October 10, 2016

1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness. Yet there is still something taboo about saying “I’m feeling anxious today”.

Hello. My name is Matty. I am a student mental health nurse, have wonderful friends and family and I like to have a laugh and smile.

I also have an anxiety disorder most commonly known as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). My particular “form” of OCD is sometimes referred to as primarily obsessional obsessive compulsive disorder or “Pure O” due to the lack of obvious compulsions that are visible to other people. Basically my obsessions and compulsions are all nicely compacted in my head like two noisy neighbours trying to scream the house (me) down.

In this post I won’t go too deeply into the mechanisms of my OCD but as a brief overview I have ‘intrusive thoughts’ that give me severe anxiety. These are my obsessions. I then ruminate and try to prove these thoughts wrong by arguing in my head as to why these thoughts aren’t true. Some intrusive thoughts I have had over the years that have stayed to party in my mind are: “What if I kill my friend right now?”, “What if I kill myself now?”, “What if everything I believe in is rubbish?”, “What if no one really loves me?”, “That feeling was definitely a heart attack, I am going to die in seconds”, “If I don’t sip in even numbers a demon will force me to hurt that person”, “I am a psychopathic, empty, chronically ill paedophile – this is bad!”.

I may come across as flippant with seemingly shocking material, but I think humour can be an effective device to undermine something as horrid and ridiculous as an anxiety disorder. I also apologise to anyone offended by the rawness of those thoughts. I feel it is necessary to not hold back with this stuff so people truly understand what this disorder is about. These thoughts are not there because they mean anything to the sufferer, quite the opposite. They are especially abhorrent which ironically is why they can keep coming back.

Many people reading through my intrusive thoughts list will have had similar ones of their own, as research shows they are a very normal part of the human experience. I wish I had known this many years ago. People with OCD fall foul of misinterpreting distressing thoughts as being important, thoughts that many other people are able to brush off as silly or irrelevant. For me this is a good reason why talking about mental health should be much more normal, which brings me nicely on to the second part of this post.

Why do a blog for World Mental Health Day?

As I just touched on, intrusive thoughts are incredibly common but spoken about rarely. There are many people around the world who would benefit from knowing they are not “strange” because they had that weird sexual thought about their Aunty Sandra, and not “evil” because they once worried whether they were capable of hurting their baby. They are just people with brains. I would like to point out now that if you do have those thoughts it by no means indicates that you have OCD. At the same time though I do think there will be people, like myself once, who have been suffering in silence for many years with a full blown disorder, terrified of going to their doctor for fear of being locked up forever in a Victorian asylum and not being able to eat their Christmas dinner because of the permanent strait-jacket they have been enclosed in. We have fantastically awful imaginations us OCD types!

A major motivator in writing this blog is the amount of misinformation around OCD as a disorder. I hold no judgement towards people who sometimes utter the words “I am a bit OCD” as that is just something that has crept into popular culture and common language. I feel compelled to help set the record straight however that having OCD is more about hours upon hours spent agonising in anxiety hell over your worst fears, rather than liking the living room to sparkle or preferring Bill Bryson to come before J.K. Rowling on your book shelf. Anyone who knows me is aware I am about as tidy as a teenage woodlouse who is into mud wrestling. There are indeed some manifestations of OCD that lead individuals to clean their houses until their hands bleed, or check the locks repeatedly until they dare not to leave the house at all. These are perhaps some of the more “traditional” forms of OCD but hopefully this blog can start to explain that OCD is all about one and the same pattern. OCD attacks the sufferer’s core values. One person who worries about being alone (obsession) may ask their partner hundreds of times (compulsion) whether they are going to leave them. Someone who fears death intensely (obsession) can start investigating online for days (compulsion) about a tiny mole on their arm. A dude who fears harming his family might start hiding sharp objects (one of my own fabulous forays). The odd quirk of OCD is that the more you do to try to avoid and control the anxiety (compulsion) the more it comes back (obsession). 

This is an age where many people do “bare all” on social media and I considered this sentiment when contemplating writing a blog. Statements such as “nothing is sacred” do speak to me and I see reasoning behind them. I strongly feel like there is a place for public postings such as these though so as to normalise speaking of mental health issues. Suicide is the UK’s single biggest cause of death for males under the age of 45. The World Health Organisation states that 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Yet there is still something taboo about saying “I’m feeling anxious today”. When it comes to tackling obesity, cancer or heart disease there is an open conversation around how to help prevent these issues and have fantastic physical health. The same cannot be said for mental health. Anxiety disorders and mental illnesses feed on shame, stigma and guilt and they want you to keep them secret. This blog is my own shouting out in the face of all that nonsense.

This brings me on to my final point and reason for bothering to do this. In this society, in my experience, I would say our approach to mental illness (and more importantly wellness) is still quite primitive. The main focus of the medical profession appears to be to help people experiencing mental health problems to manage their symptoms so one is just doing okay and back to “normal”. I am really pleased to say that my mental health now is better than it has ever been. I am rarely bothered by many of the thoughts mentioned above and I feel pretty awesome. Reasons for this include: education, meeting a great therapist, exercise, meditation, medication (at times), changing my diet, the YouTube OCD guru Mark Freeman, finding purpose through work and many other factors.

I think every single person in our society, whether they have a diagnosis or not, can benefit from taking care and improving their own and others’ mental health, so it is not just okay but fantastic.

Matty blogs regularly at ocdchoice.wordpress.com, and you can find him on Twitter on @mmlaycock23.

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