Written by Emma Nelson
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions that are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings.
Simply put, yet universally misunderstood.
As a 20 year old, its admittedly taken me 13 years of suffering from OCD to recognise the necessity and urgency required if we are to eradicate the desensitisation to what is an incurable illness.
Call it the product of a generation where everything we do is scrutinised or at the discretion for public judgement whether with intention or not , I have come to the conclusion that the normalisation in stereotypes that trivialise OCD remain an outcome of fostered misinterpretations toward what constitutes this life-altering disorder. These days, simply ones ‘neatness’ has been amplified into a medical condition. So when someone comments on their supposed ‘OCD’ tendencies, it has me presume they must be in fact referencing the intrusive thoughts of contamination and scrupulosity they feel? When did it become ‘cool’ to gloat of perfectionism? Dismissed as a modern mantra, a conversational cliche, this illness is a burden, not a bragging point.
Whilst I may have been disjointed from logic, my actions were not subject to the confines of my brain and were being performed almost subconsciously as I became prompted into a position where not only would OCD dilute my personality – I felt virtually unaccountable for the actions I was performing.
I am begging for this condition to no longer be dismissed as something so banal as worrying.
Perhaps the most pervasive problems associated with OCD is something called “intrusive thoughts.” The only way to at least temporarily relieve and ease my anxiety was to perform compulsive actions effectively functioning as ‘rituals’ directed toward a particular obsession. A key word however is temporary.
Despite attempts to orchestrate our minds to perform logically, anxiety overrides anything remotely capable of refraining ourselves from doing so. It is here that the mind-body dualism questions how the distinct realms of body and spirit feel completely disjointed. I acknowledge that idiosyncrasies interfere with peoples lives, yet I question whether these idiosyncrasies exacerbate obsessive, compulsive symptoms and whether these are unrelenting, obligatory fixations that extend into debilitating habits and culminate into a mental disorder. Perhaps the popularity in people uttering of their OCD exists to heighten the theatrics surrounding fastidious behaviours, yet in response people echo common misconceptions of alleged solutions ignoring that these thoughts are biochemically generated. Therefore these people concede to sub-consciously endorsing what is perhaps the most prevalent ,distinguished myth being the way in which this illness is perceived. These inaccurate interpretations and presumptions of what is believed to supposedly constitute OCD in fact prevent this disorder from being taken seriously and in the process it consequently impedes on suffers like myself on our road to recovery.
I can acknowledge however that this misunderstanding is inherently part of an everyday discourse that has framed OCD as a quirky frivolous personality trait. Nevertheless, it is a disorder and not a decision, and an illness that is intricate beyond the façade of mismatched colours and a phobia of germs. We must eliminate misunderstanding, foster knowledge and endorse initiative.
I implore and invite individuals who boast of their supposed OCD propensities to imagine this: A modified cognition plagued by irrational, satanic thoughts, combined with the permanent institutionalisation of self doubt, and a malignant cycle of obsessions. I would argue this is something not to boast of, nor make light of. Not to mention the natural outgrowth of depression triggering secondary as a co-morbid to OCD.
To shed light on the extremities of such a pervasive illness perhaps is the first step to acknowledging this issue at hand. If I personally didn’t stop what I was doing and be in bed by 8.23pm each night what would happen? When did I decide that it was unequivocally necessary to open and close every draw of the kitchen 15 times – or pace every corner of the house, just incase I missed something that would trigger a house fire and kill my family? From not getting on planes, to not eating or drinking or leaving the house for weeks – this illogical behaviour holds no logical basis. Compulsions, by the pure nature of OCD, reinforce the cycle. The more I indulged these compulsions and ‘safety seeking behaviour’ to alleviate myself temporarily, the greater the intensity the OCD demands. If resisted, I became once more hemmed in by its symptoms. Evidently the trouble rests in differentiating our physical actions that are constantly toyed between our logic mind and our OCD stricken mind. Hence why this condition must no longer be dismissed as something so banal as worrying. Evidently, maddening qualities of doubt and guilt haunt even the keenest of knowledge’s.
Plagued by an overinflated sense of responsibility to prevent harm, and over estimation of the consequences a perceived threat from the intrusive thoughts may bring. Only when we recognise its futility, do we progress.
Sufferers fear misinterpretation, judgement, not being heard nor understood. Equally we remain desperate to seek out change. For me, cognitive behavioural therapy, psychologists and daily doses of medication sometimes just isn’t enough. Rather compassion and understanding form those you fear will judge you most and emotional support from those you depend on most can be. Despite falling under the umbrella of anxiety, as an inherently anxiety based disorder, OCD remains a largely disenfranchised group with suffers receiving marginal attention toward their recovery.
We are often reading and hearing of politicians and community figures adamantly declaring their commitment to funding better aid toward mental health and increasing its prioritisation on our national agenda. Yet in the scheme of things what does this mean, and better yet what active difference is it making on a daily basis? What does a commitment to mental health look like? What does it involve?
I can wholeheartedly say that whilst this commitment will undoubtedly in time progressively contribute to the bettering of mental health, in the meantime, I believe it starts with something as simple as language.
Having been victim to, and a bystander of existing vocabularies used around mental health involving statements like “i’m so OCD” that not only does this dismiss the seriousness of such an life altering illness, but it demonstrates a degree of ignorance and apathy of many, oblivious to the impact and repercussions of their language. Often it is those you least expect to either take offence to what you say, or those you don’t expect that are battling demons on the inside.
Alternately let us instead welcome conversation and no longer let mental health remain a topic of taboo.Yet let us be conscious of our language, and remain compassionate in return. Let us talk and break down the stigma that delays and impedes on sufferers like myself on our road to recovery. Conversation irrefutably alters attitudes. Conversation initiates exposure, exposure beyond what we are currently familiarised with being perceptions that have shrouded and adulterated the unfortunate reality for many.
The prevalence of mental health is urgent, yet many of us remain paralysed by inaction and on the contrary often misdirected in our courses of action.
Whilst attitudes are measurably improving , with a change in attitudes must come proactivity. Prioritisation towards mental illness-requires people getting educated to then be able to subsequently educate others. Driven in my pursuit to increase OCD’s exposure to our world and conditions of its kind, I have chosen to target smaller goals as I’ve learnt that ones actions don’t have to be major to create change. Having established the necessity for mental health to no longer exist as a topic of taboo, its pivotal that in doing so it begins with a shift in our language. Words are powerful. Words are a force that at their discretion have the ability to invoke responses and heighten emotions. With this in mind I recently used my residential college of Trinity within the University of Melbourne as a platform to initiate the alteration in the way we approach conversation surrounding OCD and illnesses of its kind. During our designated wellbeing week which we have several times throughout the year, I chose to come out about my ongoing struggle living with OCD. Though it is far from something that I am proud of, the positive feedback that I received from sharing made me realised that even the smallest of successes can have the potential to set precedent for future discussions and nature of changes to be made.
In an era where our youth and generation are curious, inquisitive and obsessed with knowing, there is a renewed value in conversation and its opening for educative pathways and a refreshing willingness to learn.
Since sharing my story, I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed an outcome of people making an effort to consciously change the way they approach discussions about mental health and weave this sensitive consideration into their everyday language.
I came to the conclusion that truthful, honest recounts of experiences with mental health have seldom been important in the process of helping people to understand the scope of the issue at hand. My illness is not something I am proud of, but I figured even the smallest of insights into my own story can be enough to effect positive change. In the face of adversity inlay great opportunity to grow. Simply put, to grow through what you go through. My life with OCD has driven me to use my voice to ask questions and to challenge in seeking answers.
I want to be an agent for this positive social change. Ultimately, I hope that education, understanding and recognition are the outcome. An illness does not and will not define a person. Rather their resilience and strength to help one another and their self overcome it will.
Written by Emma Nelson
Emma Nelson is currently member of our Youth Advisory Committee as one of our Social Media Committee Chairs. She is currently studying her Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University, hoping to major in both History and Sociology. Her friends and family would describe her as passionate, impulsive, happy and outgoing – all characteristics of which she would hope to live up too most days. Emma loves spending the weekend at her families farm with her animals and her beloved Border Collie named Dusty. She is also an avid Richmond supporter. Emma believes that we have come so far as a society in progressing our actions and understandings toward bettering mental health issues, and to be apart of an organisation that is dedicated to continuing to do so is something Emma believes to be very special. Emma’s dream is to eradicate stigma and insensitivity surrounding mental health and she believes this can be achieved through initiating conversation. Emma is incredibly excited and honoured to be apart of the Youth committee as she is beyond passionate about the mental health of all Australians.