My Mental Health
Okay. So, I've been wanting to share my personal mental health experience for a very long time. I kept waiting for the right time, but that just never came. I blog for myself, but was mostly nervous about what people would think of me after finding out. On November 12th 2015, I started writing this post to share in 2016 on a significant day. It has now become apparent that there just isn't one, and all I've been doing is putting it off and putting it off... You may be wondering "Well, if you don't feel comfortable to post about it, why put pressure on yourself to do so?!"
Throughout my life I've struggled with various bouts of mental health issues that have manifested in different ways. Besides my immediate family, and a couple of others, not many people actually know about this. I started to really think about them not knowing and began to question; Why don't they?
One of the main worries, that has forever played on my mind, is that I am somehow crazy and, in some way, wrong. At times I have been utterly terrified that people would think I was a monster and absolutely insane if they knew. Now I'm older and have sought help, despite how isolated these bouts made me feel, in time I have learnt that mental health issues are very common and aren't something to be afraid of, or worried about. And by keeping shtum, I personally felt like I wasn't helping anyone and somewhat aiding the stigmas.
Here we are.
The first case I can cast my mind back to was when I was very young. I think it must have been when I was in Junior School. I was worried about leaving fingerprints and marks on surfaces. I distinctly remember being on holiday and accidentally kicking the leg of a table whilst swinging my feet. I rubbed the toe of my shoe against the spot a couple of times, as though I was trying to wipe a non-existent mark away. This happened on numerous occasions but in varied ways; such as using my shirt sleeve to clean away invisible fingerprints. I'm not sure why this bothered me or why I felt the need to react in the way I did, but after being in these situations I would repeatedly feel panicked when I thought of things I may have left my fingerprints on. Thankfully these OCD tendencies soon faded.
In my final year of Junior School, I had my first encounter with intrusive thoughts. I didn't understand them. They filled me with a sense of inescapable dread and guilt. I remember being inconsolable. I think they only lasted that school year at most. My second encounter was in Secondary School, in Year 8 or 9. This was the worse bout of mental illness I have faced to date. To put it simply, intrusive thoughts are involuntary thoughts of an unsettling nature. One day my brain grasped onto a unpleasant thought that randomly fathomed in my head. Instead of thinking
'Oh gosh, that was strange!'
and forgetting all about it, because it made me feel so uneasy, I began to question why I had thought of it in the first place.
What was that? Why did I think of it? Why wont it go away?
Am I a bad person?
When in reality, it was just a odd and silly thought - and everyone has them fleetingly.
Every. Single. Day.
The issue was, the more anxious I became about them, the more upset they made me and the more they cycled in my mind. I blamed myself. I thought I was a vile person. I couldn't comprehend why they had stumbled into my brain, or more so why they wouldn't leave. It was definitely the darkest period of my life. It seemed like there was no escape from them, and I was convinced I would be dealing with these at a high frequency and intensity for the rest of my life. It completely broke me into pieces. This continued for weeks and months, and I became suicidal. I am thankful that I got help and that I'm still here.
My last period of intense anxiety and compulsions was at university. I have to be honest with you, I am a perfectionist. I see this to be a strength and a weakness. It means I complete work to standard I feel is high and of good quality, but can mean that I use up a lot of time being intricate and thorough. I met all of my university deadlines, but often spent more time than I feel I should have, re-reading and double checking; particularly once I had submitted something. Checking I had uploaded the correct file or if it was a physical hand-in, actually asking a friend to film me posting it through the hand-in slot. I have no doubt that I must have looked completely bizarre, but it caused my worries to subside. It wasn't until minutes after the deadline time had passed, that I felt I could finally relax though. This compulsion to check and double check was also present at other times, such as anytime I left the house.
Shaking the handle three times and saying 'It's locked. It's locked. It's locked.' Out loud. Again, I knew I must have looked strange to my neighbours, but it's what I felt I needed to do in order to feel content. Sometimes even after I had done this and got half way up the road, or even the path, I would turn around and come back to check it again. I started many days flustered, frustrated and with time wasted. If I was home alone I would check that taps, the cooker hobs and oven were off multiple times before going to bed too. I sought help for all of these compulsions, where it was pointed out to me that repeatedly checking doesn't actually help, but instead prolongs the cycle. It makes you feel better whilst you're doing it, but proven by my returning to the front door/taps/hobs/oven, it doesn't help altogether. I've worked on this a lot and now leave the house feeling far more confident that the door is locked. I try not to ask for confirmation from anyone that I've done it anymore, and usually shake once or twice before forcing myself to walk away. I only check taps, hobs and the cooker once now too.
Another example of this double checking was when writing; whether it be writing academically, an email or even a comment on a blog. I would spend ages reading what I had written, before rereading and then rereading again. Paranoid I had accidentally said something rude, that I didn't make sense, or even that I had made a seemingly embarrassing spelling or grammatical mistake. I neglected Twitter for the same reason too. I would write a Tweet but would spend such a long time overthinking it, that in the end it wasn't worth it. I would then delete what I had written and just move on. I've gotten over my anxiousness when it comes to Twitter, but am still working on this one. I've cut down my checking time and have shaken the feeling that I've said something rude, when I know in my heart of hearts I haven't, but do still feel the need to reread.
Mental health issues are varied and I know I'm not the only one suffering or to have suffered with these. I mostly wanted to share my experiences as I am yet to read about anyone else's experiences with intrusive thoughts. This may be down to me not looking in the right places, but when I was feeling very alone, and as though no one else would be dealing with these issues, it made me feel so much better to know I wasn't the only one. It made me realise I wasn't crazy and feel so much more normal; because
that's exactly what these things are
They are normal
. Yes, they may not feel normal or seem normal, but there are people all over the world who have dealt or are dealing with all matter of similar things. They may never truly go away, and this doesn't matter. I have learnt to deal with them in a way that makes them feel as though they have gone for now, and this makes me feel strong. The more I have attempted to separate them from myself, and understand them as an illness, the less they have bothered me. Similarly to the OCD tendencies, of course the thoughts come back from time to time and I still worry about them, but in the end I make myself realise that they are just bad thoughts that no one else can see.
If you are struggling, please do tell someone. A family member, a close friend, your GP or get in touch with
. I know that seeking help feels incredibly daunting, but I can assure you that they can work miracles. I've had many lightbulb realisation moments in the company of these marvellous professionals. Over time, talking to them gets easier and it has made me feel
much better. You aren't alone and you can get through this.