Recently I have started to question myself more and more about whether “getting better” from OCD (or any mental illness for that matter) is possible or in fact, even necessary. Now, I understand that this may sound a little strange, particularly because in society we know that experiencing something like depression, anxiety, OCD, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia to name but a few mental illnesses are just that, an illness that needs to be cured. With that, comes the idea that our behaviour and way of thinking isn’t normal and so we fight hard against them.
This thought that I have been mulling over for the past few weeks now has stemmed from various different areas in my life:
1. My counselling course
Obviously being on a person-centred counselling course has had a huge impact on the way I think and believe that you can work with people who are struggling. Person-centred counsellors do not work in the same solution and goal focused way that CBT therapists do. Person-centred counsellors walk alongside clients at their own pace. They do not make judgements or diagnoses. They do not challenge the client on their behaviour or try to change the way they act or think. In this sense, it really has got me wondering about how I would personally find working with a person-centred therapist for my own OCD. Why is it so important to change my existing behaviour? Maybe I could tackle and explore it in different ways.
2. Horizon: Why Did I Go Mad?
If you haven’t watched this documentary already I urge you to! But if you are going to: SPOILER ALERT! This documentary focused on individuals who have experienced schizophrenia. Now, as this is something I do not identify with nor have a personal experience with, I am not writing this from my own point of view, merely what the documentary portrayed to the viewer. The documentary followed different people’s experiences some of whom had learnt to live with the voices they heard on a daily basis. They spoke about the absolute fear and terror that these voices caused them at their peak to managing it by working together with them. I found this idea so powerful. Watching these strong, capable individuals who still experience “symptoms” of schizophrenia working together with the voices, being open to them and accepting of them, listening to them and finding an appropriate use for them was one of the most admirable things I have ever seen. I aspire to be like them with the intrusive thoughts I experience with my OCD.
I can see why this point may seem a little odd at first but stick with me. I’m not talking about the big comedians such as John Bishop or Michael McIntyre here, I’m talking about perhaps the smaller, not so well known acts that I urge you to discover yourself. Last year, a comedian called Richard Gadd won Best Show at the Edinburgh Fringe; it’s called Monkey See, Monkey Do and I’ve only just got around to seeing it live. I don’t want to give too much away because it really is the most heart wrenching, moving, funny performance. The topic that Gadd discusses is what it means to be a man in today’s society and how his own way of viewing this became distorted when he experienced a traumatic event. In his show, he talks about how he repressed these difficult thoughts he was carrying around with him and didn’t openly talk about it with anyone. He fought so hard against these feelings until he eventually had an epiphany that the best way to get through it was to (as well as opening up to others) work WITH his experience, this feeling of turmoil, something which has helped him massively. Go see him mates, I promise you will be moved.
4. Talking to others who have a mental illness
Some people do not agree with the term “mental illness” and I have been challenged on terming my OCD and anxiety this. I have been asked on numerous occasions “Do you count that as an illness?”. Initially I felt slightly offended and to be frank, pissed off that I was being challenged on this. In a way, labelling my OCD as a mental illness is helpful for me as it reminds me that this is not a part of me. OCD is not who I am as a person, it is separate, something of which I have even discussed in a previous blog post here. But recently I have been asking myself: how helpful is this way of thinking? Should I be embracing the OCD and working with it rather than against it? By working against it we can experience frustration, self-hatred and helplessness if we don’t get “better”. Perhaps by terming it as “my OCD” I am acknowledging and accepting that it is part of me and that’s ok. Why shouldn’t it be?
Don’t get me wrong, I feel like there are some short comings with this way of thinking and I’m not totally convinced. For example, as someone who has experienced depression, I found that when I was so lost and confused as to what was happening to me, labelling it really helped in identifying that there was something wrong. When I was depressed, I couldn’t do this myself because I wasn’t thinking properly or looking after myself. It took someone else to say to me: “this is what you’ve got, we can treat it by doing this and this is why it’s happening”. I remember feeling almost a sense of a relief that, in a way, what I was experiencing had been normalised by putting a name to it because before that, I felt so far from normal. It was not an illness I wanted to listen to or be accepting of. I fought so hard against it and I wanted to get better so bad, to escape the complete hopelessness and incredibly low mood I was battling with. I don’t think that working together with depression is possible nor is it healthy.
Personally, I find that coping with my OCD is something I can manage more than feeling depressed. OCD can be argued as a coping mechanism in itself when we are feeling anxious because we don’t like to sit with those feelings. CBT encourages us to do exactly that by exposing ourselves to the fear and refraining from acting on any compulsions associated with it. But could it be possible for me to work WITH these intrusive thoughts, with the anxiety and with the need to act upon compulsions? Not to fight against my OCD or to see it as something that needs to be changed or feared but as something I could almost “befriend” and accept without judgement.
Food for thought, eh?