Talking openly about my mental health has helped massively in accepting myself and in making me feel supported. Over these past few months, I have been the most open I’ve ever been; I talk about my mental health openly on my course with both peers and tutors, my friends, family and even the management at my new placement. It’s important to me for others to know that I have OCD, that this illness does affect me on a daily basis and that I might need more support at times. However, the way this will make people look at me after this admission is always lingering in the back of my mind.
I tend to put up a front of being a confident person, in control, sorted, like I find life easy. This front is something I work hard to keep up! It’s pretty much a full-time job. I like having this image that makes people believe that I am a strong person and I can manage whatever life throws at me. However, the truth underneath this front is that I do struggle, more than people realise. This truth and the image I portray battle it out constantly, causing me to put extra pressure on myself. I’ve made myself believe that anything other than this front will make people think I am a weak, incapable person, an image which really frightens me.
Although I realise that talking to other people is healthy and beneficial for me, this fear can stop me from opening up to others as I wrote about in my blog post: “Why it’s Hard to Talk About Your Feelings When You Have a Mental Health Illness”. I will admit, there is a good chance that I read into people’s reactions when I open up to them which causes me to convince myself they see me differently now. But there is one thing that I know I’m not reading into, a thing that I absolutely HATE people doing when they know I have OCD and that is using this knowledge to explain my behaviour for me.
For example, I know that I am a very stressy, very organised person. I like things sorted immediately and if they’re not, this does not sit right with me at all. Now, I’m sure a lot of people in world have this same or a similar personality trait but do not have a mental health illness. The difference is that if a person just comes across this way with no explanation other than that’s who they are as a person, it’s accepted and left alone; there are no interpretations made. However, if you are someone like me who has been diagnosed with a mental health illness like OCD, your organised behaviour is put in the spotlight. Other people want to try and explain it to themselves and to others that the reason you’re behaving the way you are is because you have this illness:
“I know why you’re doing that, it’s because you’ve got OCD isn’t it?”
“Is that your OCD again Beth?”
“That’s not like you, is it?! I thought you had OCD?”
“Oh, you know what she’s like, that’s just her OCD”
Why is ok for people to do that? When you’ve admitted something big like having a mental health illness which has perhaps been a secret for a massive part of your life, that doesn’t then give people the permission to start interpreting your behaviour based on that. It makes me feel like I’m being constantly analysed and even completely misunderstood. Sometimes, I don’t even think that some of my behaviour is even my mental health illness but people link the two together for me! Some of my behaviour that people pick up on such as being organised is just what I think is a personality trait of mine, not necessarily a symptom of a mental health illness. So, when someone makes this link and informs you of their finding, it can be well, insulting. It makes me feel like I am being diagnosed (by a non-professional at that) all over again.
It has also really highlighted to me how misunderstood OCD is as an illness. Sure, you can be a really organised and clean person with this mental health illness but there is so much more to it than that. For me, I know that I personally have to have things in a certain position or neatly ordered because I suffer with intrusive thoughts that threaten me to do it. My horrid, uncontrollable thoughts caused by OCD tell me that if I don’t do things in a certain way, something bad will happen and that enormous amount of responsibility forces me into doing what they say. I feel as though people that think they know a lot about OCD behaviour forget that part. All that we see is merely on the surface.
I hope that in this blog post I have highlighted to those without a mental health illness that analysing someone who does is not the right thing to do. It’s a big privilege to have this information about somebody, that they have trusted you enough to confide in you. Just because I have OCD doesn’t mean that all my behaviour and actions are a symptom of this. Mental health illnesses do not define who we are as a person in the same way that having asthma doesn’t define who you are either. When people confide in others about their mental health illness, they are looking for support and love. What they aren’t looking for is to be analysed and judged.