Today is World Mental Health Day.
The brains behind Facebook have obviously picked up on my affiliation with mental health and I have, this week, been bombarded with inspirational quotes, gripes against the Mental Health Service, and articles written by experts. Some helpful, some misinformed (IMHO). A quote that really resonated with me was this:
‘Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are reminders that we are all in this together’.
Some really fight against 'labels' in mental health. For me, getting a diagnosis marked the beginning of my journey towards freedom, and I am so very grateful for it, and for the clarity and the comprehension it has given me. I am not my diagnosis (far from it), but I am partly the way I am because of it, and awareness of that enables me to seek appropriate help, to help myself, to discern which of my thoughts are healthy and which are unhelpful, and to feel connected to a body of imperfect people that view the world like I do.
To struggle is not to fail.
To talk about struggles is not weakness.
I'm not defined by my diagnosis. It's enabled me to acknowledge my brokenness and to understand it. And in the process of fixing myself, learn who I really am.
And this is the reason I share my heart so openly, despite it feeling scary and raw. Because I think we are all broken. We have all had bits of our world shattered. We all live with a certain degree of uncertainty and fear. We all crave, need real relationship, even if we are at times too scared to ask for or seek it.
And I think this is why it's so easy for our minds to become so unwell.
So this blog is a part of the story between the bookends.
The End of Myself
2 1/2 years ago I sat on my sofa struggling to catch my breath.
The helpline that I had relied on was no longer active. The man I had been speaking to 3, 4, sometimes even 5 times a day had made it very clear that he wanted me to stop calling him. That he could no longer help me. That nothing he could say would offer me the reassurance that I needed. That I didn't believe anything he told me anyway. That I needed help from elsewhere.
What if my constant calls had sent him into a state of neurosis himself which left him helpless - unable to support people, therefore incapable. What if this had (subsequently) resulted in him taking his own life? Suicide?
This would be all my fault. How could I ever find out if this was the case?
I smelt what could have been mouse wee in my garage.
What if this had somehow got onto the props that I used for my sessions? As I googled 'effects of ingesting mouse urine', a myriad of terrifying diseases shot like a bullet onto my screen. I scrolled down and managed to eliminate a few which are only found in countries so far away that I didn't need to entertain the idea of a bit of dust from a mouse flying over with some urine on then landing in my garage. Although this thought as a distinct possibility did linger for longer than it should.
And then I land on the Hantavirus.
I smelt the offending article maybe 20 or more times, making sure I got my nose right in there so as to not miss even the faintest bit of evidence. Each time it smelt slightly different so I went back for another sniff. There was no evidence of a mouse coming anywhere near our garage but it was definitely mouse wee. Definitely. My whole being was telling me so. I must act responsibly. Here goes...
Any prop from any bag that could have come within any kind of proximity to the wee must go in the bath NOW. Fortunately I have three boxes of Milton tablets and fortunately there are instructions on the back so my washing procedure can be done with the utmost accuracy. I set my timer, and the ten minutes of sterilising begins - though I add on two hours for good measure. Just to be sure. Phew! I have prevented a Hantavirus outbreak!... Or have I? Did the finger puppet spider touch the bells that touched the beach ball that touched the wee?
I lost a memory stick.
What if there was stuff saved on there that was confidential - like a report that I wrote 8 years ago? Someone might find it and then put it into their computer and open up all my files and read the report then report me to the authorities and then the boy that the report was about might find out that I had lost the report about him and whoever finds it might try and find him and then his life will be ruined, sabotaged, and it will be all my fault. How could I be so careless? Though I don't think that the report is on there as I'm 99.9% certain that it was only saved on the other memory stick which is hidden away under lock and key with all my paper notes but then maybe it was? I might have saved it on there without knowing? I'll never know for sure if I don't find it.
This is a stream-of-consciousness, 10-minutes-in-the-life-of MY HEAD.
An obsessive cycle of behaviour to try to prevent the catastrophic outcome that my body and mind are telling me is the only possible eventuality.
I thought it, I felt it, therefore it must be true. The thing the experts call 'Thought, Action, Fusion'.
I imagine as the reader that you are exhausted already. I had these kinds of thought cycles set to repeat from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep...and then most nights dreamt them too.
I sat on that sofa. Broken. I had no idea what to do next. I wanted to die and this scared me more than anything. I violently shook as I cried out to Ben that I'd rather have chronic pain. At least that way I could take some morphine and have some respite. I thought I was beyond help. I was a prisoner in my own head with nowhere to run to.
How could my mind be making me so unwell?
I remember Ben holding my hand and looking into my terrified eyes. And I remember him saying to me: "Darling, we need to get you some help".
Within an hour I was sitting with a Doctor. I tried, through my sobs, to explain to her that I was so scared that I had inadvertently harmed someone or was about to, and that I thought I needed to be admitted to hospital as I didn't want to live anymore and that was really scary so I needed someone to just lock me away and make me better.
I looked up at her and she gazed back at me with kindness in her eyes. A kindness that said to me that she could see my suffering. A kindness that said "you're not irresponsible, you're not bad: you are poorly".
The weight on my chest eased slightly. Maybe this wasn't totally hopeless. If she understood even a little bit then maybe there was something or someone that might be able to help me? She picked up her phone and rang a mental health centre and very calmly said something to them that I couldn't hear. I then remember Ben taking me to my Mum and Dad’s and being told to wait for a phone call. I sat on my Mum's bedroom chair and rocked backwards and forwards silently crying at the thought that I might have my children taken away from me. I looked in her bedroom mirror and saw a helpless little girl staring back at me.
I had a call from a social worker that afternoon. She asked me lots of questions and then made an appointment for me to come in to the local mental health centre to meet with one of the team. I was surprised by how quickly this all happened, and the next day I was being referred to a crisis team which is like a 'hospital at home' service. The following day a mental health nurse and a social worker came round and I was able to ask them questions about my children and their perception of whether I was fit to care for them. They assured me that my children would stay with me, but made a plan to come and see me every day and to get the ball rolling with their in-house Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
Gripped with fear that I was and would continue to be responsible for causing harm, I was diagnosed with OCD.
OCD is very real. It causes severe mental torture. It has become a term (and please don't read this as a judgement) that is used quite flippantly, and I often hear people saying "I'm a bit OCD about that". My husband likes to rotate his pants so the ones at the bottom always get a chance to be worn before the clean ones go back on top. He gets a bit antsy if this doesn't happen. This is a rather delightful quirk which makes me love him even more, but it isn't because he has 'a little bit of OCD' about his pant drawer.
OCD is fear about contamination, causing harm, of not being careful enough. Someone with OCD cares so much that they try to deal with their worry about slight risks in a way that is damaging, and exaggerates their perception of the risk itself. The fears triggered by the OCD are often by their very nature the worst possible outcome that the effected person could imagine happening. This then makes them go to extreme lengths to be sure they won't happen. To stay in control. It feels too irresponsible to ignore the risks, however tiny.
OCD eats you up. Destroys. Steals your ability to see anything for what it is. Causes you to fear your next move. Not trust yourself.
I know that some do not have positive experiences with the mental health sector and this makes me sad. But for me, I came to the end of myself and the Mental Health Service scooped me up and helped me catch my breath. When my mind had been scattered into tiny pieces they pulled in people who showed me support, understanding and guidance. My path to freedom involved doing a lot of the hard work myself, but I will always be grateful to the Crisis Team, and to that wonderful Doctor.