What do you see? Two confident, happy, smiling people? One of them has a mental health illness, but you wouldn't know from looking would you.
The first photo was taken on my 26th birthday before I was diagnosed with OCD, and the second is on my 30th, 2 years after my diagnosis. In the second photo I'm the same person, still loving being the centre of attention and getting up to sing karaoke(!), but I was suffering from obsessive thoughts and compulsions I couldn't control.
On World Mental Health Day, like many people, I want to use this opportunity to share my story and fight the stigma of Mental Health.
It's time to talk...
I may look healthy and happy on the outside, and I am mostly, but I have a mental health illness - I have OCD. OCD may sound funny or quirky, and a problem that isn't really a problem, but let me tell you even at its mildest it can have a debilitating impact and has completely changed my life.
Four years ago I was living in London, which I had thought was going to be the ‘start of my adult life’. However, things never quite work out as you expect them to do they! After being in London for a few months in a short-term let, I found - what I thought was - a decent flat that I could really settle into and begin my life in London. On moving in, however, I realised the flat was never going to be my forever home, reason being, it was filthy, and I mean 3 inches of dust embedded in a carpet filthy! It was then that something changed, and within the space of a week I went from 0 to 100 and was consumed with a sense of panic and feeling dirty. I didn’t feel like myself, and I began to fixate on thinking everything around me was contaminated and would make me ill, or even kill me.
I was then diagnosed with OCD.
As you can imagine it was a very difficult time for me and as a result, I moved back home to my parents in the Midlands. I struggled to work, and at my worst, I was housebound for weeks, fearing contamination from the outside world, and even my own house. Almost no one knew what I was going through and how much I was suffering because I felt ashamed and afraid of how people would see me if they knew. I avoided socialising with my friends, feigning illness or claiming I was just too tired, and whilst my parents were aware I was not myself, even they didn't know the full extent of what I was going through.
After months of hiding my compulsions and daily tears, one day I broke down. It was only then, when I eventually opened up about what I was going through, that things began to change. My fears of rejection and judgement were unfounded, as I was overwhelmed with an immense amount of support from my family and friends, and I finally began to face my problems. By seeking help, and talking to people about what I was going through and how I was feeling, I was eventually able to leave the house, go back to work, and start to socialise again.
One of the biggest steps within my journey was starting a new job at Capp. I was obviously very nervous in my interview, and unsure whether to disclose my situation and then I thought 'well why not?' You wouldn't shy away from discussing a broken bone, so what's the difference with mental health? Capp have been fantastic in their support, both allowing flexibility for medical appointments, and personal support when I'm having difficulties. It was definitely the right decision to discuss my mental health.
Four years on, after two rounds of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), Hypnotherapy, Acupuncture, and daily medication, I feel I am heading in the right direction. I'm not cured by any means, and I may never be, but by sharing how I feel and telling people when I'm having a bad day, I can begin to cope in the outside world.
Every year, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem, but as a society, we don’t always feel we can talk about these experiences.
Don't suffer in silence. Take a deep breath and talk about it. It's not a sign of weakness, but a sign of your strength...it's #timetotalk!