Spirit of Giving

Taking back my life


About the Author: Jennifer Parlee is in her first year at Acadia University.  During her grade 11 year, Jennifer spent three months at the IWK.  You can hear her full story on C100FM during the IWK Radiothon, February 17th through the 19th.

There are very few things in this world that will get you the same reaction as telling people you are a former psych patient.   Even as you are reading this blog entry, you may be experiencing the same feelings of intrigue and awkwardness I am sure my friends have over the last two years.

You see, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is a condition characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts that induce anxiety and a compulsive need to perform an action to relieve the anxiety caused by these thoughts.

I describe it as a broken record – the same things playing over and over in your head even if you don’t want them to. However I’m writing today as a survivor, someone who knows the hell mental illness can put you through and as someone who got better.

I have always been an anxious person but this never amounted to anything serious until grade 10 when I started feeling apathetic.  I didn’t care about anything and in this state, and combined with the stress of high school I started getting obsessive thoughts that scared me.

I had to do things like wash my hands or not touch things or tap things 10 times because I felt something bad would happen if I didn’t.   It got to a point where it was starting to interfere with my life.  It took me 5 hours to get ready for school, I wasn’t eating or sleeping and I wasn’t thinking of anything else because my obsessions and compulsions kept getting in the way.

I was finally taken to the IWK at the end of grade 11 where I was diagnosed as an extreme case.

I can’t say I wasn’t scared when I arrived at 4 South – the inpatient assessment unit for kids with serious mental health issues.  There was a big magnetic-locking door and long hallways with nothing in them.  The doors to patient rooms had no locks; at my first breakfast I saw a kid laughing at something that wasn’t there.

As I got to know the unit and the people better, it wasn’t such a scary place after all.  The staff was kind and understanding and helped me individually with my exposure tasks.

Over the three months I was there I got to know staff and the other kids very well.   I realized this wasn’t a place to keep me in, it was a place to keep the rest of the world and my problems out.

There’s a certain comforting monotony about the days that let you focus on yourself so you can get better without any distractions.  Eventually I got to explore the IWK a little more and I found the Teen Lounge, which is a great place to liven up your day in a place where fun is not exactly the first priority.

In August of 2008, I left my 4 South family behind to live with my real family and with less problems.

Today I’m a psychology student at Acadia University and I volunteered back at 4 South and the Teen Lounge last summer.  I am finally at a place where I can hug and laugh with my friends without having to do my compulsions constantly.  I still have OCD, and I always will, but the IWK gave me the strength and ability to control it and take my life back.

(Do you have an IWK story to share? Visit http://www.iwkstories.ca)


5 thoughts on “Taking back my life

  1. As soon as I heard your story on the radio, I immediately thought “I am so grateful they are now doing more stories about people with mental illnesses” and your story hit so close to home.

    I have a daughter who also spent 3 months in 4 South, and another daughter who has less severe issues, but we have been noticing signs of OCD for her entire life. She is now almost 15 and it seems the stress and anxiety around the OCD, rather than the OCD itself, is becoming all-consuming.

    I hope she responds well to treatment and has the success you have had with your illness.

    I wish you continued success.

    • Mental Illness touches the lives of so many Maritime families. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Kay.

  2. Hi Jennifer. I wanted to thank you for sharing your story about ocd and mental illness. My daughter, Lindsay, was diagnosed with ocd two and half years ago, she was only 10 at the time. While we were dropping off the Change Bandit money this afternoon we had the opportunity to speak briefly with Deb Smith and she was telling us about your story. On our way home, we heard your story and we were both shocked…….you described Lindsay’s life from the beginning symptoms of ocd right down to the weekly visits for CBT. As a parent, it was hard because I wanted to take it away from her and I couldn’t. It was hard to watch her go through it and so I can only imagine what it must be like for the person suffering with it. I will say, one of the biggest challenges we faced was the response from others (family, friends and especially teachers) That is why I wanted to thank you. It is so important for people to talk about mental illness because the more we talk about it, the more it will be viewed for what it is…….an illness.

  3. Good post. This will help me.

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