After a long hiatus, Tuesday Q&A is back! I couldn’t be more honored to share some insight from my latest guest, someone I’m so lucky to call my friend, Bryan Piatt. Bryan and I met four years ago when his employer, KARE 11, assigned him to a story about an “ugly Christmas sweater” Target was selling—it said, “OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder”—and Bryan reached out to me for an interview. (I agreed that the sweater was ugly, all right, but for very different reasons.)
After several years in his dream job as a TV reporter, Bryan decided to focus more time on some behind-the-scenes work, including his labor of love, Refresh Network, and sharing his experience with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) with his fans—and beyond.
Because you’ve been on TV for several years—and because you’re funny, engaging, and smart—you have a platform for spreading awareness of mental health. You’ve recently started to share your story. Why did you decide to open up? And what has the response been like?
Can you please keep going with the compliments? But for real—I have always had this deep sense that I wanted to use my platform from working on television to share my story and help other people who may be struggling with their mental health. My word for 2019 has been “action”—taking action toward all the things I’ve been talking about doing for years—and a big piece of that was opening up more about my own mental health journey. The response has been absolutely beautiful so far. So much love and support out there and so many people feeling safe to share their own mental health struggles with me too, which is such an honor. We all have things we’re struggling with and need safe spaces to be able to talk about them.
How did you realize what you’d been going through was OCD? Can you tell us about some of your obsessions?
Looking back I think there were a lot of signs of anxiety and OCD doing their thing when I was younger. I was always scared of throwing up in public, scared of fainting during choir recitals at school, very anxious about sleepovers with friends—those kinds of things.
In middle school I had a panic attack in the lunch room at school that literally shook me to my core. I got a huge wave of what I now understand to be depersonalization. My entire world become consumed by monitoring and checking whether or not I was feeling that super-detached, spacey feeling. “Is it there? What does this mean? Do I have a brain tumor? Am I safe?” Constantly. So scary.
As I grew up, health anxiety really started to take hold for me—I was often checking to see if I had any lumps on my body that might be cancer, noticing any fluttering of my heart and convincing myself that I was heaving a heart attack or that I had a heart condition.
I always identified more with the word “anxiety.” I was loosely diagnosed with OCD in college, but I never really identified with it very much, until later.
Into adulthood, I started noticing a trend when it came to me being in relationships. I would start to get close to someone, then start having doubt about that person, which would cause a lot of anxiety for me, and then I would push them away from me and break up with them to get that anxiety to go away. I remember thinking, “I literally don’t think I can function in any other area of my life if I keep dating this person—this is clearly the universe telling me that they aren’t the right person for me—and I need to end it.” Then I would eventually let them back in, because I missed them, only to break up with them again because I felt too anxious. This tortuous cycle is what eventually led me to start looking into why I’m behaving like this—and that led me to understanding my struggles with OCD.
OCD has taken on many different forms for me, including harm and sexual obsessions. When I would see awful events happening in the news, I would get consumed by, “Wait, am I actually that person who wants to do something like that too?” Being consumed with analyzing sexual attraction is a theme that I’ve struggled with a lot, too.
Once you knew it was OCD how did you go about tackling it? How did you know where to start?
I had talked with a couple of therapists about OCD—and then eventually heard about Dr. Steven Phillipson through reading Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Chrissie Hodges. I got on his waiting list and ended up working with him for about a year doing exposure and response prevention (ERP).
You’ve taken a holistic approach to your care, and yoga has been a huge part of the process. Tell us how it helps, and how you would respond to someone like me, who might say, “But I can’t even touch my toes! I can’t do yoga.”
I hear this all the time. And trust me—you don’t have to be able to touch your toes to do yoga. It isn’t about twisting yourself into a pretzel. Yoga has been a key piece in my mental health journey. I always say that yoga is truly a journey back to ourselves. It’s an amazing tool to quiet some of the noise in our minds and truly get into our bodies. There’s so much clarity that I find on my yoga mat.
Shame and guilt can wreak havoc on our recovery, making us feel unworthy of love, help, and healing. When you feel like you’re drowning in shame, how do you pull yourself out and move forward?
The shame is one of the toughest pieces for me. The things that our minds try to convince us of are so scary. And so isolating. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) has been a beautiful tool for me to maneuver a lot of that shame. I tell myself often—the thoughts, the emotions, the shame, the sensations in my body—they all get to come along for the ride. I’m not going to push them away, but they don’t get to sit in the driver’s seat. I get to decide what my actions are going to be, and I do my best to make sure those actions are more in line with how I want to be living my life.
If you could offer just one piece of advice to others with OCD, what would it be?
It’s okay to step out into the world messy. You don’t have to always feel like you have it pulled together. Embrace the mess and show up for your life. One step at a time.