21….I have to find SOMETHING. So….something like this. Here’s another general example. Let’s say the OCD image stuck in my head were the letters “C” and “M”. So “CM” is an intrusive thought. (again this is a general example, i can’t reveal the actual examples, it’s too personal, because it related to my memories and concept of memory).
So CM is stuck in my head, much like “a green leaf” was. Same deal. It’s stuck. It’s intruding. It won’t go away. CM…..CM….CM….over and over. So what I’d do to break it down is something like….CM….C…..C stands for Cool. Cool is good. I like cool things. Cool weather. Cool music. Cool….C is cool. M….M stands for Matrix. I love the Matrix, I love movies, I love music. M has a lot of good things about it. But Matrix works the best. I’m close to it and there’s a movie connection. CM - Cool Matrix. Cool Matrix. Cool Matrix. That first step would lessen the intrusive power of “CM”. I’ve turned it into something “good”. But it’s still there…..so I’d then interject something to split it. Like “L”….”light”. Light is good. “CLM…Cool Light Matrix”. CLM. Now “CM” is going away, it’s less potent, less visible. I turned it into “CLM”. Cool Light Matrix. Cool Light Matrix. Cool Light Matrix. CLM. Cool Light Matrix. Then I’d finish it off…..I would need a final element to it….so I’d search for a connection in my memory….try to bring myself to a good year. Well the Matrix is directed by the Wachowskis….Wachowskis made their debut in 96. 96. 96 was before OCD started. 96 is good. 96 feels good..….”CLM 96”. CLM 96. Cool Light Matrix 96. CLM 96. CLM 96. CLM 96. So “CM” would start to disappear because it was overpowered by CLM 96. Whenever I would intrusively imagine “CM”, it would get morphed into CLM 96…..until the initial problem, “CM”, would become nothing again. That process could take a day, or week, or months, depending on how potent the initial “CM” symbol/manifestation was. That’s what it was like….
It sounds illogical and nonsensical…..it was. I knew it was. It didn’t matter. But this method started to work.
Later on when I did research I’d learn this was not actually the best method to use, because it’s continuing the compulsive behavior, but at the time, it WORKED. And being that I was in such a dark place….anything that worked was a good thing. So I ran with it and started to find some power within myself to get better. And I did. Things got better. I was happier again.
Then there was a moment of pain, in July 2006, where I felt at the edge again. This time though….I said to myself…..I need to think logically and just talk to myself with reason. ”If I don’t change my life, I’m going to die one way or another. But I’m never going back to “the fall”. Ever. I’m not going back. I have to change my life”. The one thing that was lost to me during the years in ‘the pit’ was my storytelling and screenwriting passion. So in this moment, I rose up and started writing a script. I had to. I forced myself up, opened the computer and just started typing. And EVERYTHING felt better. I literally felt like my life was reinvigorated in a rush of energy. Like the person who was lost in the pit suddenly ascended out of it and came back full-force. I remembered who I was. It’s like I found myself again. That first feature script was a 1940’s noir called “The Killing of Hank Wells”. It’s not good….like….at all. I re-read it recently….I don’t know what the fuck it’s about. But that wasn’t the point. The WRITING of that script got me back in touch with reality, with myself, with my life. It was a base to build off of. I love that script because of what creating it meant to me. It meant I was becoming me again.
From there I entered a new chapter, a new era. I did research on OCD. I reached out to some people online to get info and see what I needed. I was still too scared to get therapy (I don’t know why), but I was invested in a newfound will power inside me to HELP myself first and foremost, and to fulfill that wish I made to myself on my birthday at 18 when I wished I could heal this. So I did research on some healing methods, etc, and built a structure that helped me. I realized this is a condition I live with….so instead of trying to make it “just go away” (which fails), I decided to learn how to treat and manage it, and to try to use more logical and realistic methods of healing. Things like writing, like breathing exercises to manage my anger (I punched a mirror once, not good. amazing I only have a little scar on ONE finger. Could have been really bad), going on long runs (love running), also empowering myself with positive things. Saying things to myself like, “I’m proud of myself for writing 6 pages of my script today”. Things like that. It would help build my self-esteem. These new methods I would use helped shed the idea of “linear” thinking. Because it’s too easy to fall off a straight line. It’s like walking a plank. You can fall off the sides. So I shed that and constructed a mentality where my thoughts would be like branches of a tree (like I said, I like trees). Branches grow in many different directions, just as my thoughts did, but that’s okay. You can go to the left or right to get healthy, you can go up, down, etc. It’s okay to grow like a tree. Life is not a straight line. This worked. It felt more logical.
I also wrote a little list of empowering messages to myself in 2007. I folded it up and put the paper in my wallet so it’s on me at all times. That paper is still in my wallet today….although it’s all messed up and old now….it’s based on some methods I did research on. Like “Graded Exposure”, “Thought Reconstruction”, “Sensation Feeling” (like running, breathing, athletics)
PIC (i had to blur out a lot of things, because there’s personal stuff on it, but you get the idea)
That structure allowed me to create different “eras” of my life. Screenwriting became the foundation of my health. As long as I write, I know I’m functioning. So I will write. And write. I will never stop writing. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, what I love most. My writing makes me feel most alive, and most in touch with the real Me. So from that I was able to rediscover the rest of who I was. I re-introduced myself to Ari, if that makes sense. The eras went….
2006 - 2010: I called this “Recovery and Development’. I got back in touch with who I was, who I am….who I wanted to become. I got better and better. Confidence and happiness came back. Things were good. I started working out and getting back into athletic stuff (I was into sports as a kid, but stopped during “the fall” years). I felt better, felt like I was growing. I would deal with some OCD episodes (I referred to these incidents as “Losing It”), where I would fall back into “the pit”. But this time, I wasn’t stuck there. I would rebound and recover and climb out. Then I’d have “an adjustment day”. Then I’d recover and start fresh. At a certain point I felt so good that I decided to move to New York City. This was huge. 2008. At 23 years old I felt the world growing and me along with it. I learned a lot about myself in New York. It was a true high for me. I came back to LA and made my first indie movie in 2009. It sucked, but whatever. I had the belief and strength to feel like it was time to actually do it. It was all part of my healing, because it took a very very long time to “heal” and “cleanse” those two years I lost. It took until as recently as 2016 to finish healing my struggles from that period when I was 19 and 20 years old.
Anyway this era of “Recovery and Development” was great. My life was BACK, and I was happy. 2008 in New York to this day is still the best year of my life. I felt so alive there. I had to re-learn a lot of things….like how to socialize, how to express myself, etc. But I was doing just that…hence I came up with that title “Recovery and Development”.
In 2010….I had an episode. Like a relapse, or reoccurrence….I had to go back a few steps in order to move forward. 2010 was a bit off….but as the year progressed, I gradually improved. Which made me transition into a new era….
2010 - 2014: I called this “Growth and Love”. The idea here was to grow up as a person in my mid-20’s and really find the love for myself that I know I had buried. Just to be in harmony with myself. Be okay with who I am. Be at peace, even if I lived with this condition. And I pretty much was. I had my mantras, my “counters strategies”, but suddenly the OCD impulses were dying out. I had to counter less. I grew consistent with my strength. I never had an episode or “lost it” in 2011, 12, or 13. I was still learning who I was and dealing with some OCD symptoms, but I’m higher in energy, more active, happy, etc. I never saw “the pit” in those years. I never fell down there. I was too strong.
Unfortunately in 2014, like 2010, I had a re-occurence. I was still healing those “fall” years, remember. Still had things to deal with and take care of.
2014 - 2016 I called “Evolution and Freedom”. I was trying to heal everything….to bring closure to my old fears and bad memories, to evolve as strong as I can be, get more treatment, seek help, break down the “structures” and start thinking of OCD in the most realistic and logical terms possible….since then, up to now in 2018, I’ve found ways to break the “obsessive-compulsive” construct and deal with this more directly. Since 2014….I haven’t had the free-feeling and confident consistency I did in 2011- 2013, but I’m doing things differently, and trying to find better resolve and resolution. Right now I’m in an Era I call “Empowerment and Enlightenment”. I’m working on how to empower myself to be the strongest version of myself, and find some feeling of enlightenment (positive energy/being happy) that comes with it.
I’m in my 30’s now, so I have to find better resolutions. I’ve been on and off in recent years, with a few drops to that “pit” feeling, although I’m not using that terminology anymore. I’ve broken down all the old terminology that was created as a child. I’m seeing it more realistically now. OCD can be a real bitch. It effects a lot things when you’re not feeling completely right. It disrupts things, and eventually I came to terms with the fact that it changed the course of my life. I let go of the anger and let it be. My life changed because of this. Okay. I accept that. Now what I can do better? Like I said, it has a lot of effects….
Examples….I’m still working on how to be less shy. One of the things it disrupted most was my ability to express love, especially in my mid 20’s. I’ve been in love a couple times, but I had trouble properly articulating it because OCD had left me with this debilitating shyness. Like once I figured out I actually loved the person, things would get more difficult for me because the stakes were rising. It would get harder to commit to the person and express myself. I think in retrospect I was scared they’d find out I had this condition. Maybe they’d dump me. I don’t know. That would suck and be painful. So by being scared of possible future pain, I just made it more painful by not revealing a lot of my true feelings. I’ve had a couple girlfriends in my life, been in good relationships (although mostly shorter-term, maxing out at 2 years or 1 year, nothing really long-term, for other reasons as well)….but I let some people get away from me because of not being able to say what I wanted to say.
I’m not as shy now, but I still have traces of shyness or not saying/doing what I’d like to. By the way, as a kid, before all this….I was never really shy. I was a character. I loved to act and perform and make you very aware of me. OCD killed that, and then I had to re-learn. So for whoever that next girl is….I might love you, but if i’m not saying it or expressing it the right way, you might need to just help bring it out of me a little bit.
And I’m also trying to cleanse a fear I have….that if I ever have kids, that I’m going to pass this down to them genetically. I’m not sure I want kids, because if my kid has this condition….I don’t know how I’d handle that. Maybe they wouldn’t have it. But I would never want my kid to face the pain I’ve gone through. Just no way. That would be beyond devastation to me. But we’ll see. If I meet the right person and it feels like it’s a good thing….maybe that could still happen.
I can also get anxious and have basically an anxiety attack if I’m doing something in public when I’m not feeling totally healthy. It sucks….i’m finding ways to grow out of it. I’m not good in front of big crowds yet. Not sure why….just trying to get there.
Like in 2016…..I had a short film playing at a festival. I was going through a transition after a recent OCD episode. I was just in recovery mode. I knew I wasn’t right and shouldn’t have gone to the screening, but I tried anyway because it’s my movie. But that was a bad idea. I got nervous about being exposed basically…..like if I did a Q&A, they’d see I’m struggling with OCD. I might not make clear, coherent statements, I might be a mess. I might not make sense. The condition can still make me scattered a bit. I got really nervous….couldn’t do it. I just vanished. I said to some people it was because I was nervous about the audience liking the movie. That was bullshit though. I couldn’t care less about stuff like that. I was nervous because I was in the middle of my OCD. It ruined the whole night for me.
I had another episode/re-occurence last summer. This one was potent enough that I started seeking help again, looking for new avenues, looking into places that can treat it better. It sort of culminated on a day I did a table read for a feature script I want to make at some point. I knew I should have canceled the read, but I just wanted to see if I could manage it, because movies always help, so maybe it would help. But this one was a bad idea and I lost my brain at the table read. Like, I had to have one of the actors read the descriptions part of the script because I couldn’t manage to read it clearly or finish the sentences. I could listen….that was about it. I was actually in agonizing pain that night, but I tried to play it off. I did tell everyone there that I was having an episode….but i still tried to sort of act normal and talk it off. But it was bad…I was hurting a lot.
Then I got better. I’m getting stronger from each re-occurence now. I’m finding ways to better heal the issue and grow. I had an episode recently, like two weeks ago, but now I’m getting better and finding the right ways to continue forward. They say there’s no real cure for OCD, but I’m motivated by the idea there is one, and that I can find it. I don’t care how long it takes, I find strength in the idea that a cure is possible. Being more open about my OCD helps. It’s not something a lot of people know about it, but I’m more talkative about it now. I’m able to deal with it openly. I’m using more rationale, logical answers to it.
I also infuse elements of my OCD journey into my films, especially my genre stuff, like my sci-fi scripts. I’m making a new short film soon that’s basically a sci-fi metaphor for what that journey felt like for me. The story deals with memory and healing memory, also healing yourself and the way you can rise out of the depths of your own personal “pit”. That helps me when I insert personal themes about OCD into my work. It makes me understand myself better.
Overall it’s just a strange thing to live with. Like I said, I still don’t drive a car, which is a huge pain in the neck living in LA. (NYC was a dream for me from that standpoint. subways everywhere). There are certain things I still can or can’t do. I’m comfortable doing certain kinds of jobs, but uncomfortable with others, because the anxiety that arises from the OCD can be too much. I’m doing stuff more from an instinctual place now, as opposed to an analytical place. Analysis had too many OCD-esque structures to it, so being more instinctual in life has helped me. When OCD hits, it can be very tiring. There have been days in the past where I’m exhausted from all the mental work I’ve done in order to find a sense of clarity. It takes a lot out of you, but I’m definitely proud of myself for continuing to build and find ways to make life simpler as well. To make my brain work in a clear, free space, where that mental work isn’t happening so often. Where I’m just…living or “being”. Obviously I’m grateful I found a way to survive and get through those two lost years, “the fall”. And 2006 will always be such a milestone for me. But the last time I was completely 100% symptom free was when I was 11 years old. That’s 22 years ago. 1996. I still do remember what it feels like to be in that mental space, where there’s nothing intrusive, nothing bothering me, no elements of OCD in any way, shape, or form. It was different. Having total freedom of thought now requires a new mindset and a lot of internal work. It is what it is.
Ultimately I just want to continue to get better. That’s what my life is about. Just getting better and finding ways to be me and live my life. Film and living healthy go hand-in-hand for me. So I just continue doing my thing with movies, keep doing projects and learning what works, developing my voice, getting better experience each time and improving as a writer and director. I’m very happy where I’m at as a storyteller and excited about where I’m going.
This was supposed to be an essay and it mutated into a biography. lol. Oh well, whatever. Consistent therapy might be happening soon. I’m just adding more treatments into my life. Seeing how I can continue to build. I was so scared of therapy and medication for so long, but not so much anymore. I used to have this defiant feeling that “I created this issue and I have to end it”. But that’s gone too. Having more people help you just builds a team to combat the problem. It’s a better solution. If you’re like I was, scared of seeking therapy or help, don’t be. Just go do it. Find a way to get there. I’m finding my way to it and I think it’s the best solution. I know a lot of people have mental illness issues they deal with. Hopefully others will find their path to recovery and live the life they want. Mental illness teaches you compassion, for sure. We all have issues. Maybe some people will understand me better by writing this. I don’t know. I do think it’s important to share your stories….we all learn from each other in different ways.
I feel good I wrote this. Wasn’t as tough on me as I maybe thought it would be. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel weird about it. But I feel good at the moment. So it’s another building block as I continue forward.
BIG THANK YOU to cinema. Thank you for helping me save my life. I’m going to go work on my storyboards now for my next short film. I’m excited to share this next film, because it’s very much a visual and thematic metaphor for the journey I’ve been on. Thanks for reading. Onwards life goes and I'll continue building positivity and strength as I grow.