This post is also being posted on the Young Minds website. Young Minds do great work supporting and educating young people in relation to mental health.
This is a hard post for me to write as it evokes fairly difficult memories. I started writing it a while ago but as it’s so personal I hesitated about sharing it but then I realised that that’s the point. It has to be shared to prevent someone else going through what I have been through. If only one person reads this and speaks to someone then that’ll make it worthwhile.
Just as an introduction I started suffering from ‘Pure O’ OCD when I was a teenager. It appears to be stress induced as I have periods where it is not there. During these times of OCD I also suffer from chronic anxiety.
People with OCD get intrusive, obsessive thoughts that then lead us to do compulsions to alleviate some of the extreme anxiety we are feeling. So what makes Pure O’ OCD different from OCD? Many say that actually there is no difference – in my experience the term ‘Pure O’ is often used to describe someone who tends to have mental based compulsions rather than the more visual ones such as washing hands, turning light switches on or off. For example my mental compulsions are things such as checking memories to see whether what I fear is true, internal reassurance, it can also include exchanging a distressing thought with a positive one. However, every one with OCD has intrusive thoughts it’s just the way we respond to them differ slightly.
I wanted to write a letter to my 14 year old self to say all the things I wish someone had said to me back then:
Dear 14 year old me,
I wanted to write this letter to you as I can see you are struggling. You are preoccupied with thoughts so distressing it physically makes you flinch and a belief you can’t tell anybody as you worry that they may think you are truly evil (it is making you believe it of yourself). You are not eating because the anxiety is making you physically sick and life has gone from being technicolour to a dull grey – a shuffling existence through each day. If only you could hear me say “share your load, voice the thoughts, nothing terrible will happen if you do and only then will the darkness start to fade”.
I wish you could know that these thoughts are not facts and all the days, months, years that you will spend trying to make sense of it all, attempts to solve the unsolvable is as futile as trying to chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I can see you now wondering if the only way to escape the feeling that you are slowly being suffocated by your mind is to leave this world behind. Well what I am here to tell you is you will be glad you stayed. You will go onto university, fall in love, travel, laugh and have adventures so great it will make life seem light again.
I will not pretend to you and say it will always be easy. There will be other dark times but each and every time you re-emerge battle weary but stronger. I want to tell you that during one of these difficult times – 16 years on from those first days of struggle you will begin CBT treatment. Because yes, what I really need you to know is that you have a condition. Those beliefs that you may want to harm people close to you, worries that you could harm children, certainty that you have contracted HIV (the list drags on) – they are not you, they are the work of OCD, a condition so confusing and clever it can make you doubt anything you ever thought you knew to be true.
So if I could say one thing to you it would be this: as surely as night turns into day things will not always look so bleak. I would urge you to talk to someone, confide your darkest thoughts and seek a professional who can help.
But finally what I really want to say is that I am so proud of you for being filled with such courage in the face of what is truly a cruel visitor.
“There is hope and where there is hope there is strength”.
All my love,