Believing she is more than her illness this Toronto based bloger prefers to adopt mental skillness in recognition that the what she experiences diagnosed as OCD brings stuff she’d really prefer not to have in her live , like tormented obsessional thoughts but also brings benefits -great organisational skills and a terrific imagination, amongst others.
And mental skillness invites you to share in her experiment to focus each day for a year on one thing that she enjoys – from racoons, art school, bunny slippers smoking cigarettes.
A way to celebrate not the “illness” byt the positive things it brings to her life….
When I was 30 years old I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Even though the diagnosis gave a formal name to my condition, I’ve had OCD since I was a kid. I remember, as early back as age 8 or 9, having to arrange everything in my room in perfect order, and compulsively needing to touch each side of my bed a certain number of times before going to sleep (a ritual which took me approximately 45 minutes each night) in order to keep my family “safe”. What did that mean? Who knows? I certainly couldn’t explain it, but I knew that if I couldn’t complete the ritual I would lie awake all night worrying that something bad would happen.
In my teens, I suffered from pretty severe depression. I mean, being a teenager can be a total downer at times even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, but looking back on it, yeah, I was pretty fucked up. Luckily I had some really good friends, and some decent coping mechanisms. I lived in a country that was hot all year round and super safe, so I used to sneak out of my house in the middle of the night and go for long walks, listening to music on my walkman (yup, it was cassette tapes all the way back then). I was lucky to find solace in these activities. I made it through high school with my psyche relatively intact and returned to the country where I was born, Canada, to attend university.
All through my teens and twenties, I was plagued by obsessive thoughts and I engaged in compulsive behaviors in an attempt to relieve some of the anxiety they brought on. I was super concerned with things being symmetrical — if I did something with my left hand I had to do it with my right hand too or it would feel “wrong”. The right side of my body felt “luckier” than the left side, so I would always try to walk starting with my right foot first. Certain numbers — like 3 and 8 — seemed “bad”, while others — like 1 and 2 — were “good”. I had obsessive thoughts of being harmed or killed, and developed a crippling fear of the dark to the point where I had to go and stay with friends if my boyfriend (who I lived with at the time) went out of town, otherwise I wouldn’t sleep all night. What was I afraid of? Oh, just the usual — you know, ghosts, demons, monsters, murderers, serial killers. Logical stuff like that. The occasions that I was too embarrassed to ask to stay with people, I would have full-blown panic attacks that would leave me shaking in terror for hours, convinced that imagined perils were in fact real and present danger. The truth of the matter was that I was perfectly safe, locked up in my apartment, but the things I was afraid of seemed SO REAL. I knew I sounded crazy when I tried to explain my anxieties and fears to anyone — so I didn’t. OCD had taken control of me, and I knew it (although I didn’t yet know what it was called)…and I was ashamed. I felt like I should be able to get a hold of myself and eradicate these abnormal and disturbing thoughts — hence the compulsions, which were a desperate bid to gain some sort of feeling of control.
There is no rhyme or reason to OCD. Why touching my head a certain way or a certain number of times helps me to feel relief from a seemingly unrelated anxious thought, I cannot tell you. It makes absolutely no sense at all. People with OCD develop rituals and compulsions that bring them temporary comfort, but these eventually lose their effectiveness, and increasingly complicated or time-consuming rituals are often required to get that “just right” feeling. Someone who starts out checking to see whether their door is locked once or twice before they leave the house may eventually find themselves spending hours checking and re-checking. Anyone who has OCD is probably all too familiar with that “just right” feeling, and how frustratingly elusive it can be.
As for me, finding out that there was a name for my condition was, on the whole, a good thing. It didn’t make having OCD any easier, but it did put me on the path to getting treatment. It’s been a long road — one that I am still on and will be for the rest of my life. There are a lot of people out there — more than anyone realizes, no doubt — suffering from various forms of mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, pyschosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder…you name it, someone’s dealing with it. My experience with OCD has been, and continues to be, a major challenge, but I realize that I am fortunate compared to many others. I have a good support system of mental health professionals, and I’ve been lucky enough to have some really amazing people reach out to me to offer their support.
I struggle with OCD thoughts and obsessions on a daily basis. They’re too numerous (or in some cases, nonsensical) to describe them all in detail here, but suffice to say that they are never far from my mind, ready to slide in and take control over me if given the opportunity. They are annoying, frustrating, and totally draining. And yet, I have to admit that OCD has, on occasion, been a help as well as a hindrance. I do possess excellent organizational skills and attention to detail that have been a benefit in my career. And I have a good imagination which, when it isn’t terrorizing the fuck out of me, is actually pretty cool. That’s why I decided to name this blog ‘Mental Skillness’. I think it’s a slightly more positive spin on a state of being that we traditionally consider in a negative light only. Don’t get me wrong — given the opportunity I would gladly choose to not have OCD, if such a thing were possible. But I do believe that people are more than their mental illnesses or disorders. OCD is a part of who I am, but it’s not the only thing I am. I will probably never celebrate the fact that I have OCD. But I will celebrate the positive things it brings to my life — compassion, thoughtfulness, and perhaps a deeper connection to myself and to others than I might have otherwise experienced.
This site is a little experiment, a challenge to myself as part of my New Year’s resolution to try and focus on the positive things in life rather than the negative. I figure that even if I’m feeling super anxious or down hopefully the act of focusing on one thing each day that makes me happy — no matter how small or inconsequential — will help get me through the difficult times. If you happen to stumble upon this blog, I hope that it amuses you! And if you’re struggling with mental issues, don’t worry — YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I’ll be hanging out here, talking about robots, and art school, and raccoons smoking cigarettes (just some of the many things that make me happy). Join me whenever you want! There is always room at this table.
Wise words and whimsy, and Jimi Hendrix too. Get your own daily dose, a step maybe towards finding your own way to slay the Jabberwock.
- Joshua Walters, comedian educator