How Writing Helped My OCD/Anxiety
Mental health has become more visible in recent years than ever before. It seems at times that everyone from Will, Kate and Harry, to top flight actors and athletes to the Obamas are either speaking out in favour of more awareness of mental health issues, or opening up about their own struggles.
However more work needs to be done, not least because so many of the people affected by mental health conditions are children, adolescents and young adults. According to mentalhealth.org.uk 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% have taken hold by the time a person reaches 24. Tragically, however, 70% of all of the children and adolescents who suffer from a mental health condition will not receive appropriate treatment at a sufficiently early age.
Part of the solution has to be that those who struggle with their mental health are able to feel comfortable in asking for help. The more people who talk about mental health openly now, the easier it will be for future generations to do the same. Obviously, this is most effective if the people in question, like the young royals or Kristen Bell, have a large public following. However, every voice, even a small one, is helpful. So, with this in mind, I have decided to talk about my challenges with OCD and Anxiety.
However, I didn’t just want to talk about it in a general way. I wanted to talk about what helped me. It reminds me of a moment from The West Wing, where Leo is explaining to Josh about the man who fell down a hole, and who’s buddy jumped down into it after him.
“What did you do that for?” cried the first man. “Now we’re both stuck down here!”
“Yeah”, replies his friend, “but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
I guess I want to talk about my way out, in the hope it helps someone else find theirs.
Now, when it comes to mental health, we’re all different. There’s no one condition, and no one way to cope with it. Of course, having said that, there will be some remedies that will work for more than one person. Usually the road to recovery includes either therapy, medication or both, and please do explore those options with your doctor. I had 12 weeks of therapy, and was on medication for a time, and found them both to be greatly helpful, as have many others.
However, therapy and medication, while often of great benefit, are not the whole story. We all find other coping mechanisms, other things we can build into our lives and return to as often as we need to. Exercise can be great, as can meditation, it’s good to lean on friends and family, spend time with our pets, use support groups … there are many avenues to help yourself, all of which are valid.
I used a number of these, at various times. However, perhaps the thing, other than my treatment, that helped me the most, was writing.
Initially, I began writing my first novel in my mid-twenties. I’d just been diagnosed with OCD and Anxiety, as well as related depression. I have talked, in another post, about the writers who inspire me to write, and of course, their influence has been of huge importance. However, at first, I sat down and put fingers to keyboard because I was looking for a way to cope.
Thankfully, I had a very understanding manager, who could not have been more supportive of the fact that my doctor had signed me off work for several weeks. Not all people are so lucky. However, I was still feeling exhausted, depleted, lonely and scared. In addition to the symptoms of my illnesses, I was coping with a massive drop in self-esteem as a result of not being at work, and huge fear about where my life was heading now. I started writing, not even with intention of finishing a novel, but just for something to do.
But, little by little, it began to help. As those who have and continue to endure OCD know, intrusive thoughts can be a huge issue. The weird, inexplicable little thoughts that we all get from time to time, and which most people dismiss, are blown out of proportion in the mind of the OCD sufferer. We focus on them obsessively, fearing that they may mean something significant, and awful about us. That we secretly want to run other people over in our cars, or to hurt ourselves, for example. And of course, the more we focus, the more scared we become, the worse it gets. Writing gave me a channel that I could drive my thoughts into, and helped me not to follow my irrational fears down the rabbit hole. It gave me a place to direct my negative emotions, when they threatened to become overwhelming.
Also, it offered an escape. Life was hard before and after I was first diagnosed. Many days I struggled to get off the sofa. I didn’t want to see my friends. I had little energy. My attention span was so drastically shortened that I could hardly concentrate on reading or even watching TV. However, for some reason, writing transcended that. I found that I could lose myself. I could enter an entirely different world, where OCD wasn’t in control of my life, and stay there until I felt safe to come out again. It was a necessary respite.
But perhaps most importantly of all, writing gave me back some of my self-worth. My sense of my identity, so undermined by what had happened to me, was in part rebuilt by the knowledge that I was doing something. Something creative, something that not everybody does. It help me start to value myself again. I began, slowly, very slowly, to believe that I wasn’t pathetic or useless, as I had told myself I was, and that furthermore, I never had been. That being ill did not make me weak but that working to overcome it did make me strong.
Naturally I also leant on my family, my best friend, my grumpy cat, and in time, when I was ready, turned to meditation and running. But, other than the amazing therapy I received, writing was my best lifeline. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it won’t. But trust me, something is out there for you. Something that will help you off your knees. You will find it, and it will get better.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition, please seek help. Book an appointment with your doctor, or alternatively, if you’re in the UK you can contact the NHS mental health helpline on 08444 775 774, or contact the Samaritans on 116123 (UK and ROI) or 1 (800) 273-TALK (in the US). Alternatively, you can go to www.mentalhealth.org.uk for some helpful information.