By Daniel J. Vance
I receive a number of compelling stories from readers.
Wanda S. of Sharon, Penn., reads "Disabilities" in the Review Newspapers of northeast Ohio. This 40-year-old single mom battling obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder has the toughness to get back on track and now the courage to publicly tell her story.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website defines OCD as an anxiety disorder affecting 3.3 million Americans. It involves "anxious thoughts or rituals you feel you can't control." NIMH defines bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, as a brain disorder affecting 2.2 million Americans "that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function."
"I'm learning to manage the OCD," said Wanda recently over the telephone. "Initially when diagnosed I thought some medicine or 'revelation' would make me better. I thought the same in 1996 when diagnosed with bipolar. But that also hasn't happened."
Her compulsion is excessive "skin picking." "I can't stop it for anything," she said, "It's like being a closet alcoholic in that I don't want people to know. The skin picking involves my arms, legs, stomach, face, everywhere. I do it more in places where I can cover it up with clothes."
As for her bipolar disorder, she said, "I never ever wanted to be on disability (government assistance), but there came a point in 1996 when I just couldn't work. I started out with counseling, then a psychiatrist and another, and at one point I was taking 13 pills a day. I was in a near 'vegetative' state. Then one day in 2000 I decided I couldn't live like that anymore."
Subsequently she stopped seeing a psychiatrist and through a family physician she cut back on her medication. Before going on disability she'd been an office manager in a medical setting, so she sought placement through a state rehabilitation center in a related field, nursing. But it was a poor fit.
"I felt I needed a college degree," she said. "So I decided to move forward without state help. I found an online accredited college and soon will finish a bachelor's. I've already been accepted into graduate school with the goal of being a licensed marriage and family therapist. I'm at the top of my class. Don't believe the people saying you can't. If you want [to succeed] bad enough, you can do it.”