note: these are my pictures, my body, and my experiences. Everyone has different ones, even if the share a disorder. There is not one kind of person, and mental disorders mimic that model.
1 in 4 American adults ages 18+ suffer from a mental disorder in a given year. Of these, nearly 50% have two diagnosable mental disorders at once.
For something so widespread throughout society, I find it odd that mental disorders still hold such a poignant stigma in today’s culture. Moreover, it is honestly shocking that people aren’t more informed about mental disorders as a whole. After all, we flock to the doctor’s office once a year to get flu shots. Why would we shy away from understanding a kind of sickness that is a constant throughout the year?
Having a mental illness isn’t something to be romanticized, but it isn’t something to be ashamed of either. Growing up, I suffered from depression and anxiety. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with OCD. This made everything fall into place a little bit, and things finally started to make sense.
OCD is one of those beasts that, even with the help of medicine or cognitive therapy, is incredibly difficult to shake. Mine manifests in the “O” of the disorder, or “obsession”. What this means is that at times, normal anxiety about a small thing will trigger something in my brain that causes it to become stuck on a loop. When this happens, this tiny grain of anxiety spins and snowballs, growing in size, intensity, and difficulty to manage.
What some people fail to understand about OCD, and especially about mental disorders as a whole, is that when they are “in action”, so to speak, the person possessing the disorder is often not their true self. Although the instances are few and far between, there have been times where my OCD has caused a depressive/anxious fit so intense that I have virtually no control over myself or what I am doing. It’s as if I’m standing outside of a thin layer of glass, watching whatever it is I am doing and catching muffled bits and pieces, but I can’t really do anything to stop it.
I’ve had friends of mine sit me down and ask me about my wrists. I’ve been referred to suicide hotlines, and I’ve had hospitalization threatened on me by my mother. I understand their responses, and I don’t resent them for it. The fact of the matter, though, is that they don’t understand what is going on with me in my head.
I have only cut myself twice, and both times were triggered by a bad OCD episode, if you will. It has never been a result of depression, nor has it been a grab for attention (as cutting one’s self is so often discarded as doing), and most of all, it has never been an attempt on my own life. Both times, it has happened when a circumstance collides with my OCD symptoms and things spiral in a particularly stressful and incapacitating way. Anxiety attacks ensue, and I have what I refer to as a sort of “mental breakdown” where I can notice the sudden disconnect from manageable stress and most of all, me as a person. At this point, it is very hard for me to calm down and even harder to gain back control. The two times this has escalated to the point of self-harm, I have later understood it to be my body attempting to take back control; pain produces endorphins, which create a sense of euphoric stability which, in turn, curb the OCD symptoms I am experiencing. It’s a natural, mechanical response at this point, and it’s not something that I actually desire to do.
I think it is important to understand this, for a number of reasons. 1) it doesn’t excuse the action, nor does it suggest that I or others do not need help still. 2) it does not dismiss self harm, for it is still an incredibly serious issue. 3) It DOES help the people around me better understand me and my OCD.
Of course, I am no psychologist. I’m no expert on the subject on mental disorders, and this is all just my own personal musings about the subject. I’m sure plenty of it can be called in to question.
The bottom line, and the point of this entire thing, is to say that it is perfectly ok to have a mental disorder, and this doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. You are not broken, you are not ruined, and you don’t need fixed. You may need help; everyone does now and again. But when it comes down to it, you are no less important, valid, worthwhile, or loveable than any other human being out there.
Having a mental disorder isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and this is the reason why I still roll up my sleeves like always. Of course, when people notice they may stare, or be concerned. I know who I am, and I am solid in myself. I have OCD but it does not define me, and I think it is important to educate those around you. So, instead of trying to hide my disorder, I simply allow it to be. If it shows, it shows, and then I will share my story and help others understand something new to them.
Understanding mental disorders is important as a whole, but it is especially so for those who have them. Understanding your mental disorder is one of the first big steps to the healing process. Once you begin to know the beast you’re fighting, you can stop struggling against it and learn to cope and work alongside it. There is nothing more eye-opening and life changing than this particular instance.
If you are interested in educating yourself further about the nature of mental disorders, feel free to visit the below website, or any other resource of your choosing.
If you do know someone who self harms or has suicidal thoughts, it is always safe to have resources handy in case they do need help. Just remember not to make assumptions. Let your friend tell you how they feel, and respond accordingly.
You are not alone.