Morgan Rondinelli And Molly FishBack
Troubled with obsessive-compulsive disorder, they found each other — then helped others find and build a community united by the wish for mental health resources.
co-founder, Not Alone Notes
B.S. in Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity
Master of Fine Arts: Writing student,
Western Connecticut State University
to science or not?
Morgan was a sophomore in college when she was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “With hindsight I can go back to preschool and kindergarten and remember that far back the thoughts and rituals that I was doing. So honestly for me the diagnosis was a huge relief, because this had been going on for so long. Now I had a name, I had a treatment, I had a community I could find. So for me it was quite a positive experience.”
Morgan describes a pivotal moment in her life: “The International OCD Foundation has a conference every year and I went to the opening night young adult support group. I walked in and there were over 100 people in this room my age who have OCD. I stood there for a minute and almost cried. It’s such an amazing feeling to know other people get it. OCD is such a hard thing to understand unless you’ve experienced it, but they get it.”
As a kid, Morgan was a ZooTeen. Through this youth program, kids aged 13 to 17 learn about conservation and wildlife, and may become zoo camp counselors or volunteer docents, talking with visitors about the animals. Check your nearby zoo to see if they have the ZooTeen program. (Morgan says she feels differently about zoos as an adult, but appreciated learning about them when she was younger.)
Morgan's childhood activities included dance and music. As a musician, she participated in Ohio Music Education Association's solo and ensemble competitions, regional orchestra,
Morgan and Molly advise finding resources on obsessive-compulsive disorder at the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation website.
Like Molly, Morgan didn’t want to work directly with OCD treatment. Her AmeriCorps term teaching Mental Health First Aid, which provides crisis intervention and access to resources, until professional help can be found. AmeriCorps (which Morgan describes as a domestic Peace Corps) is involved in public service of many different kinds. As part of this, the National Council for Behavioral Health offered an eight-hour course to give you a background on mental health, resources in your area. Morgan says, “It offers mental health skills to nonprofessionals in the same way we teach CPR to nonmedical people.”
See also the Not Alone Notes resource page here.
Morgan and Molly live hours apart, so they work “in clumps,” says Morgan, during phone calls or zooms when they work for hours and get everything done. At first it was hard to delegate — let other people take on some of the responsibility, so that they wouldn’t get overworked and and overwhelmed. Maintaining quality was important. “We are protective of it for good reason, but we’ve learned that there’s really so much talent in this community.” The Not Alone Notes team now includes many writers and artists.
Morgan’s perfectionism — a common attribute for ambitious teens — felt excessive and is part of her OCD, she says. It extended from school achievement to behavior: she wouldn’t wave to her mother from a preschool play; she was her high school valedictorian because she took every exam until she felt she'd aced it. She recalls, "I retook them in the moment; I took the math test twice in the time allotted." Add that to a compulsive need to control her environment — and not cause a tragedy by flicking a light switch the wrong way. But Morgan put her energy to finding out what the problem was — a clear-cut case of OCD.
TO SCIENCE OR NOT?
Morgan grew up with dance and music, but didn’t want to do those activities professionally. “I was always changing and I was never really sure. The most consistent thing I wanted to be was a writer. As a kid I wrote stories and illustrated little magazines. The art never took off, but the writing I kept with. But pressure came to go into a STEM field. “I was good at science,” Morgan says, “and that is so praised: well, if you’re good at STEM, you have to become a doctor or a researcher. So why not major in that? I did an entomology internship and I remember thinking, “I kind of hate research.” I worked in labs all through college and it was f-i-i-i-ne, it was oka-a-ay. But I didn’t have the motivation, and at this point Not Alone Notes was taking off. . .
Elly Swartz is the author of a middle grade novel about OCD, Finding Perfect.
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co-founder, Not Alone Notes
Teacher's Assistant, Arlington School,
Molly was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder at age 11 — “already a a confusing time in your life,” she says. Adding to this was the wrong therapy, something she realizes in hindsight. (The correct therapy, she says, is Exposure with Response Prevention, or ERP. What’s more, it was hard to talk to people. “I didn’t know anyone who went to therapy.” She worked with Morgan to develop Not Alone Totes — tote bags full of encouragement and resources for just-diagnosed kids — to help the next generation.
Molly says, “I always had little businesses growing up. In 4th grade I made notepads, designed on the computer, that I sold to people. My friend and I put our money together to sell stuff on the side of the road. We started off selling soda cans out of the fridge until my parents said, ‘We’re losing money!’ Then we bought stuff from Oriental Trading and set up a shop. We eventually donated the money to a children’s hospital.”
Molly's childhood activities included organized tennis and soccer, and dance classes. Morgan and Molly advise finding resources on mental health and obsessive-compulsive disorder at the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation website.
Check Not Alone Notes's resource list here.
Molly majored in marketing, but minored in art and psychology — “almost as backups, because that’s what I liked to do.” But she didn’t think she could get a job as an art teacher and didn’t now enough — she thought — about psychology. “I didn’t talk about psychology and mental health until senior year of college anyway.”
“You’re facing your scariest fears every single day when you’re in treatment for OCD.” Molly had to take a month and a half off from a new job as a teacher to go through treatment at McLean Hospital's OCDI in Massachusetts. Afterwards, she didn’t want to work the hospital’s OCD unit, but looked for jobs nearby. “It’s a weird thing to say, but it felt safe. I knew the town.” A few years later after treatment, she moved to Massachusetts and works as a teacher's assistant at the high school on the McLean Hospital campus.
Thinking of what would happen as she applied for future jobs, Molly was hesitant to have her name attached to mental illness on the internet. But she wanted to do advocacy for OCD and mental health. At first she got involved with mental health organizations on her college campus. Only when she began working with Morgan on Not Alone Notes did she begin advocating openly for OCD and allowing her name to be attached to her work.
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