It’s been a while since I posted, but I haven’t forgotten about this blog. I’m going to write a bit of a stream-of-consciousness post today as a way of trying to cope, but more specific posts should be up in the not-too-distant future.
I was working on a Powerpoint presentation but I’ve had to have a break as my OCD was getting bad. It’s usually there whilst I’m working, but it tends to get stronger as I get more tired. In this case the biggest thing it’s doing is trying to stop me using interesting pictures etc. – the better an idea I have, the more OCD tries to stop me using the idea (i.e. tells me my worst fears will come true if I carry out the good idea).
Today I came across some statistics on the topic of how long term mental health conditions are more common amongst lesbians than straight women. This needs to be highlighted and addressed. However, as a side (slightly selfish) issue the statistic they gave for straight women – 4% – made me a bit sad when I thought about myself. The reason it made me sad is that it emphasised that, at least in the context of other straight women, most don’t know what it’s like to live with constant mental illness for most of their life. It suggests that although experience of mental illness per se is common, mental illness that won’t budge for years and years is not so common.
These feelings played into something I experienced a little while ago when working with a group of people with experience of mental illness. For context, it is useful to know that I am not entirely open about my mental health at work, as I experienced significant discrimination when I took that approach in the past (at a different place of work to where I am now). So within this group of people I was essentially perceived as a mentally healthy person, asking for the opinions of people who have experienced mental illness.
I asked them to look at various images and indicate which ones would be best to represent the work my organisation is doing on the topic of mental health. I had my own personal (private) thoughts about these images – I felt that mental illness was best represented by a picture I found of the brain inside chains, and by other images representing how trapped, crushed and isolated I feel when thinking about my mental illness.
To my surprise the group didn’t like the images I personally favoured, in fact they disliked them. They preferred images representing people, and colourful, positive images. I suspect the difference was partly due to differences in what we were seeking to represent with the images – they were more focused on how our organisation might be represented, whereas I was more focused on how illness itself may be represented. However, another reason for the difference was (unknowingly) expressed by one of the participants – that he would identify with the brain in chains image if he was currently unwell.
The whole situation upset me a bit, because the way I saw it was – even these people who have been chosen specifically for their experience with mental illness are more mentally well than I am. I have since understood this wasn’t exactly what was going on, but it’s a good illustration of the feelings that came up when I read the 4% statistic above.
I often forget to some extent that other people don’t have to live with their worst fears every minute of every day, with no break. That even people with experience of mental illness are not usually ill for years and years. When I remember this it gets me down a bit.
A friend who has been hospitalised for psychosis in the past has recently developed OCD symptoms. They told me that psychosis was easy compared to OCD. It reminded me that it is very hard to live with OCD, and that coping as best I can with almost constant OCD for the best part of 20 years is a big achievement. Those of us with OCD are stronger than most people know.