From a very young age, I knew there was something different about me. It seemed to me that everyone around me was separate and I was encased in my own bubble, my own world and it frustrated me to tears that I couldn’t work out how to make that bubble pop. Soon, my bubble solidified. It became glass. It was suffocating and at times, my glass bubble would fill with water, drowning out the minute amounts of happiness, reason, and calm that I had left. I wish somebody had told me that different was okay, and that I absolutely did not have to replicate, in exact detail, the ‘perfect’ people that surrounded me. I wish I had had the nerve to tell someone, ‘Just because you don’t experience it, it doesn’t mean my illness isn’t real’.
I’ve always had quite a vivid and expansive imagination, and perhaps this contributed to the formations of the compulsions that I still struggle with. Something as simple as turning off a light switch would become a thirty-minute task. My physical body would grapple with the switch on the wall, and my brain would battle the compulsion with intrusive thoughts, until tears streamed down my face, my heart rate was up, and I was sweating. I sometimes feel as if I live in a world where mental agony has become my normality. Since my struggles are ‘invisible,’ it is, more often than not, extremely hard to explain to employers and friends that the reason I was late is because I spent twenty minutes turning off the lights, or because I drove back to my house three times to make absolutely certain my door was locked. The common answer I get is, ‘We all get anxious. We all get depressed. Just get through it like the rest of us’. My invisible illness makes me feel invisible.
The trouble with OCD and other mental illnesses is that they’re often trivialised or misrepresented in the society we live in. Film and television often make light of the disorders and use them for laughs or ratings. Phrases like ‘I’m so OCD,’ are not only inaccurate, they’re hurtful to people who suffer from the disorder. Since the phrase is used so casually and so often, it becomes an adjective, and as a result, saying, ‘My OCD is what kept me from work’, becomes as effective as saying, "I didn’t come to work because I’m tired". I cannot say, "I spent twenty minutes turning off a light", because that sentence brings about one of two responses: ‘You’re crazy,’ or ‘You’re lying’. Using mental health problems as common adjectives only makes the real thing seem less significant in the eyes of society.
I always fought myself on whether to let employers know about my OCD or not. I am in constant fear of being thought of as ‘crazy’ or a ‘liar’. All too often I’m told to ‘brush it off’ or that I’m making it up. I smile, when inside I’m breaking. Like someone is sucking all the air and oxygen out of my glass bubble, and trapped inside, I’m helpless. Perhaps people don’t realise that their words can be harmful, as the more I’m told I’m a liar, or that I’m making a big deal out of nothing, the more I believe it. I start believing that I’m ‘crazy’, when in reality, I suffer from a mental illness. I get so drawn into my glass bubble that the walls become warped and frosted, and I forget that I have resources and people who are trying to help me break out of my mental prison.
More than ever, I want to be honest with those around me about my mental health. I want to be able to come to a mutual understanding, so I’m never told I’m ‘crazy’ again. What if mental health was treated as physical health is? What if it was not thought odd to say, "I’m sorry, I’m really suffering with my mental health, I need a few days off". What if that was considered a valid reason for requesting time off, just as one does when they have the flu.
I am working on managing my mental health, but only on the inside of my glass bubble. I want to live in a world where nobody need live in a bubble, where we can all breathe the same fresh air, and help others find ways to break theirs. My glass bubble is still there, but with work and time, it’s beginning to crack.