Healthcare Consultant; Owner and Principal, Caroline Garry Branding
Living with OCD, anxiety, and postpartum depression

Caroline Garry waited nearly 20 years for a diagnosis and a successful care plan, but now she is living a life that she loves. She is a business owner, a wife, and a mother. Caroline believes living with a mental health condition fosters strength. She says, “When you already feel that you’re starting behind the block, to then run the race anyway? That’s strength. Unfortunately, because of stigma, mental health conditions are often perceived as weaknesses. I’m here to change that. And I’ll do so as a champion, with strength and fortitude.”

Caroline’s Story

How has your condition impacted your life? When were you first aware of it? What was your most difficult time?

I am from a small, more rural town in Texas. Growing up, I did not have the context or language to understand what mental health challenges were, or access to care. I first became aware that “something was different” when I was in junior high, around 1995. I vividly remember my back-to-school clothes, backpack, supplies, shoes. I was very privileged and am incredibly grateful because I did not want for anything. And I could not understand why, all of a sudden, I was compelled to come home every day after school, run to my room, turn off the lights, and hide in the closet with a flashlight – to scrub my new pair of Nike running shoes. I was terrified of them getting scuffed, scratched, damaged in any way – well beyond what was reasonable. I’d rub until my hands, and the leather, were raw. I was ashamed and embarrassed.

This type of behavior manifested in hundreds of ways between my initial recognition that something was wrong, and the point that I finally received treatment. The stigma around mental health in the 1990s combined with my rural upbringing meant that “we were not to speak of such things.” OCD put me in many precarious and dangerous situations – spinning out in the middle of the highway while being distracted by a passenger in my car whose hand might touch and scratch my ‘99 Taurus’ radio display as one example.

The most difficult challenge I faced was just two or so years prior to my official diagnosis. My OCD had shape-shifted to be what’s more classically described as “Pure O” which means “purely obsessional.” I believed, with 100% certainty, that if I raised my voice, spoke, or even breathed in my bedroom that I would scratch my computer. As a result, I stayed in an abusive relationship for a long time just so I could sleep in his apartment instead of my own bedroom. My fear of these invisible scratches exceeded the real risk of harm. 

What is your life like now? What does success/living well look like for you?

I can’t believe my life is mine. I have done so many things that I never thought possible with – or even without – OCD and anxiety. I am married and feel that I am worth being loved. I am a business owner with a successful 20-year career. I have made bold moves to shift my focus in business to an area of passion – healthcare. I am a mother. The last one warrants being said again: I am a mother. As mothers know, children are wild. They are messy. They are explorers. To be able to create space for my son to roam, to have sticky fingers, to have spills, to make messes – being ok with that while living with OCD, that’s my summit.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?

My husband is the type of guy who doesn’t just say “hey, you should do…”. He’s the type that says, “I’d like to walk by you in this journey. I’ve found a place that seems great for you, might we give them a call together?” He made this exact proposal in 2012. I was diagnosed in 2003, but I went 9 years after being diagnosed with a series of false starts. And that was after living with no diagnosis for 10 years between junior high and early adulthood. That was nearly 20 years of waiting. But as many know, the path to recovery with mental health can be long and winding. False diagnosis? Check. Failed med trials? Check. On-and-off behavioral health counseling? Check. It may seem easy to stick to a good care plan, but those who have tried know it can be a challenge. Thankfully, the place my husband found was what I truly believe saved my life. The specific therapy which is called Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) did wonders for my OCD and still does to this day, though I have now shifted to self-management and medication. I describe mental health recovery as a “very scary and ambiguous marathon training, but for your mind.” Like a marathon, it’s hard – but it works and happens one step at a time.

What do you do to manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

I have been fortunate to be able to access weekly behavioral health counseling and take medication daily. Those two things, as well as maintaining my now self-directed ERP therapy are the cornerstones of my wellbeing. On top of that, I try to create space to think, to just be. But being a mom, I have to say those moments are few and far between so quite honestly, it’s more the counseling and medication. And it works.

Are there positives that have come from having a mental health condition? If so, what?

Yes. So many. Living with a mental health condition can foster deep empathy for others. I have both the curse and great benefit of being deeply and emotionally connected with some of life’s darker moments. I understand and accept that joy and positivity are not always choices or easy to come by, and with that comes quite a bit of grace for both myself and others. Further, living with a mental health condition fosters so much strength. Just to wake up – show up – each day. When you already feel that you’re starting behind the block (and not for any reason you created), to then run the race anyway? That’s strength. Unfortunately, because of stigma, mental health conditions are often perceived as weaknesses. I’m here to change that. And I’ll do so as a champion, with strength and fortitude.

How has your condition impacted your work and your career?

I am lucky to have confidence in spades, which might seem paradoxical for someone who also lives with general anxiety disorder. My perfectionist tendencies do fuel a certain sense of ambition, though in a way that doesn’t plow over others, but works with them. I did struggle a lot in 2013 and 2014 with juggling work and life, which was interestingly prior to having my son, when things were arguably easier. Ultimately, I stepped away from that job and eventually decided to start my own business, which I’ve been doing ever since. I focus on healthcare, which is a daily reminder of “what is health, and how might everyone access it?” Health is a universal right, and this level-set has been a compass for me both professionally and personally.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours? 

There is a path forward, you’re not alone, and it’s worth it.

What motivated you to join The Stability Network? What do you hope to get from it?

I am honored to walk amongst peers in this journey. I hope to – through the power of our presence and Stability Network community – transform opinions and perceptions of the question, “what does someone with a mental health condition look like?” It looks like me. And I am comfortable sharing my story in hopes that we might reframe workplace implications of disclosure. It’s scary to recognize that people have implicit bias when it comes to mental health and disappointing to know that historically this has manifested in real ways – maybe being passed for a promotion or leadership position, for example, if “found out.” This needs to change. We lead that change every day.

Are there resources (books, videos, websites) that helped and/or inspired you that you would recommend to others?

National Alliance on Mental Illness; International OCD Foundation; Peace of Mind Foundation; Loving Someone with OCD (book)

Is there anything else you want to say or share?

You can learn more about my story here: