For far too long I have put off writing a blog about my experience of mental health. I suppose I was frightened of reliving such dark days and feared the judgement of others. However, for me it's time I shared my story. I need to help change attitudes around mental health by speaking up about my journey and aiding others to understand that actually mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical illness. Just because you cannot physically witness the struggle does not mean it is any less painful. So this is it, I refuse to hide my mental health away anymore – it is a part of who I am and it is something I will not be ashamed of.
There is so much I want to say and so much I cannot bring myself to put into words but I will share with you what I can. I have suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) since the age of 16 (over five years now); to say the least, it has been an absolutely life changing experience. For me, OCD presents itself through intrusive thoughts. How to describe them? Heavy, suffocating, isolating, noisy and exhausting. In the early stages, my thoughts convinced me that every single physical sensation I had was a symptom of some awful illness. Countless trips to the doctors and A&E (sorry mum) still left me unconvinced and I was in constant fear. I isolated myself from friends and family, unable to move from my bed (unless it was to the doctors) or talk about what I was going through.
My intrusive thoughts altered as my journey of OCD progressed. I became obsessed about counting how many times I swallowed and blinked, which was completely exhausting. It took almost two years for me to receive intensive cognitive behavioural therapy and my mental health deteriorated rapidly in that time. I began to get horrific intrusive thoughts, persuading me to believe that they were true of me and leaving me living in fear. They made me question absolutely everything I believed in. My intrusive thoughts have at times convinced me that I have been involved in car accidents. Countless times I have spent driving back my route, checking the news constantly to see if there had been any accidents, and even when nothing came up I was still left unconvinced.
So, yes, I have been brutally honest – my OCD has been at times, and still can be, truly horrific. It has led to much suffering and I do admit it lost me a few of my teenage years. However, with therapy I have been able to get my life back, and discover the positives of my experience and how it has shaped my life for the better.
It has made realise how the support from friends and family is massively important. I am so lucky I am able to open up and talk to my loved ones without any judgement, they are truly angels. Shout out to my best friends that stick by me, they never made me feel guilty for missing countless social occasions and they try their absolute hardest to understand. Many other people who experience mental illness are not so lucky and that is why I cannot stress enough the importance of supporting someone close to you with a mental health problem.
It was the little things my friends and family did during my hardest times – leaving me parcels on my porch when I didn't feel like seeing them and texting me everyday even when I didn't reply. Don't get me wrong, I have experienced the true extent of stigma, people saying I must be fine because they had seen me on Facebook going out with friends and saying that 'I didn't look ill'. Little did they know I was barely keeping it together. Stigma is what is the hardest for people suffering, it leads to many unable to open up and receive the support and treatment they so need.
What I have learnt through my experience is that it is absolutely OK to not be OK. I have learnt to live my life despite of OCD, even when I feel so exhausted with it I push myself to do things. I have learnt that it is OK for me to feel rubbish in those social occasions I normally enjoy and its essential I tell others how I am feeling. I urge those going through mental health problems to talk about your experiences and seek treatment – together we will break the silence. For me I still have bad days, but so does everyone, right? I aspire to live controlling my OCD, not it controlling me. Yes I have a mental health problem, but that doesn't define me.