a lot has happened between mental health awareness week last year, and now. but one of the more unexpected changes to my life is the entering into *this* MH awareness week with a new diagnosis. not because i thought my mental health was really improving, but because i’ve never been surprised by a diagnosis in my entire life.
i vividly remember, aged about 11, sitting in my mum’s worn blue armchair in the living room, reading a book called something along the lines of ‘dr jolly’s book of childcare' - which was essentially just a list of all the illnesses and diseases kids could get, their various symptoms, and how to treat them. i used to furtively flip through the pages, settling on something that i thought i might have. i think tonsillitis was my first target. the book had said that sometimes children feel it first as a sore stomach. my stomach definitely felt a bit sore. but wait… maybe it was appendicitis. that was a big word that i knew because a) madeline had it in the film and b) my dad had it as a kid, and i took great delight in his grisly scar (the doctors had botched it and it was INTENSE). i couldn’t stop thinking about it. i repeatedly checked the symptoms in the book. i repeatedly felt my forehead to see if i was burning up. i repeatedly prodded my stomach on one side to see if i could feel anything troublesome happening in there. i repeatedly checked my glands (this book really taught me about my body as much as it enabled my self-destruction). my self-diagnosis with the help of dr jolly was the beginning of a lifetime of worry and checking, and - i see now - early signs of what i now know to be OCD.
even at the time, i had the feeling that what i was doing was wrong, and something to be embarrassed about. i remember stuffing the book back on the shelf if i heard someone outside the room. although i don’t think i’d have been able to articulate whatsoever *why* i felt this weird shame - as i knew i wasn’t doing anything necessarily bad - i just instinctively felt it wasn’t something i should be ‘caught’ doing. it’s so funny to look back at events which seemed so trivial and unimportant, and realising that i was entering into the distress-behaviour-guilt cycle that i do to this day.
and it’s this cycle that means i’ve never been caught off-guard by a diagnosis til this most recent one. every illness, every infection, every everything - i’ve preempted. i’ve obsessively researched. i’ve needed to be in control to the point of spending potentially hours a day trawling the internet for answers. and it’s always led to vindication - the doctor telling me i do in fact have what i secretly already knew i did is my reward. it’s what justifies the behaviour. because i was ~right~. so the destructive cycle is ‘proven’ to not actually be destructive because i was right about my suspicions. right?
of course, a lot of hours have also gone into researching things that i definitely do not have. that definitely would’ve killed me by now if i did. that i’m ashamed of even indulging in worrying about, when there are so many people actually suffering with it. name a disease, and i’ll have been convinced at one point that i had it. even on this trip, after getting a slight nip off a dog that broke the skin the tiniest bit, a good 2 days were dedicated to either proving or disproving that i had rabies and/or tetanus.
because that’s the thing - whether i have it or not, is never really my concern. my goal is to *know*. it is control. like...if i have rabies it’s fine, as long as i *know* that i do. (i mean, let’s be real, if i did have rabies the concern would then shift to having rabies, but the initial obsession is to know what’s wrong with me).
i think this will be ‘part 1’ of my OCD story, because - as i write - i realise how complex it really is. i realise, too, how many other manifestations of this disorder are apparent in my life. it is not just symptom checking. and i haven't even begun to touch upon how hearing this new made me feel. so that’ll be for another time. but for now, please, dear reader, imagine my surprise when i walk out of therapy a few weeks ago hearing that i have OCD and, for the first time in my entire life, i just did not see it coming. no idea. completely blindsided. for all my research, for all my writing on mental health, for my LITERAL PSYCHOLOGY DEGREE, for all my paranoid googling, i never for a second thought this applied to me. maybe it was because i’m also so anxious that i assumed everything ‘mentally wrong’ with me was a) a symptom of anxiety or b) just plain & simple my personality, my garbage brain, my fault. being able to take a step back and realise that what you’re experiencing are SYMPTOMS was, for me, one of the most liberating, self-caring experiences of my life.
i wonder often if these ramblings are helpful. i think (i hope) that seeing someone else lay down the patterns behind the behaviours and the mechanisms by which these disorders work, can help to compartmentalise the experience and make it perhaps easier to understand - both for sufferers and for those just wanting to be there for someone they love.
thanks for reading sweet friends.