Award-winning columnist and author Maggie Lamond Simone released a memoir about struggling with OCD, anxiety and the addictions they trigger Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal. Originally she was crippled by the shame of living with these conditions, which compelled her, since childhood, to carry out self-destructive behavior such as plucking out her eyelashes, picking at her skin, starving herself and drinking excessively, and the resultant cycle of anxiety that inevitably followed.
But today, as she watches her teenage daughter struggle with her own OCD and anxiety, she has found the courage to step forward, sharing her story and its lessons so that others, including her daughter, may be liberated from the shame.
Amid news that mental health is a silent epidemic affecting millions of students, aggravated by a lack of awareness of its signs and the deep shame that prevents victims from asking for help, Simone is determined to lift the stigma and help foster a long overdue public conversation. In her memoir, (Central Recovery Press, April 2015), Simone reveals how her self-esteem was never able to develop because of the shame of her OCD and anxiety as a child, and later, her alcoholism. As a parent, she simply couldn’t let the cycle continue.
I had a chance to interview Simone to learn more about OCD and supporting those who have it.
Why did you decide to write this book?
When my son was 7 years old, we were reading a book together called “The Missing Manatee” by Cynthia DeFelice, and it became clear to me mid-book that one of the characters was an alcoholic. As a recovering alcoholic myself, I knew at some point I would need to discuss it with my kids, although I thought they would be older when I did; however, I couldn’t lose the opportunity when, at the end of the book, my son said, “Alcoholics must be bad people.” We had the discussion then and there. Afterward, I realized that if I was going to be honest about that part of me, then I needed to be honest about the rest – the depression, the anxiety, the OCD – if I wanted my kids to grow up without shame. And that is when “Body Punishment” was started. It wasn’t finished until seven years later.
How do holidays present a particular challenge for people with OCD or anxiety?
There is so much emphasis on happiness and good cheer around most holidays, and for people who suffer from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and OCD, it’s almost tantamount to society saying, “Snap out of it!” Many of us feel like even bigger failures than usual because we can’t always be happy and full of good cheer even around holidays that are built on those feelings. We get resentful at others, and then resentful at ourselves for feeling resentful, and we withdraw even more than usual. And we also often are just sad and angry that we can’t feel like everyone else.
What can people with either (or both) do to help make holidays more bearable?
My tendency is to isolate, and that is probably the exact wrong thing to do. I’ve become a big believer in the concept of “Fake it ‘til you make it,” or some semblance thereof; I have to make myself get out with the kids, get out with the husband or friends, make cookies, go shopping – I find that if I make myself get out and do the things that I specifically do not want to do, there is a degree of relief. Maybe not permanent, maybe not even long-lasting, but temporary relief is certainly better than no relief.
How can friends or family members support people with OCD or anxiety?
Encourage them to get out – acknowledge that they know we want to isolate, they understand, at least in part, why we don’t want to get out or get involved, but that they also understand that if we do, we stand a chance of attaining some relief. Don’t tell us to put it aside for the holidays – because certainly if we could, we would – and don’t give up on us. Don’t walk away. Don’t get frustrated. Believe me, we’re frustrated enough for all of us.
Why is it so important for schools and families to be vocal about mental illness?
It is critical to name and discuss mental illness the same way we name and discuss physical illness – the conversation negates the shame that so many of us feel when we think we are freaks. If children – and parents – understand that some one in five kids have some sort of mental illness or disorder – whether it’s depression or anxiety or OCD or bipolar disorder or whatever – then maybe the shame will not have a chance to take hold, and maybe the self-esteem won’t erode. By removing the stigma, we are preserving the sense of self … which is so hard to create once it’s been destroyed.
About Maggie Lamond Simone
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning columnist and author. With two titles already to her name, her third book, Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal (Central Recovery Press) was released in April 2015. It traces Simone’s journey struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. Her writing has been featured in multiple publications and collections, including Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Zen of Midlife Mothering (2013), Not Your Mother’s Book on Do-It-Yourselfers (2013), P.S. What I Didn’t Say (2009), and Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution (2008). Simone has been a guest on NPR and is a regular blog columnist for the Huffington Post. An an adjunct professor in the department of communications at SUNY Oswego and Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, she lives in Central New York with her husband and two children.
About Body Punishment
For as long as she can recall, Maggie Lamond Simone has been plagued by self-loathing and urges to harm herself physically while emotionally sabotaging her life. In Body Punishment: OCD, Addiction and Finding the Courage to Heal (Central Recovery Press, April 2015), she reveals it all. The obsessive thoughts that drove her to cut, starve, pick, drink, pluck, purge, and otherwise hurt herself. The profound shame, the utter despair and the confusion over her own inner workings that prevented her from establishing stable, long-term goals and healthy relationships. Through this poignant story of her painful, eye-opening journey she explores the issues of substance abuse, anxiety, and depression that commonly occur with OCD, all in an effort to further the dialogue around mental illness and eliminate the shame and help others find a way forward toward healing.