I have blogged about it a couple of times before, but mental health has become pretty important to me this year.
It’s not that it wasn’t before. It’s not that I don’t have a huge family history of substance abuse or anxiety. Or that I haven’t listened to friends pour out their scariest thoughts to me. Or that I haven’t lost friends because things were just too scary for them.
But it’s a different kind of important (no more, no less) when you find out, officially, that you have a mental illness. There’s feeling since you were 7 years old like you probably have one, and then there’s seeing “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” appear on your GP’s computer screen as she types it in.
So yeah, I have OCD. It’s not hand washing, it’s not colour-coding or ordering things (though I do love this blog more than is probably healthy).
It’s scary, intrusive, totally uncharacteristic thoughts that bring on anxiety. And that for most of my life, I have dealt with these thoughts and fears through subtle anxiety-defusing actions – physical or mental – which I now know to be called ‘rituals’.
Boy does it blow. It sucks so hard. It can take a beautiful moment, like say, your partner proposing (true story) and morph it into a full blown panic attack because you thought something awful because times of pressure and responsibility, happy or sad, are triggers for your OCD. THANKS BRAIN, YOU’RE REAL GREAT.
But the truth is, knowing what it is makes it easier. Reading descriptions of OCD online and forums by people affected by it and seeing myself in their words is comforting. My therapist telling me a friend from her psychology PhD class has the exact same kind of OCD as me and makes thousands in Australia now through specialising it, makes me feel like this isn’t a roadblock to me enjoying my life, and I’m not alone.
The theme for Mental Health Awareness week this year is connect. And it couldn’t be more right.
Telling my friends, family and the wider public that I have OCD came with the risk that I would be labeled, judged or thought less of. But it turns out that most people were amazing, and opened up to me about their own experiences with mental health, OCD in particular. I discovered people I have known for years have it. And if people want to think less of me because my brain is a jerk sometimes, that sucks for them because evidently their brain is a jerk full stop.
I am writing this because this I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had a mental health issue in their lifetime, and the fact that I am privileged enough to have a social circle that talks about it, but I still wanted to cry when opening up about my own issues in case everyone hated me, is really messed up.
Not everyone has friends who understand or want to talk about mental health. Not everyone will have a positive reaction when they open up about how they feel.
The work the Mental Health Foundation is doing tries to help break down those stigmas, and make connecting a reality for more people.
I’m really impressed with their resources. They are positive, surprisingly fun and (while not everything will be relevant to everyone) they’ve made a real effort at making things accessible but not patronising.
They’re doing good work, so spread the message.