To begin I would like to draw attention to the fact that I refer to my Anxiety and OCD as the “illness” as this is exactly what it is.
Over the past few years, the words mental health has become a lot more frequent in peoples dialogue. Isn’t it fantastic?. Well, I think so. When I first started experiencing mental illness I had no term, I had no name, I had no face to describe what I was feeling. In my teenage years, it was just part of my day to day life. I was told I was just a worrier, asked to stop flicking the light switch as “we were not made of money, a great worker as everything had to be just so. I had a loving upbringing, my friends & family were fantastic, but they didn’t understand what I was doing, and if not talked about, it will be grand. Little did they know, the rituals were 16/7 (8 hours of sleep was my only break), and a war zone was unfolding in my head.
I worked through secondary school and it was in my early to mid-twenties I noticed this illness had another chapter, a more distressing chapter, and I was the main character. I quickly noticed I had a wave of intrusive thoughts around my health. They would come on suddenly with no warning. Cancer, brain tumours and heart attack,, were the 3 menu options my illness would pick when and how it chose. Looking back now, I think how dare I think like this when people are battling with such challenges every day, but this is the way I was thinking. Of course with images of being terminally ill, pain & death, the illness would give its terms and conditions to just get through the day. If the illness picked a particular part of my body to focus its attack, I would check that body part until sometimes I would leave myself in serious pain and even bruising. My family would become sidekicks in this badly written script, with a mid-20’s man asking for reassurance that had a 10 second impact. I wasted money I didn’t have on GP visits to cling on to some bit of solid reassurance. They had diagnosed me with G.A.D & OCD to which was later agreed when I made it into the mental health services, offered by the HSE. These episodes lasted between 4-6weeks and I still experience them today, but with less impact as I’ll talk about later.
What about when I wasn’t within my 4-6 week window of despair? Well I quickly resumed normal behaviour, which consisted of overthinking everyday tasks, not being able to drive my car, talking to my friends and family with embarrassment, taking my medication, and thinking, this is my life now. I had good days, really good days of extreme high and then followed by massive lows, where I could not physically turn in the bed, let alone get out of bed. I was sick and I needed help.
I knew I had to start extremely slow, today, I just make the bed, tomorrow I get dressed and on and on. Of course I had little setbacks, but I tried to see the sense of achievement in my little accomplishments. I started talking more honestly and openly about my struggles. I wanted to make a habit of reaching out, and I started some CBT, and pushing my GP to get me help. I worked hard on techniques given to me by my psychologist, and started to look to more effective ways of managing my mental health daily, including regular exercise & mindfulness. When I returned to full-time education as a mature student, it was a chance for me to pursue a goal I had put off for so long because of my illness. I started to believe in my ability once again and started to enjoy my days. There absolutely were relapses, and still are, but I had an arsenal to pick from to get me through. Yes I still needed to take medication, yes I still needed to understand my triggers, yes I still needed to work daily on CBT just to get myself to a point where I can be at a level playing field to start my day. Battling a mental illness is a full-time, unpaid, poorly rewarded job that needs to be given as much attention as I do to my daily activities. Imagine juggling two bowling balls for the rest of your life. Would I change anything? Absolutely not. This is me, this is what I am, and there has been times where I feel accomplished at the progress I’ve made in my life thus far. In fact my illness has motivated me to chase my degree, and become part of a new mental health project called Da Silly Heads that aims to help the fight against mental health stigma.
The instant I took a chance and opened up about my illness, the tide started to change. We use words everyday, but never again will I take somebody’s words for granted, as when I spoke the words that introduced people to my struggle, my life started to piece together once more. Think of talking and the words you use as a sort of protein for your mental health.
When you talk you start the process of building a stronger mind and allowing yourself room to heal. Like your body, the mind needs to be worked on and looked after to improve and deal with the stresses that it will encounter. If we think of a gym setting, and we look at lifting weights, this is a physical sign of strength. Think of your words as your weights in order to build up your mental health, because talking is a sign of strength.