1 -Why I never wanted to write a blog about my mental health
So during the normal baseline, ‘clean’, periods between major OCD episodes, you know what? I want nothing to do with OCD. Rather, I want no acknowledged relationship between it and me.
I’m an empathetic person, and as having a psychology degree suggests, I’m interested in the functioning of the mind. I care about the welfare of people and mental health – but I like all this at a distance. It’s a bit like I’ve been deeply involved with the activities of this fiend – yeah, I’m Holmes and it is Moriarty – but when our battles are not actively taking place my interest changes to: ‘yes, everyone should learn about Moriarty, learn how deal with the bounder – it’s a very important matter! Me? Oh no, I’ not cut out for that kind of thing… There are better deerstalker-wearing mavericks out there for that task. I support them! Jolly good on them! But me, no. I’m off to play snooker’.
So, when my current OCD episode – the worst and longest lasting I’ve endured since the year leading up to first being diagnosed – and it was suggested to me that I write a blog… I kind of nodded vaguely, while thinking to myself ‘no bloody way!’
The suggestion had been made by my friend (all names here are changed to protect the innocent, so let’s call her…) Zsa Zsa. The conversation was taking place, because I had changed my typical behaviour. Usually when experiencing such an episode, I would tell people that I was unwell, that I sometimes suffered a strange neurological complaint that made my head feel gooey and sticky, made me feel a bit down in the dumps. This time, I knew it was a really tricky one. I felt isolated, alone, scared – and I suddenly opened up, told people. Friends, work colleagues, my boss. I am lucky in some ways – there was overwhelming support.
So, I was talking to Zsa Zsa about it, about going to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), about being afraid that I’ll never go back to normal (I think this every time), but that I was fighting hard. Zsa Zsa was giving me a good supportive pep talk, saying I would come through this, and when I did I’d be different this time – I could share my experiences, champion awareness and hope, helping myself and others in the process.
I nodded along, while thinking: ‘Hmm, or , screw that. When I get better I don’t want to touch this experience again with a shitty stick! I want to embrace my normality and dismiss this whole episode as a sticky nastiness that happened, matters not to me now, and is best left well alone!
And there’s a thing about OCD – avoidance. I want to avoid thinking about it, engaging with it when I’m feeling ok, so that it doesn’t contaminate me, trigger associative thoughts, get my head all yucky and infected with it. I want t get better asap. I do not want to start my writing career with a blog about having OCD.
2 – Why I think it’s important to write a blog about my mental health
And what do they tell you in CBT about avoiding anxiety-tagged objects or situations? Do they tell you to leave them well alone? Do you go into CBT, explain that every time, oh I don’t know, you see or think of a bottle of pepsi max (other anxiety-inducing stimulants are available) it triggers a series of obsessive, disgusting mental images of your teeth and tongue melting, and the only way to neutralise these thoughts is to scrub your tongue until you are sick… does the therapist recommend that you never enter any shops selling pepsi max, and force yourself to ignore any mental images of pepsi max?
For those who have never done CBT, I’ll give you a clue: No.
Doing that maintains the problem. It makes the problem worse. It doesn’t mean that you have to drink pepsi max for the rest of your life, but do get used to discomfort when entering shops where it lines the shelves, and if you don’t try to hide from it, over time it will become less important and harmful to you.
So hiding from having OCD when I am feeling more well… it sounds almost like developing OCD about OCD! And while the problem with OCD really is the thoughts about thoughts, that situation is in danger of becoming so meta only Charlie Kaufman could make a film about it!
But that is not why I’ve now decided that writing a blog about having OCD is a good thing to do. While I don’t want to spend my life running away from the monster, as I start feeling better there is also no need to go chasing after it all the time either. I don’t want to hide from OCD, but I don’t want to make my life all about it either.
Zsa Zsa made an important point about helping myself and helping others. Over the course of this year I have made progress. Bumpy, stop-stat progress and I’m not there yet. But progress there has been, and at least a part of it is down to new approaches and openness. Engaging with wider and different types of help. Addressing wider emotional issues as well as the OCD symptoms. Reading accounts of the condition (e.g. Lily Bailey’s ‘Because We Are Bad – OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought’). Joining Bryony Gordon’s Mental Health Mates Facebook and meet-up group. ‘Coming out’ – telling everyone. Not only has this made dealing with the situation less lonely, the support I’ve received has improved as my friends learn what support does help and what doesn’t.
There’s the big thing there – learning. A huge issue with mental health illness is a lack of awareness and knowledge. This is particularly pronounced with OCD. ‘I’m a bit OCD’ says someone lining up the blinds just so, aping the merits of a quirky American sit-com character. The public ‘know’ what OCD is – it’s people being really fussy about being clean or organised, right? And when they’re too fussy, it’s a bit silly, right? That dirt isn’t really going to hurt them…
No. If they have OCD, their thoughts are harming them. If they have OCD they probably won’t be telling you – they’ll be hiding it. Worse still, if they have OCD they may not know it – be suffering alone in silence, while that relief of knowing what is happening in their heads ‘is a thing’, when real treatment is out there to help them.
You see, it’s not just the trivialisation, making a joke, of OCD that is harmful. A public perpetuation of the myth that OCD is about cleanliness, neatness, symmetry, organisation means that a huge amount of sufferers where it is expressed in it’s many, weird, different forms (such as mine – come to that another time) may not realise what’s happening to them. Not know it is ‘a thing’. Not get help. Suffer. Die.
Sounds dramatic. Well, that’s because it is. And real.
So while I’ve been opening up, sharing, and realising that getting some of this crap out through talking and writing can help me, I have encountered a wonderful community of people who want to help. And a wonderful community of people who need the help. I’ve realised that I want to be part of these communities. I want to share in the process of helping me and helping others. Add my voice to those who can educate and support through experience. I’m going to get involved beat this beast, destroy OCD and save the world… Oh incidentally, my therapist is working with me on how I set my expectation levels at the moment.
So here we go: I never wanted to write a blog about my mental health. Welcome to my blog about my mental health!