My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first third of this book details Mitzi’s experience of the onset of her Anxiety Disorder/OCD. It is a look into the terrified thinking of a person who has been subjected to this debilitating illness. The last portion details methods and medications she has used to help her attain control of her mind.
As someone who has a BA in psychology, this book was incredibly fascinating. As a Christian, this book is incredibly enlightening. I highly recommend this book for anyone who holds a pastoral or guiding role in the church who may sometime meet and have to council someone with genuine Anxiety/OCD.
Mitzi VanCleve is a self-published author who writes transparently in regard to her life experiences with Anxiety Disorders. She writes in a compelling way as stirred by her empathy for others who share her disorder.
Her first book “Strivings Within – The OCD Christian” was written to offer up hope and encouragement to other’s who share her affliction. She writes to remove the feelings of isolation and self-loathing. She writes to stir other’s into action in regard to their own suffering so that living can once again become the joy it’s meant to be.
Mitzi, thank you for joining me. You really had me from page one. I studied Psychology at (what was then) Bethel College in St. Paul, MN. I encountered the Christian “psychology isn’t sickness, it’s sin” from family when I began my studies. Then a loved one had to face it head-on when she went through severe depression and later Anxiety Disorder. A few of her family members even banned her from visiting their home because she couldn’t get a handle on her “sin”. Have you had to face those reactions from family or friends? My friend avoided treatment because of the guilt her family laid on her.
Back in the eighties I pretty much refused to fully share what I was going through. I didn’t have the information I needed to grasp or understand what was wrong with me. The very first time I opened up, by stating that I thought I might need to see a psychiatrist, I was told that psychiatrists are only for people who are weak and that a Christian shouldn’t need to seek help from them. Our faith should be enough! This was extremely hard to hear and sadly I bought into this notion all too easily. I was already disgusted with myself for not being able to get past the torture in my mind, and this only seemed to reinforce my disgust and shame. I spent many nights on the floor of my living room begging for God to show me what I needed to do to get better. I tried desperately to figure out what sin I needed to confess in order to come through the nightmare. I do believe this factored into my avoiding getting help and prolonged my suffering. Now that I’m so open about my experiences with Panic Disorder and OCD, I’ve still encountered Christians who deny my disorders as being valid afflictions and pin the label of sin on them.
I have found that people who suffer from Anxiety Disorders also get robbed of some good memories as well. Scenes that I reminisce with them about years later are dark from them, when at the time they described them as pleasant. Do you find that the anxiety robs you of previous pleasant experiences as well?
Oh yes! My disorder definitely casts a dark shadow over some experiences which should have been opportunities to build wonderful memories. I struggled tremendously just a few months after the births of my first two children and it wasn’t just for a short season either. It went on for well over a year each time. I struggled to enjoy a few family vacations and also large family Christmas celebrations on more than one occasion. I can remember visiting at my Aunt and Uncle’s cottage and just wishing with everything in me that I could just flee and go home.
You mention a few medications that you tried, and after a time, the panic would come back. Was this after quitting the use, or did your body become accustomed to it?
In the 1980’s my GP prescribed several medications for my “nervousness” which had zero impact as to helping me at all. I think they may have been mild sedatives/tranquilizers but as to helping me; I might as well have been eating Skittles for all the good they did. I had to quit them when I became pregnant with my third child. They probably weren’t strong enough and they also weren’t the kind of medication which helps to raise circulating serotonin levels. This was pretty discouraging to me, but eventually when I learned I had Panic Disorder I began to use some “natural” remedies like St. John’s Wort which helped me a little bit and I also took up a vigorous aerobic exercise program in order to raise my serotonin levels. Over time, these things helped to bring me through a pretty significant flare. Eventually, when I became pretty debilitated by another bad flare I was able to go on some medications which helped me tremendously. Now, I only use one medication on a regular basis at a fairly low dosage and was able to drop my main medication about 4 years ago. This is because I’ve learned how to apply CBT in the form of Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy to my obsessional themes.
You talk about the religious OCD that you went through. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like, to be able to read the verses that normally comfort and to not be able to feel that must have been not only terrifying, but incredibly depressing. You mentioned a group you joined that was a really a ‘come to Jesus’ moment for you. Can you tell us about that group and are you still a member? If you are, is there a link where potential readers here could check it out if they’ve ever had similar issues?
At the point when I began to experience Religious OCD/Scrupulosity I was still utterly clueless that I even had OCD. I only understood that I had Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
It was right while I was in the midst of engaging in the compulsive activity of my disorder that I stumbled upon a Christian forum about OCD. I had been Googling about losing my salvation, doubting my salvation, etc. when a link popped up which led me to this forum. I almost didn’t click on it because I didn’t get what OCD had to do with what I was going through. Thank the Lord that I did, because once I started reading posts in this forum, I quickly discovered that there were others who were or had experienced exactly what I was going through. From there on I was able to increase my knowledge by reading up on OCD and eventually discovering that I had a form of OCD that is often referenced as Purely Obsessional or Pure O. All this means is that the compulsions aren’t outwardly observable behaviors, they are carried out within the mental processes of the mind. As I studied about Pure O, I found that I had actually struggled with some very common OCD themes in just the same exact way that many others had. The forum which I clicked on was Christian Forums – OCD Forum. I’m still a member but don’t frequent it as often as I used to. I am active on several other forums which are specific to Pure O – OCD and I have started my own closed FB group for Christians who suffer from Anxiety Disorders.
Thank you so much for joining me, Mitzi. I wish success in reaching people who need to hear from you with your story of faith.