CONTENT NOTICE: This post contains detailed descriptions of mental illness, specifically OCD, and intrusive thoughts. Please exercise caution about reading it.
I have been reliably informed that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. I make no secret of the fact that I’m mentally ill, as scary as that may still sound. There is still a massive stigma around mental illness, even to the point where people will avoid using terms like “mentally ill” in favour of phrases like “mental health problems/issues” and “mentally unwell”. I want to give you an overview of my own mental illness to hopefully show that it’s nothing to be afraid of when you talk to me, meet with me, or otherwise interact with me or others who are mentally ill.
I have had OCD since I learnt to count. OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and has nothing to do with keeping a clean house. The whole concept has been butchered in media, so badly, and by now people will say things like “I’m a bit OCD, I like my kitchen clean!”
I’ll tell you a bit about my own OCD.
Once I learnt to count, everything had to be in fours. I would wave goodbye four times. I would count my steps in fours and make sure it added up, otherwise I had to do a few extra steps. I also had an issue with being “the right way around” so if I got turned around in play or other situations, I had to do a full twirl to “unwind the damage”.
If you’re thinking “none of that makes any rational sense,” then you’re absolutely right. OCD is irrational. It’s a mental illness.
As I grew older, the OCD shifted and changed with it. I had to touch my desk in school in the “correct” way, otherwise I had to wipe off the “damage”. I had, and still have, a thing about corners. I have to “catch” them with my hand or eyes, which manifests as wiping off the side of the desk or other table I’m sitting at, starting before the corner, catching the corner, and then wiping all the way down to the next corner.
Crazy, right? Well, that’s kind of the point I’m trying to make here.
But that’s just the compulsions. The obsessions are so much worse. I’ll quickly explain the terminology here; a compulsion is an action, it’s when you feel compelled to do something otherwise something horrible will happen. That “something horrible” was never clear to me, I just knew I had to do it. An obsession on the other hand is a thought that won’t go away. These thoughts are often intrusive thoughts, which can be things like obsessing over doing horrible acts against your pets or loved ones. It’s not something you ever actually want to do, but the thought won’t leave you alone. It is so hard to deal with, I felt, and still feel, so guilty for it, I obviously never acted on it but just the thought still makes me feel sick to my stomach.
And I can’t believe I just admitted to that intrusive thought in public.
That’s the part of OCD that never gets any attention in media. It’s not glamorous, it’s not “productive” or “useful” like a clean kitchen is. No one wants to hear about you having destructive thoughts about your pets or loved ones. But it’s far more common than most people realise.
I also grew up with constant anxiety. I never thought it was “real” anxiety because I wasn’t having panic attacks and I was just a bit afraid of everything, that doesn’t really count, right? Except looking back, it totally does. I was afraid of phones from the age of 6 or 7. I would happily phone family members or my best friend, but if it was anyone else then I’d silently freak out.
Puberty came and my brain changed, and all of a sudden I fell into depression and my anxiety got worse. I won’t go too much into detail about the depression because it’s something that is described in detail many other places, and you don’t need to know about my specific depressive and self destructive behaviour.
I have struggled with mental illness my whole life, and depression for over two decades. As a “professional crazy person” I have gained a bit of knowledge about it such as ways it can present and how it can feel to be at rock bottom mentally.
I believe there’s a lot of awareness still needed about mental health and mental illness. I believe most people don’t truly understand mental illness beyond maybe seasonal depression and other anxiety or depressive episodes. I also believe there are tonnnnsssss of mentally ill people out there who either don’t realise they’re ill or are afraid to come forward and admit to it.
If you are someone who’s afraid to come forward, I just want to tell you that you are loved and you deserve to feel better. You deserve to have treatment if you want it. Be kind to yourself.
Remember, Be Proud. Be You.