[past] university medical center, part 1: a detour

the following is a bit off topic, but i think it is pertinent to my past and future posts. hope you don't mind a brief detour. :]

University Medical Center is about 40 minutes south of my parents' house in Tucson, so it would have been reasonable if i had never been there before. but i had actually been there multiple times. just never as a patient.

from seventh grade through my junior year in high school, my mom and i accompanied my psychiatrist to UMC to take part in his lecture to the second year med students about mental disorders. once he was finished teaching, it was my turn. i would get up in front of the 200+ students and essentially tell them my life story as far as mental disorders were concerned. like i mentioned before, i have had OCD and panic attacks since i was very young, and my psychiatrist thought sharing my experiences with the students might help them be more understanding as doctors someday. (my mom also shared her experiences of caring for a husband and two daughters with various mental health issues.)

my life story went something like this: i had my first panic attack when i was five. i was so afraid to leave my parents -- and to be left by them -- that i refused to ride the bus to kindergarten without my mom and rarely went a day without breaking down in my classroom. i was afraid my parents would die while i was at school. everybody thought it was just separation anxiety. just leave her crying, she'll grow out of it, they said. i think my parents knew better, especially since my dad had struggled with panic attacks for much of his life. they took me to see a psychiatrist and i started on some anti-anxiety meds.

first grade was a breeze. maybe it was just separation anxiety after all! then we moved from CA to AZ, where the panic attacks returned with a vengeance, this time accompanied by OCD symptoms. school was already difficult in a new place, and crying all the time and spending lunch and recesses with the teacher were not exactly conducive to making friends. by the end of second grade, i had developed a huge fear of throwing up and, as a result, of germs -- because, naturally, germs lead to throwing up. i was so worried about germs that i washed my hands about 75 times every day, with 21 squirts of soap each time. i didn't eat much for fear i would get sick. i was a scrawny 8-year-old with cracked, bleeding hands and perpetually red eyes from crying. life was just so scary.

third grade was worse than second. my mom had no choice but to be a classroom helper on most days, just so i could feel comfortable at school. towards the second half of the year, even that didn't work. my panic attacks and OCD were so severe that it was determined i was not able to function in a school environment. i was removed from school and homeschooled for the remainder of the year and for all of fourth grade. at first, being away from all the germy kids was a relief, but i started to miss the social interaction of school. my family moved back to CA during my fourth grade year, and without school, i didn't have much of a chance to make friends outside of softball and church. i decided i would return to public school for fifth grade.

now i'd like to point out that i didn't just accept the panic attacks and OCD. my parents spent so many patient hours walking me through coping techniques that helped me work through the anxiety and feelings of obsession/compulsion. my psychiatrists and psychologists did the same. i pushed myself to do a lot of things i thought i couldn't do, like sleeping over at friends' houses and eating at restaurants. i also learned about the power of faith and how crucial it is in overcoming trials. slowly but surely, i became more confident in my ability to stand up to anxiety and OCD.

fifth and sixth grade had many rocky moments, but overall, i prevailed. i even went to sixth grade camp for a week in central CA, traveled to Lake Havasu with my friend and won the election for student body president. we moved back to AZ before seventh grade, and the upswing still continued. i had finally figured out how to master my thoughts enough so that my panic attacks came much less frequently, and my OCD was markedly improved. true, i still struggled and missed out on a lot of fun, "normal people" activities because of my fears, but i was able to fool most people into thinking i was one of those "normal people." i even threw up in my freshman and junior years of high school and realized it wasn't that bad. overall, i had a great weakness but had somehow found it within myself to be strong.

this is where my testimony to the college kids would end. they would then ask me questions and applaud me, and sometimes i would get a nice UofA med school sweatshirt to take home. i always loved that experience.

flash forward to 2011. i'm back at UMC, and ironically, i find myself feeling not like the strong, victorious high schooler i was when i last visited this hospital, but exactly like that scared little girl in third grade.