06/13/2012 05:26 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2012

What Is Your Breakdown Trying to Tell You?

I had some upsetting personal news... so I cried about it once, "put it in a box," so to speak, and then got on with my life as usual. Usual. Usual?! Humph. When did usual start meaning scrubbing my hands with hot water and soap four times in the bathroom at CPK because my pinky accidentally touched the dirty rusty towel dispenser after I washed them the first time, then touched the dirty pool of water on the granite countertop after I washed the second time, and on and so on? When did usual start meaning having a complete meltdown when the waiter at the sushi restaurant brought me my roll with mayonnaise and crab, which I didn't order, but which, I was sure, would cause me such sickness that it may actually kill me if I ate it? When did usual start meaning having a nervous breakdown about moving into a new apartment that was close to the freeway because if we lived there I would undoubtedly get cancer from all the car exhaust? When did usual start meaning beating myself up for every single word I say to anyone because I'm terrified I sound stupid and someone will get mad at me or won't like me anymore? For me, that stuff is NOT usual.

This kind of OCD is not something I am used to. Sure, I have some issues (mainly with germs), but never anything debilitating or anything that paralyzed me like that. But yet, over the past few weeks, I have suddenly developed it. It is horrible. You're afraid you're literally going crazy and that it's never going to go away and that you're going to live your whole life in fear and panic. And you feel alone, mainly because people who are in your life and don't know what it feels like to suffer from it can't really understand what you're going through. I'm paralyzed over every little thing -- this bump on my skin must be a spider bite with venomous poison, that broccoli I ate wasn't covered properly in the fridge and will cause food poisoning...

It's hard for people around you who aren't used to seeing you like this deal with it. When all of a sudden you're being rude to waiters for bringing you the wrong food, to them you must just seem like a snob who treats people badly. But what they don't know is that you are taken over by a monster of panic that what you eat will cause you to be violently ill and there is no filter -- you literally don't know what you're saying. We don't mean to be rude to anyone (at least, I know I don't). And then, the whole thing just gets worse when you realize later (or were told) that you treated someone poorly. For me, that just sets me down a whole other spiral... What an awful person I am, how could I treat someone like that...

So, really, what's up with this? Where is this coming from? I've been holding it all in for many reasons: not wanting to bother anyone with my problems or be a burden, being horribly embarrassed about it, being asked not to talk about what's going on. But after finally erupting and letting it all out to some close friends (one of whom is a therapist), I have come to realize why this is happening. I have a lot of emotions and trauma pent up over the situation that's happening. But instead of feeling any of it, I have just been stuffing it down. And eventually, it got to be too much and my brain started firing all crazy, and of course it makes sense that I would have crazy control issues, because I'm feeling like everything is actually out of my control. Apparently, it is not a surprise that repression and denial of grief, fear, stress and memories causes some sort of breakdown -- for some people it's physical, and for others it's mental and emotional.

I am aware now that I need to deal with my real feelings. I have to actually feel the grief, feel the fear. I have to process it all. Which sucks, honestly. It's painful. Who wants to feel pain? But, it's the only way through it. It's funny -- it's like my body is FORCING me to deal with the emotions by bringing up this OCD. It's a red flag showing me that something is wrong. It's a breakdown that's there to show me that there's a lot of stuff underneath that I need to deal with. Our bodies are smart... when there's too much under the surface ready to blow, they give us warning signs -- like getting sick, like weird behavior changes, like mood shifts, like panic attacks, and so forth -- everyone's is different. So next time you find yourself having some sort of breakdown (physical or mental/emotional), stop and ask yourself what the breakdown is really trying to tell you.

For more by Holly Sidell, click here.

For more on mental health, click here.