Hello everyone, my name is Martin and I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 27. Having lived with what I knew were bizarre thoughts, silly fears and avoiding the things that set off my anxiety for 17 years already, I just thought I was a little weird, or different! I never quite understood why I’d get ‘bad thoughts’ or ‘weird thoughts’ and just considered myself some random anomaly. I’d never heard of the term ‘intrusive thoughts’ until I became unwell myself. If you too haven’t they are very unpleasant, unwanted and involuntary thoughts that are ego dystonic in nature. Ego dystonic means that the content of the thoughts is contrary to who you are! They are distressing, terrifying and awful to live with.
I grew up in the north west of England, where I struggled with school, work, friends, you name it! My ‘thoughts’, or OCD as I now realise, had a knack of getting in the way of everything. That was until I applied to train as an Occupational Therapist in 2006. University had been therapeutic for me. I was immersed in studies about something I was passionate about (helping others) and I was so engrossed that my ‘bad thoughts’ didn’t seem to plague me as much. I graduated with first class honours and was proud as punch in my achievement too, having been told I would never amount to anything when I was school! Now I was going to be a mental health professional! Boy was I in for a shock when I realised I was going to end up being referred to as a “service user” rather than a mental health professional.
In 2010, my career crumbled. I became ill! I never thought this would happen to me. I thought that it was the kind of thing that happened to the ‘service users’ I’d planned to be the therapist for, or other people. Or just people who failed in life…Jeez I can’t believe I used to think that way! But I did!
My intrusive thoughts all centred upon harm coming to others, and me being directly responsible. It manifested through doubts on whether I’d contaminated friends and my family’s food or drinks. I couldn’t cope with the thoughts, or the doubts. They were always there. I’d only have to look at a bottle of household bleach and I’d be convinced I’d poured it into people’s food. The fear was paralysing. The last thing I’d ever want to do is harm someone, so why was I getting these awful thoughts in my head? I never heard of the term intrusive thoughts, and I certainly didn’t know about their ego dystonic nature, so I would get so anxious that I would throw away any food or drinks I was concerned about. I would shake, cry and rock back and forth, trying to figure out whether the thought of poisoning someone was a real memory, or my mind playing tricks on me. It eventually became easier to avoid food and drinks altogether.
Fast forward to 2013 and I started to make progress in my recovery. I began to open up about the intrusive thoughts that were keeping me in a state of fear and exhaustion. Doing this helped immensely, and I had no idea just how much it would!
The power that you can gain from disclosing what’s going on your head is truly remarkable. I went from being petrified of telling anybody my intrusive thoughts to enjoying the shock on the faces of those who I would open up to! They weren’t shocked because of the content of my thoughts, they were shocked because they too had been living with similar, and different intrusive thoughts. They thought they were the only one who had them! How wrong were they!
How do I manage my mental health now?
I am a believer that through using the power of disclosure, we can end the stigma associated with having ‘mental health’. Through it we can help others who struggle alone too. How many times have you worried what people will think if they could read the content of your thoughts? If people knew you were ‘mentally ill’ or couldn’t work for reasons associated with mental health! My guess is that you’ve lost count, as I had previously to disclosure!
In 2013 I decided to dedicate my life to helping others who had experienced OCD and lived with the terror of intrusive thoughts. I began running a support group for others who lived with OCD, and I for one can attest to how much it has helped, not only me but the many people I have met over the last 5 years of running it. I think everyone should join a support group. They can be so powerful! Just being around others who understand what you are going through, and have been there themselves is so reassuring. I’ve made lifelong friends along this journey and we support each other through the good and bad.
One of the most important aspects of my recovery journey though has been getting involved with Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.
I was fortunate to meet my manager one day just by chance. She was setting up what she referred to as “the Recovery Academy”. She explained to me that it was a college of sorts where courses would be cofacilitated and coproduced by experts by experience and mental health professionals! It was all aimed at combatting stigma, breaking down misconceptions and educating anyone who wanted to know more. As soon as I heard this I committed to working for her and wrote a whole course about my experience of living with OCD. In it I openly discuss the content of my intrusive thoughts and how it affects me on a day to day basis alongside a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. This course has been a platform for sharing my message of hope to hundreds of people across the north west. It has enabled me to use my experience of despair for a greater good, and that’s what I think we all should do. Use your story to inspire others and shape a new understanding of mental health. Tell people that everyone experiences odd thoughts, and they don’t mean you are odd! Experiencing intrusive thoughts and ‘mental health’ doesn’t mean you’re weak, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure…it means you’re human! We all have mental health and we all get intrusive thoughts, so let’s stamp out this stigma associated with it!
We would like to say a massive thank you to Martin for sharing his story with us for #TimetoTalkDay 2018. Martin also runs a great blog called ‘Overcoming Anxiety‘, where he talks about his personal experiences and gives others advice on coping mechanisms. You can also find Martin’s Facebook page here, and his Twitter here.