In the next few posts, I’m going to try to write about talking about mental health problems – with your family, friends and anyone else. If you’d like to contribute then I’d love to hear from you.
For about a year after I was diagnosed with OCD, it was very much the elephant in the room. I didn’t talk about it and when my parents tried to bring it up in conversation I would clam up and the discussion would wilt away as I would shrivel up with embarrassment even thinking about it.
I was ashamed – of being weak, of being inept, of not being up to scratch. I was ashamed of having a mental illness because I felt that it was just a lack of will power that was standing between me and the rest of the world. I was ashamed because I felt inferior, that I’d let everyone down. I felt like a failure.
It did us no favours – my parents didn’t know the extent of the OCD and could only guess at the meaning of the ridiculous rituals that had started to take over. My refusal to discuss it just made a difficult situation worse. My parents didn’t really understand – at that point their knowledge about OCD was limited to having seen things about it on television or read in books – and by insisting that I didn’t want to talk about it, I wasn’t exactly helping them to learn more.
I remember my mum coming along to my first CBT session with me and asking the doctor all sorts of questions. She wanted to know more, she wanted to be involved, but at that point I couldn’t cope with it. After that I went to the sessions on my own, after school, and didn’t ever really discuss what happened with my parents when I got home.
I guess I need to put this into context – in our family we talk about everything and anything. As in most big families, there is never a moment’s peace. We all know each other’s business and nothing is secret for long. What I didn’t realise was that my refusal to talk about my OCD was just making it more and more obvious and awkward.
In the end, when I dropped out of university, my parents sat me down and told me that we had to get on top of it. And slowly but surely, we started to talk about the horrible illness that was stealing everything I had.
Nowadays? Well we talk about it very openly. It’s not always easy and I’m terrible at admitting to struggling, but I now know that no matter whether my OCD is really bad or excellent, my parents don’t feel any different about me and I guess that in a way, neither do I. I don’t beat myself up about it anymore – it’s counterproductive and just leads to a longer and steeper spiral downwards. If I have a bad day then it’s motivation to make sure that tomorrow doesn’t go the same way, not a sign that my world is crashing down.
It helps to talk – it means that I am no longer alone and that I have a whole team of people behind me. I feel that, thanks to my parents, I am not alone in dealing with this, that I never will be.
Obsessively compulsively yours,