In the first part of this series (written months ago because I’ve been incredibly neglectful of this blog), I wrote about talking to my parents about my OCD. This time I’ll be focussing on talking about mental health with my friends.
During my last year at school, when I first obtained full fruitcake status, I think that the entire class was aware of my OCD, some of them before even I was. I had a lot of rituals to do with my work and would often spend an hour writing and re-writing a sentence until it was perfect or just manage to get my desk looking ‘right’ by the time the lesson finished. I also avoided stepping on the cracks between the tiles in the science lab and would (to everyone’s amusement, including my then teachers) walk around on tiptoes, beakers of I dread to think sloshing around in my hands as my eyes were fixated on the floor.
I think that whilst everyone knew I had these different “quirks”, they didn’t realise how serious it had got. They also probably didn’t make the link between all these strange behaviours and the fact that I was becoming increasingly anxious about even attending school and was starting to skip lessons.
As it was, when I left school and went to university my OCD became a lot worse and I pushed all my school friends away. Even now I am no longer really in contact with any of them, something that I’m not proud of. I think that a lot of it has to do with shame – I was always top of the class and everyone assumed that I would do well, and yet there I was, a drop-out, a failure.
During my time off university I was very isolated. I kept in touch with very few people and depended entirely upon my family. I wasn’t up to keeping in touch with people and I justified it to myself by the fact that if I were to get too close to someone, they would just get wrapped up in my obsessions and soon I would have another person to ‘take care of’ with my rituals.
Last year I wrote about the friends I had made at university, on my Psychology degree course. The wonderful thing is that they are still my friends – they haven’t worked me out yet!
When I was home from Munich and Newcastle last month I went to see them for a day – the four of us ate lunch together and laughed for about two hours straight. It was lovely – I felt as though I had never been away and it filled another crack in my self esteem. I’m looking forward to going back in September.
I talked to them about my OCD quite early on in our friendship. I suppose I naïvely assumed that they would understand, being Psychology students. I was lucky in that they did and it became a natural conversation point between us – they joked about it in a way that I felt they were laughing at the OCD and not me. Whilst in Munich, I got a text from one of them saying that it was a good job that I wasn’t there as I’d been assigned place number 666 for my exams…
I don’t hide my OCD – in fact on Facebook I’m relatively open about it. I’ve never posted a link to this blog but I have put the blogs that I’ve written for Mind on there. And in the last few months something strange has happened. Three different friends have contacted me out of the blue to ask about OCD. I hadn’t ever spoken about the topic with any of them directly but they had inferred from my posts that I knew something about it and that I wasn’t afraid to talk about it. In all three cases (two family members and one sufferer) I was able to point them in the right direction and it’s totally convinced me of the importance of being open. On Facebook I can control who sees things and it’s a perfect arena to experiment with disclosure.
And finally, there are my special friends. Different people from different places who have always been there, no matter how distant I become or how much of a pain in the arse I’m being.
There are very old school friends – most of whom I’ve only ever spoken about OCD with briefly and who remember me as the person I was before OCD and love me as the person I am after, glossing over the middle.
There’s J, who I have known for half my life (since the first year of secondary school) and who has been a constant calm presence throughout and with whom I have never spoken about my OCD in detail but feel that I don’t have to. Our friendship is based on something different – not the day to day stuff but the tugging bond of shared history.
There’s S, one of a very small number of people that I honestly feel I could tell anything to. There probably isn’t another person outside of my family (and Ruth) who has been more supportive throughout my OCD. She is always there for me – whether it’s to tell me to have a glass of wine and go to bed, to listen to my fears and tell me that everything is going to be okay or to make me laugh until I forget why I’m scared. The knowledge that there is someone that I can turn to whenever has been incredibly important to me and I will never be able to thank her enough. I always think that S (and her lovely family) has seen me at my very best and at my very worst and loved me just the same.
It hasn’t all been good experiences – there are friends that I have told about my OCD only to have them distance themselves, but they have been few and far between. The vast majority of my experiences of talking about mental health have been positive. Perhaps I’ve been lucky or perhaps I underestimate others’ understanding.
Gosh, what a waffling post… I think it’s time for bed!
Obsessively compulsively yours,