I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and throughout my life, I have been subject to stigmatising attitudes and feelings of shame for having a mental health disorder. My OCD began around the age of 14 when I began to have irrational thoughts that I didn’t understand. I had fears of catching HIV off door handles, fears of becoming pregnant when I wasn’t even sexually active, fears of harming a loved one and so many more.
I never understood why I was having these thoughts; I didn’t want them and I began to question who I really was as a person.
No one had ever told me about OCD except for the common ‘being clean and tidy’ cliché that is so widely misused in society – I always heard people using OCD as if it was a personality trait. This is far from the truth.
OCD is not a personality trait, it is not something that ‘everybody has’, it is debilitating and people often spend years of their life reluctant to seek help because of these stereotypes in society.
The older I got, the more extreme my thoughts became and along with that came an increased sense of shame and embarrassment for having these thoughts.
When I was in public, I tried to hide my OCD but sometimes it felt impossible to resist the compulsions. People would stare and ask me what I was doing when it was obvious that I was acting differently and not conforming to the ‘normal’ behaviour.
In shops and supermarkets, I have had security follow/watch me a few times because of my OCD behaviours, because it would take me so long to choose a product to buy because of the intrusive thoughts that I was experiencing.
This made me feel so ashamed and embarrassed, but then I realised that to people that do not have lived experience, maybe my behaviours do look strange or absurd.
This highlights the importance of changing the stigma towards mental health, because it is evident that it is still extremely misunderstood in society.
Whenever I tried to speak out about my mental health to my friends and family, I felt like I was being ignored; like my mental health was insignificant and it wasn’t justifiable or important. But this wasn’t because they didn’t care, it was because they didn’t understand it.
So, I began to deal with things on my own, creating a very lonely and isolating environment for myself. My mental health deteriorated rapidly when I began university and I remember my second year of university being my breaking point. I began to isolate myself in my room, not taking care of my personal hygiene, falling behind with university work and avoiding activities with my friends.
My friends started to realise that I wasn’t acting like my usual self and they would check on me every single day, listen to my problems and be there to support me without an ounce of judgement. Even though they did not understand what I was experiencing, the feeling of releasing my emotions and having people listen, filled me with an overwhelming sense of relief. It was then that I realised I needed to seek help.
My experience of mental health, along with so many others, is extremely important to express because we should never be ashamed of having problems with our mental health. It is society’s priority to provide more information about mental health, to increase people’s knowledge and allow for a society that is less stigmatising, judgemental and frightening for people with mental health problems.
It is crucial that we speak openly about our mental health (if you are comfortable), to raise awareness because to change society’s perspective and attitudes towards mental health, we need to show that we are not ashamed, we are not embarrassed and we will continue to speak up about it, to end the stigma and allow people to seek help for their mental health.