8/24/19 #SameHere Hero: Ben Ruvo

Today’s #SameHere🤙 Hero: Ben from OpenMindGymm.com
Ben discusses a topic we haven’t had a ton of shares on recently, & that’s major OCD, that leads to symptoms of anxiety & even depression. The constant thought & even ritual loop that gets stuck in one’s head, that takes up so much space, literally wears down your energy – & is what Ben describes.

Many who have faced this debilitating hurdle know it all too well. Ben didn’t know what it was at first, so he felt lost & like he was “the only one.”  He searched google incessantly to understand what he had, & while he found moments of relief when he found explanations, the OCD tendencies would only get worse after a brief respite period. 

Ben is a triplet!! He’s also an athlete – baseball player at Washington College, in Maryland. He’s found treatments that have worked for him that he talks about in his share: ERP & ACT, along w meditation. He’s also been open to his teammates about what he struggles w.

@openmindgymm is his baby that he’s put a lot of work into, & he is helping in raising the convo on his campus, & even donating funds from sales of his merchandise (like what he’s wearing here) to nonprofits like ours, so we can do more programming.  
He’ll also be joining our #SameHere🤙 Students Alliance, which you can find on our website – along w student-led groups from colleges all over the country. And to make them feel a part of what’s growing, we are giving them access to “Member Of” logos for the Global Mental Health Movement. To be able to connect #SameHere between: Athletes, Celebs, Influencers, Advocates, Practitioners, Everyday Heroes, & Students, will help lift everyone’s collective message, w consistency. Please help us welcome Ben & his story!

“My name is Ben Ruvo & I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Looking back on my life I have no regrets on how I was raised. I have awesome parents & great siblings who love & support me. That is the tricky thing w OCD, it hits you at times where you would least expect it. I remember when it first onset. It all began early sophomore year of high school. I was having a casual phone conversation w my girlfriend at the time. She asked me a question & I thought to myself, ‘What if this question defines who I am?’ This what-if thought stuck to me like glue for three months. 

Once the thought was resolved & finally exited my brain, everything seemed to be good. My mind was clear & I could just focus on schoolwork & baseball. Sophomore year became very free flowing again. My girlfriend was great, I was doing well in school, & just enjoying life as a sixteen year old kid. However, OCD does not just disappear for good & I learned this the hard way. After three months of it passing, that same question led me to over a year & a half of constant suffering, sleepless nights, & crippling anxiety. 

That summer, the same obsessive, intrusive thought that I had at the start of sophomore year came back stronger than ever – & this time it was not exiting anytime soon. It eventually got to the point where everywhere I went I constantly whispered to myself, ‘this is not me, this is not me.’ I thought that reminding myself that the thoughts were not who I was would make them go away. To my surprise, that only made it one hundred times worse. The more I told myself not to think about it, the more it came up. For someone without OCD, this method would tend to work as they would realize that it is just a thought & it would eventually fade out of their mind. I, unfortunately, could not do that. I was getting constant, intrusive thoughts & for twelve or more hours a day I was latched onto these feelings. I did everything I could to try & forget about them but their anxiety provoking nature returned, each day a little stronger than the day prior.

I realized speaking to myself was not working so I decided to search the internet. I would test myself, looking things up & proving to myself mentally that the thought I had in my mind did not represent me as a person. Each time I proved it to myself I got a huge feeling of relief. I would then repeat it to myself in my head: ‘See, you’re fine. Look at what the internet says.’ I would repeat that to myself every second to gain that same relief until the anxiety came back. Then I would have to look up something else to prove to myself once again that the thought was not true. This constant Googling & ruminating went on for hours & hours & made the anxiety come back stronger every single time I went through the cycle. The cycle would go: anxiety, rumination, compulsion, relief, doubt. This happened over & over for about a year & a half.

These constant dark thoughts eventually impacted all aspects of life. My grades were dropping, I was sleeping more, finding excuses to not workout, & was having crippling anxiety on the baseball field. It was not a way to live. I could not function this way anymore. I could not keep acting like everything was okay when it was not. I remember coming home & faking migraines just so I could sleep through the afternoon. I was in a serious state of depression that I could not get out of. Even when I was sleeping I could not escape it. The intrusive thoughts started creeping into my dreams where I would see them even when I closed my eyes. I would wake up sweating, begging for an alternative, hoping that it would all just disappear. 

Eventually I took my thoughts to the internet, and searched: ‘Why am I getting these thoughts that are not me?’ & the term Purely Obsessional OCD came up, or Pure O, for short. ‘I am not crazy,’ I thought to myself. Knowing this gave me the biggest sense of relief. I felt as if I could put all of this behind me now, recognizing that all I had was OCD. Yes, you heard that right: all I had was a crippling anxiety disorder. I figured that now that it was something I could define, that meant I could just make it go away. I started repeating to myself, ‘I’m fine… I’m fine…It’s just OCD.’ Once again, I thought if I could just tell myself this whenever I was anxious, it would disappear. I reunited w the cycle of ruminating, Googling symptoms and reassuring myself that I was not crazy & that it was just OCD. Like this strategy had done before, it made my OCD come back stronger than I ever thought it could have. Once I would get a feeling of relief, it was like an addiction; I needed to keep getting that same feeling of relief or my mind felt like it was on fire. I was back in this hopeless cycle. 

I went through this cycle for months, thinking that if only I could find a definitive answer this could all be put behind me. Ironically, w OCD, that glimpse of doubt is all that is needed in order to keep you in the cycle; it felt like it was never ending. I knew I should have gone to get help but I did not know who to talk to; I felt alone. 

It is very hard to open up to family & friends when you are struggling with OCD, or any mental health complication. You feel as if you are the only one who has it & that nobody will understand. ‘Oh, he likes to wash his hands.’ ‘His desk is clean, he is organized.’ These are the common responses that I was expecting to hear when I told my family what was happening. If it was not for my girlfriend at the time helping me open up to my parents about what was going on, or helping me find the right therapist, I would never have gotten the help I needed. As daunting as it may initially seem, getting help from loved ones is so important. After a year & a half of struggling I was finally ready to tell my family. I remember the first family member I told was my father. I sat in our back porch sobbing into his shoulder. This was the only way I could react as I felt such a big relief from telling him but also so much anxiety. I did not know how my family would react w what I was saying. I did not think they would understand the true extent to which I was struggling. This is part of the unfair stigma attached to sufferers.

My father, as well as the rest of my family, was very supportive. At first they did not understand my condition but after further explanation, they were more than happy to give me the support I needed. I was very fortunate to have a great therapist in my area, Dr. Jordan Levy. 

Even though I was open to my family & girlfriend, opening up to my teammates was & has been a completely different issue in itself. Although I opened up to some of my close friends, I never found the courage to speak about it to my highschool teammates. It took me until college to finally have the confidence to speak about it w my teammates & coaches. Sitting in our conference room briefly telling my new teammates, as a freshman, what I was going through was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was the best decision I ever made. 

Dr. Levy put me through intense Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help me with my battle. The treatment is very challenging but if you want to get better it is the only way. As my doctor said, ‘It gets worse before it gets better, but if you stay diligent it will all pay off.’ I went constantly for about a year & then I finally noticed that my anxiety & obsessive thoughts were slowly going away. I no longer felt the need to search for answers on the internet or overthink my intrusive thoughts. I still get intrusive thoughts every now & then, but I have learned to let them come & go w great coping strategies that I discovered throughout my treatment. Meditation is also a practice that helps relieve my anxiety from time to time now that I am in recovery. 

I went public with my #SameHere🤙 story about a month ago on my organization’s website. Everyone was very supportive & I got numerous texts from friends & family saying how proud they were. Many people were shocked & said that they would have never known. This is part of the stigma, mental health is tricky & it is very hard to tell when someone is struggling. I also got texts from people thanking me for sharing my story & letting me know that they were struggling as well & that they really needed to know that they were not alone. Those were the best texts I received because it helps motivate me & reminds me to keep sharing my story & move forward w my advocacy work. I want to keep opening minds & making a difference w my story & use my platform to end the stigma for athlete mental health.”

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