August 1, 2016

Image of friends round a table

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Despite being a serious and life-altering mental health problem, OCD is a term so often used as a scapegoat for people to explain everyday behaviour. People say things like "I'm sorry, I'm just so OCD!" because they want something to a bit tidier or neater than it is. They laugh about it, shrug it off and don't realise that every time they do they're trivialising a condition that literally ruins people's lives. 

The worst thing is, I would be lying if I said I hadn't ever participated in the joke myself. So many of us have, it's a common way of excusing tidiness, or cleanliness, and that needs to change. 

I wanted to write this blog because I began to wonder how often people take the time to think about what they're saying and the impact it might have on someone in a different situation to them. Do people really understand what OCD is and how it can affect someone's life? 

The biggest misconception is that OCD is an "obsession" with cleaning or staying neat and tidy. This can be a small fraction of the symptoms people experience, but does not represent the illness as a whole in any way. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a debilitating condition in which the individual is bombarded by intrusive and unpleasant thoughts. Obsessions manifest themselves with external rituals or compulsions that can be clearly seen by people around them.

My experience began at a very early age. I would experience thoughts of close family members dying or being harmed. I was so controlled by these thoughts, I felt forced to carry out rituals like touching the door handle five times or stepping on cracks in the pavement, in order to stop my family from dying. As you can imagine, for a young child, the whole thing was disturbing and scary.

My bizarre behaviour was noticed by family and friends who would comment on the absurdity of it, which did not help the situation. They were totally unaware that I had a mental illness, and unable to understand the hell that I went through every single day. 

Eventually I was taken to a  doctor, but as I was so young, they passed it off as a childhood tick or habit that I would eventually grow out of. On my worst days, it would leave me so mentally drained and scared that I would cry myself to sleep - sick and tired of being unhappy and contemplating my sanity. The whole time, I felt like no-one truly saw me for who I was - just what the illness did to me. 

Now that I am 19 years old and finally receiving treatment, I have never felt peace more than than I do now. Getting a diagnosis of OCD and an understanding of my own mind was the most incredible thing to ever happen and I would recommend anyone experiencing similar symptoms to find help. No one deserves to live like I did for so long and that's why our attitudes to the condition need to change, they prevent people from reaching out or stop people who are going through something terrible from being taken seriously.

In my opinion it is vitally important that the world is fed the correct information when it comes to mental health and are not influenced by what they see on the media. Recently mental illness has been highlighted in the worst possible way - being linked to numerous tragedies and criminal offenses. This is despite the fact that people with mental health problems are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime and deserve to be treated with kindness and humanity, not fear and judgement. 

The general public must be educated on how to treat someone experiencing a mental health problem - we're all human, some of us live with things that are hard, that doesn't change who we are or how we deserve to be treated. The links between OCD and suicide are too high for us to ignore, we must work to change the way we all think and act about mental health. 

Heather 

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