A few years ago back when I was in Year 11, I remember I was walking down the road near my house to the bus stop before school.
The short 5 minute commute to the bus stop was one that I would take each morning, and it involved me walking down a path lined with gumtrees. On one particular morning as I was walking down the path, a thought popped into my head.
A thought that was quite intrusive, and was something that didn’t want to go away until it had been addressed.
This little voice inside of my head was telling me something that it had never told me before. It was telling me that if I stopped and touched one of the gumtrees along the path TEN times with each hand, then I would have a good day at school and my family would remain happy and healthy…seriously, it did.
So of course, I did what this voice was telling me to do and touched the tree 10 times with each hand, and I continued my walk to the bus stop.
After another 2 minutes passed, the voice hopped back inside my head and said something along the lines of “if you stop again and touch ANOTHER tree TWENTY times with each hand, then your family most definitely will remain safe and healthy (you know, as if what I did last time wasn’t enough!).
So of course, I did what my brain was telling me to do. Why wouldn’t I? It was the same brain that told the rest of my body to move, walk, talk – and do everything else. So why shouldn’t I listen to it this time?
Over the next few days these thoughts and what I soon learnt were called “compulsions”, developed into things that were A LOT more demanding then just having to touch a tree 10 times with each hand.
They soon turned into having to wash my hands over and over and over every few hours, having to repeat chants in my head to reassure myself that I was going to have a good day and nothing bad was going to happen. To having to re align EVERY little object in my room down to the millimetre, to developing the most ridiculous night time ritual that meant that I was awake for hours on end having to repeat this ritual because I’d make a mistake and make myself repeat it again.
Sound ridiculous? Yep, it totally was. And can I also say, time consuuuuuuming.
Like I’m talking massive chunks of my day were spent doing these sorts of things. This meant I lost touch and focus with school, with my friends and with all the good things I used to do before it all began.
But you know what? This is what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder truly is (and by truly I mean this isn’t what people mean when they joke that they have “OCD” because they had to fix the alignment of a picture frame on the wall once, or because they are particular with how something looks”).
This was a full blown mental illness and it was thrown right into my face, just as I was in the thick of senior school and my late teenage years. Mix this in with very strong anxiety and you’ve got the remedy for a very terrified and exhausted teenager.
It was bloody scary. Why? Because back then, NO ONE talked about it. Not a soul.
I had absolutely NO CLUE what I was going through for at least a few months until my parents (bless them), worked out that I wasn’t myself at all. And it wasn’t until my third or fourth session with a Psychologist, that we truly worked out what was going on up there in my mind.
Back then, I had no idea if anyone else at my school, or even if any of my friends were going through something similar or the same as me. There was no forum or opportunity to talk about it.
Back then I wish the world had developed the way it has now, so that it was OK with talking about mental illness. That there wasn’t a stigma associated with it, and that it was OK to not be OK.
I bet you’re wondering why I’m suddenly sharing this part of my mental health story with you?
Well I’m sharing it partly because I am on the bus back to Canberra as I’m writing this, and I have the sudden urge to get my thoughts down into a blog post, and also because lately I’ve heard that a lot of young women that I know, are going through mental health issues. And it’s really getting to me.
I also thought that it was about time I was a little more open with you about what I’ve experienced. I want to be a resource for those young women out there, who are experiencing the same or similar things.
I want to be the platform for them, that I never had when I was 16/17 years old. I want them to know that it’s OK not to be OK. That it’s okay to speak out about how your feeling. That there IS help out there, and that there are people out there who can help you too.
I want them to know that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may not seem like it now, but the first step to conquering this, is by telling someone how your feeling and getting professional help. Sharing how your feeling may seem scary as fuck, but trust me, it’s the best thing you can do. Keeping your thoughts and feelings bottled inside of you, can be just as damaging as the thoughts themselves.
Let’s remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, and make it OK to ask someone if they are OK.
Disclaimer: I am in no way a trained mental health professional, however I am speaking from past experience.
Readers seeking assistance can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.