It was nighttime on the first day I was going to take medicine for my OCD. The journey ahead of me was daunting, and it seemed like I would never be able to take that first step, let alone go past it. My nine-year-old mind was afraid of who I would become once I started taking the medicine, almost as afraid of who I might become if I didn’t.
Creeping through the kitchen, I made my way to the bottle of liquid Paxil and took the phone in my other hand. I needed to know that I wasn’t making this journey alone, that there was someone beyond the four walls of my house who would love me no matter what happened when that orange liquid made its way down my throat.
I called my Nana.
Nana - my mother’s mother - was 72 then, and when she picked up the phone, just hearing her voice calmed my racing heart and jittery hands. She told me that she knew what I was going to do and it was so brave. She was so proud of me for taking that first step. And when that wasn’t quite enough, she told me that she was about to take her mental health medicine too, and if I wanted to take it with her, I would have to start on the count of three.
The idea that she took medicine too strengthened me, because I knew who she had turned out to be: the most loving person I’d ever met, someone who had endured the long-ago loss of her husband with bravery, someone who would take as much time as was needed to help children with various types of disabilities eat their lunch at her job in a local elementary school cafeteria. She was someone who I looked up to since the day I was born, and the very idea that she could do what she did while being on medicine – and that the medicine could have even helped her with it – made me tip the little cup down my throat, giving me the strength to begin my own journey.
Nana has been there for every moment before and since.
She helped me get over my anxiety to go on a school trip to Israel when I knew I’d be in a foreign country with no friends. We did everything from talking seriously about the problem to coming up with jokes about the trip that could make me laugh when I was away, giving me a smile even when she couldn’t be there.
She was there for me seven years ago, when I was in the hospital and terrified that I wouldn’t live to see the next day, and her voice kept me as calm as possible as I figured out next steps.
She listened as I poured my heart out to her years later, suffering from endless negative thoughts and desperate for anything that would help. When I needed to come home from school to seek more help from my therapist, I remember stretching out on her couch with my head in her lap, finally calm enough to just breathe.
She comforted me all those times just as she did when she held me as a baby, and when she learned that maybe that perfect baby wasn’t so perfect after all, she still loved me just as fiercely. I’ve never once had the feeling that she’s ashamed of me, even when I did compulsions in front of her as a child or told her all about the thoughts running amok in my head. All I’ve ever felt from her is strength, courage, and inestimable love.
And it’s not just for the bad stuff too - she’s always willing to participate in my positive obsessions. She probably knows far more about Lord of the Rings, Pokemon, and all my other fads than she ever cared to, and she still asks me questions when she knows I want to talk and reads my fanfiction even if she needs me to explain all the backstory over the phone.
She treats everything I’ve written like it’s the best thing in the world, even if it was a childish scribble on notebook paper when I was bored in school, and it was this encouragement that made me want to share my story on No Shame On U’s blog - in fact, she was the first person I called after I made the decision.
Nearly twenty years after that night in the kitchen, her help has given me the strength to accomplish a great deal more than I ever thought I would be able to. I still draw courage from her weekly letters and call her to share all the joys and sorrows of life. She picks up the phone with cheer no matter what and tells me how proud she is of me whether I’m sharing a success or brainstorming past a roadblock.
It is in large part thanks to her support that I am who I am today, someone who has not only achieved many milestones in life but who also feels comfortable sharing my story. When I write these posts, I wonder if maybe I’m helping someone like she has helped me.
From that day so many years ago until just last night, she ends all of our calls and her letters with one word: persevere. It’s a word that brings me strength every day, and I couldn’t be more thankful for Nana as she celebrates her 91st birthday.
Not just this post, but this blog, are for you, Nana - and I can’t wait to share more memories in the years to come!
Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.