When I first started having problems with my mental health I never thought I would actually be diagnosed with a mental illness. There is a difference between having a hard time resulting in your mental health suffering and actually having a mental illness. This took me a very long time to understand. I just thought I was going through a difficult time but, fast forward a few years and I'm actually in a very good place but my mental illness is still there, and always will be. It's a difficult concept to come to terms with and it really upset me for a long time. However, now that I've finally accepted that this is something I live with it's become a lot easier. When I was told I have severe anxiety I couldn't understand how - I'm an outgoing, friendly person. I like the company of others. I love going out and I don't particularly enjoy being alone. I like to talk. A lot. So how could I have anxiety? I took me quite a while to understand that my panic attacks were a result of anxiety and not of stress. I wasn't 'faking' it as my anxiety sometimes told me and I certainly needed help. Two years on I've been diagnosed with anxiety, with agoraphobia and OCD.
I don't normally speak about OCD on my blog, or in general, as I am only coming to terms with my diagnosis and to talk about it causes me extreme anxiety but I felt like I wanted to overcome that. It's scary for me to write about this as I don't feel as comfortable telling people about my OCD than I do about my anxiety, however I feel like the two go hand in hand so I think it's time to talk.
When I was told I have OCD I genuinely laughed. How could I have OCD? I was so confused. I realise now that it was because I was so misinformed about OCD. I was one of *those* people who thought OCD equated to being neat, tidy and organised. Yes, I like to clean. I like everything I own to have its own place. I try (and fail) to be organised. However, to me, none of this added up to OCD because I'm not the tidiest or the most organised. My brother is a perfectionist and his things are always in order, with nothing out of place. My family, (and me, until recently) would always say 'ha ha Emmet is SO OCD'. I cringe when I think back on this because he doesn't have OCD. I do. It is something I struggle with every single day and the fact that I was joined in in the stereotyping of OCD makes me feel sick.
I think people often forget, or don't even know, what OCD actually is. People forget that it stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, not Obsessive-Cleaning Disorder (thanks for that Channel 4). You can have OCD and be the messiest person ever. It's also important to note that it is a disorder and the term OCD shouldn't be thrown around lightly. It isn't washing your hands a few extra times a day. It isn't lining up your pens in a straight line. It isn't being uncomfortable using public toilets.
It's so much more than that.
It's being obsessed with urges, thoughts and images which cause crippling anxiety and being forced to act on these obsessions. It's not being able to control your thoughts. It's fearing that you could cause your friends and family harm by a simple thought. It's being terrified that someone will attack you as you walk down the street. It's feeling completely filthy if an insect lands on you, upsetting you so much that you feel you have to shower, and shower again, just to be sure. It's a constant fear that something bad will happen to you, your family, your friends or strangers around you. It's bleaching a hot cooker. It's being too paralyzed with anxiety to make yourself dinner for fear that you will poison yourself with bleach. It's crying because you can't get your bed perfectly neat. It's being terrified to meet new people in case they reach out their hand for the dreaded handshake. It's forcing yourself to eat in other people's houses despite the fear that their house is contaminated, so that they don't think you're rude and never speak to you again. It's literally pulling your hair out from your scalp.
OCD is ranked THIRD in the Top 10 Worst Mental Illnesses. So before you exclaim how 'OCD' you are after you neatly stack your books on your shelf think about how the actual disorder affects actual sufferers. It isn't a cute little quirk or an interesting personality trait. It is a nightmare that people, and their families, have to live with every single day.