Looking at me, no one can tell what, if anything, is 'wrong' with me. This is the problem with mental illness, you can't see it. I have a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Anxiety.
My obsessions are mainly focussed on the people I love the most
When people think of OCD, they might think of hand washing, cleanliness and an obsession with order. In some cases this may be true, but, as with every mental illness, everyone is affected differently. For me, my obsessions are mainly focused on the people I love the most: the idea that I have the 'power' to stop harm or even death coming to them is a huge weight to carry. Some people might argue, "but everyone worries about the safety of their loved ones". Yes, but to counteract these thoughts, OCD sufferers have to carry out an irrational, often bizarre ritual to counteract the bad thought and 'stop it happening’. In addition, I was never able to escape these thoughts, constantly intruding and preventing a normal life.
The constant strain of feeling as if I had to ‘save’ everyone was awful
My life revolved around conditions that were rigid and strict, like “If you don’t touch the wall seven times, your Mum will die in a car crash”. It sounds morbid, but my preoccupation with death would make me so terrified on a daily basis. The constant strain of feeling as if I had to ‘save’ everyone was awful.
The relief of being able to share the torment that was going on inside my head was huge
I wasn't formally diagnosed until I started university 1.5years ago. I was so unhappy away from home that I spoke about my symptoms properly for the first time. This was mortifying and terrifying to do, as I thought people would think I was crazy. Having said this, the relief of being able to share the torment that was going on inside my head was huge.
Negative comments from others led to my own self-stigmatisation
Whilst I have had a largely supportive response to my diagnosis, the negative comments are the ones which stand out in your mind. "Yeh but OCD isn't real is it", "people with OCD are all freaks", "why are you so selfish". It is comments like these which led to my own self-stigmatisation, and I spent a lot of time withholding my mental illness from my university in case they turned around and said “you can’t study clinical psychology if you’ve got OCD”. In fact I now see it as a bonus of lived experience and believe it makes me even more passionate about my studies.
Mental Illness is confusing, frightening and persistent - you feel entirely isolated as if you're the only 'abnormal' person in the world with no one to talk to - that's why it is so important to show others that you care, even if you don't mention their illness directly. In my case, my family, boyfriend, close friends and University now know that I am often more anxious when I am dealing with a stressful situation. I am so lucky to have such a strong support network around me!
Hearing your condition used as adjective for a quirk or desirable trait is extremely offensive
I appreciate it when people just take the time to listen to me and even care enough to ask questions. I love to talk about my illness, not because it's great or enviable but because it has made me a much stronger person. This is why it makes me so angry to hear people flippantly and ignorantly remark "oh I'm so OCD ...because I like to have a tidy house". Hearing your condition used as adjective for a quirk or desirable trait is extremely offensive - this is why mental illness needs to be spoken about in order for things to change.
I now work as an Involvement Worker for Time to Change; spreading the message that it’s ok to talk about mental health. I believe that OCD and anxiety will always be apart of me, yet I would say that I'm well on the road to recovery. Persistence is key when facing a mental illness, so even if something seems insignificant to you, it could be a huge achievement for someone else - it's great when people recognise this.