In the US, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, while in the UK, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. For those of you that don’t know, I have anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. While I have not written about it extensively on here, I post updates and struggles on my Instagram and have uploaded a couple of videos to my YouTube channel, including “OCD & Me”. I’m also honest with my students and have used anxiety as a theme for class on multiple occasions.
These interactions often result in further conversation, many of which end with people thanking me for being so open and brave. I take in their kind words but I don’t feel as fearless as I let on. Yet I keep talking and sharing because it’s important.
A little backstory: I started therapy just over a year ago. During my third session, I was talking about a specific incident and explaining how I get stuck in my thoughts and find it difficult to pull myself out of them. In response, my therapist casually asked, “Do you think it could be your OCD?” I suspected I had anxiety, but I did not expect OCD. However, it made perfect sense.
My OCD is referred to as “Pure-O” OCD. From what I understand, this means I deal more with intrusive thoughts and not necessarily the compulsions that we typically associate with OCD, like hand washing and neatness. Don’t get me wrong, I like washing my hands but I don’t do it obsessively. And if you saw the state of my room right now, you would know I am far from neat.
I believe I went so long without a diagnosis because I wasn’t aware that everyone else didn’t overthink and overanalyze everything like I did. When I was a kid in school, I would take so long figuring out the perfect words to say that either someone else would have already expressed my thought, or we had moved onto another topic so I ended up saying nothing at all. And on the rare occasion I did speak, I would spend hours breaking it down. Did they understand what I meant? Why didn’t I say this instead? Do they think I’m stupid? Why did I even bother saying anything? These questions and thoughts didn’t just happen once and then leave. I would think about them over and over and over.
While I could keep going on about what it’s like inside my brain, that’s not what we’re here for. Let’s get down to the why.
Why am I open about my mental health, on social media and IRL?
The first reason is a bit selfish. I have spent so many years trying to ignore what goes on inside of me. I was a terribly shy and quiet kid and I bottled up all of my feelings. Spoiler alert, that doesn’t work. You can keep pushing everything down, but eventually you will only be able to take so much before you explode. When I was a senior in high school, I went through a really tough time. I kept suppressing my emotions, trying to make it seem like everything was fine despite it feeling like my world was falling apart, piece by piece. I finally broke when my first my relationship ended. I couldn’t hold it all in any longer. Tears started streaming down my face and they wouldn’t stop. I cried for hours until I eventually exhausted myself and fell asleep. After that, I rarely smiled. My body language completely changed. And I went further down the rabbit hole of the disordered eating I was already involved in.
Now that I have a greater awareness of myself, and have learned that ignoring your emotions doesn’t work, I don’t want to hide, lie, or pretend anymore. I don’t have the energy to mask everything, but I’m also not ashamed.
I’m human. I have feelings.
Admittedly, I’m still learning when and how to express my emotions. I have gone too far the other way and shared before I’m done processing. But hey, nobody’s perfect and finding balance is difficult. We’re allowed to make mistakes. Whenever we think we have it all figured out, the universe has a funny way of reminding us that life is a never-ending learning process.
Next, hearing other people’s experiences with mental health was pivotal for helping me understand my own. When I was first diagnosed, I did a lot of research on OCD, in general, before I trying to figure out how it showed up in me. One of my favorite authors, John Green, also has OCD and anxiety. And coincidentally, his latest book, which came out a few months after my diagnosis, was about a character that had it too. In the buildup to its release, he posted a video about what OCD is like for him. It helped me realize how different mental health, and OCD specifically, looks on everyone. It also encouraged me to try differentiating what is normal thinking and what is obsessive. I’m still figuring this out and I imagine I will be for a long time to come. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “This is my OCD,” but really it was normal. The real shocking realizations are when it’s vice versa.
But above all, after watching John’s video, then and every time I’ve watched it since, I felt seen.
So finally, I speak out because I want to help others on their journey. I want those that are struggling to know they are not alone. I want them to know that asking for help doesn’t make you weak. I want them to know it can and will get better. Society encourages us to take care of our physical health, but I want to invite you to look after your mental health too.
Confronting my issues has provided me with a deeper understanding of myself. It’s not easy work. But the effort is worth it. Understanding and sharing my experience has allowed me to connect with people that I never would have otherwise. It has strengthened so many of my relationships. Truthfully, it has also ruined a few.
But I am who I am. I am vast and complex. I want to know all the parts of myself. And I want those I share my life with to know the entirety of me too.
I will keep doing what I can to break the stigma around mental health. If that means being open, honest, and raw, I’m happy to do it.