The next guest post in the series is from Leah at My Bellyful. Leah is a writer and blogger inspired by her passion for art, writing and life in between. Leah has written about her OCD and the difficulties she has had in opening up about it.
Although my problems with OCD started well over a decade ago (perhaps even earlier than that), I’ve only recently opened up about my struggles with mental health. That’s not to say that people didn’t know about it – my close friends and family were all aware that I had some obsessive compulsive tendencies – but, for me, actually saying the words out loud to people who were outside this close-knit circle was a real issue.
If I’m being completely honest, I was embarrassed. To my mind, obsessive-compulsive disorder wasn’t as understandable a mental health condition as depression or anxiety. OCD was something more disturbing, something that would demonstrate to everyone that I wasn’t in control, that I was losing my mind. Now I realise how ignorant those thoughts were, how unhelpful my silence was both to my own recovery and to the advancement of mental health awareness, but, even after I sought professional help (in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy at the end of 2007), I still preferred to label my issues as anxiety rather than OCD.
Perhaps it was because OCD was less commonly talked about back then or perhaps it was because I often heard the term used flippantly to describe a particular habit (someone who liked a tidy house was suddenly ‘a bit OCD’, for example). Whatever the reason, I spent a long time pretending that my problems were something I thought others might be more likely to understand (of course, I’m well aware that for some people opening up about their anxiety is just as difficult). My resolve to finally break the cycle and write about my OCD openly and honestly was ultimately inspired by the brave stories I’d read on other people’s blogs and by my husband, whose own battle with depression has been continually fought without shame or silence.
I won’t describe the particulars of my condition in depth (you can read more about this in my post, Mental Health and Me, over on my blog), but suffice to say the obsessive thoughts that perpetually clouded my mind – the continual feeling that something horrific was about to happen and that I’d be to blame – had forced me into completing a series of rituals that were slowly (and quite frighteningly) taking over my life. I finally sought professional help when I felt like any control I had left was gone, when the thought of leaving the house became terrifying and when even the house itself seemed like a minefield.
Of course, this was not something to be embarrassed about, this was a disorder that was frequently reducing me to tears and leaving me in state of pure terror and why I ever felt embarrassed to battle something that was so consuming and uncontrollable seems incomprehensible to me now. I am so grateful for the people that helped me through this difficult time – even though my issues were hard for them to relate to, they never made me feel as if my thoughts were silly or as if my rituals were unnecessary.
Mental health conditions of any form can seem isolating and often our own perceptions of what other people will think if we open up are wildly different to the realities we eventually encounter. There are plenty of things in life to be embarrassed about (I have a handful of terrible hairdo photos from my teenage years that are testament to that!), but our mental health shouldn’t be one of them, so don’t spend the next ten years pretending your problems are something (seemingly) easier for others to swallow – be open and honest and you’ll feel all the better for it.