Content Warning: Mental Health, OCD
This blog post was written by HOYFC staff member Kayleigh for Mental Health Awareness Week.
Have you ever described yourself as being "a bit OCD" about something? People who are particular about something, be it the tidiness of their house or the use of apostrophes, can often find themselves being given the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder label. I know that I have used the phrase many times over the years (usually to describe my husband and how particular he is about his car!), but I had never stopped to think about what I was really saying. Even Khloe Kardashian has been guilty of this linguistic faux pas! In a series of vlogs on her YouTube channel, she shared her secrets to a perfectly organised house with her many followers. The name of this series? KHLO-C-D! Yes, her home looks organised in a way that I know I could never hope to be, but is this a sign of a serious mental illness or just someone who is particular about the way they like things to be? This blog post by freelance editor Denise Cowle explains better than I ever could why this use of language is problematic.
So, what made me realise the error of my ways? I was diagnosed with OCD! It happened so slowly that I didn't realise it until it was too late. What started off as being a little anxious about doing something "bad" slowly spiralled over the course of 18 months or so into being completely convinced that I was an awful person unless I could find "evidence" to prove otherwise. It's totally normal to request a copy of your university transcript because you're not sure if you imagined graduating or not, right? As things got worse, even the simplest situations could spark a reaction from my brain. One Friday evening, while walking through central Glasgow, I walked past a man begging on my way to catch the bus. By the time I reached the bus stop, I was so convinced that I had actually kicked the man that I went back and asked him... twice! I then spent the bus journey home checking the Police Scotland Twitter and Facebook pages over and over again, just to make sure. Even then it didn't occur to me that what I was doing counted as OCD. The stereotype of obsessive hand-washing and tidying was too ingrained - and I am not a tidy person!
Luckily, I am very fortunate to have supportive friends and family who encouraged me to go to see my GP. I was also very lucky that my GP was sympathetic and on the ball. She spotted straight away how bad my situation had become and was the first to suggest that I was displaying signs of OCD. The NHS website describes OCD as a mental health condition where the sufferer has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. My obsessive thoughts are mostly around the fear of doing something wrong. My compulsions are to check that I haven't. Thanks to her, I was referred for treatment quickly and the downward spiral was stopped in its tracks.
I am now over a year into my recovery. I take my medication. I check in with my GP. I practise mindfulness and yoga when I can. But more importantly, I have learned to feel joy again. I have challenged myself to do things that I never dreamed I could. I am learning to tap dance and have even appeared in a dance show. In September 2018, I completed the Edinburgh Kiltwalk (all 24 miles!) and raised over £800 in total for SAMH. These are things that fill me with immense pride and a sense of achievement, but, even still, every day is a battle with my brain. I know that things could get out of control again if I am not careful and that thought scares me.
My feelings about living life with a mental illness can be summed up in the beautiful poem This Is Not A Death Wish by Scottish poet Jo Bell. Life is not the same as it was a few years ago. Some days the effort of facing the world leaves me completely wrung out. I have lost so much to this illness but I have gained so much too. I am here and I will not let OCD win without putting up one hell of a fight!
I also cringe when people say they're "a little bit OCD". Are there any other phrases about mental health that make your toes curl? I'm sure that I can think of a few.
If you are struggling with any form of mental illness, please visit your GP or contact one of the organisations linked below.
For those who live outside the UK, please contact your medical providers to get the help you need.