It is inspiring to read stories of human suffering that ends in triumph over adversity. Those stories give us hope and the assurance that we are not suffering alone.
But, for those of us with Pure OCD/Intrusive thoughts, it is not as easy as crafting a well-written, inspiring piece.
Mental illness in itself brings shame and guilt. Many individuals will receive treatment, learn to cope with symptoms, and run as far from the label of their brain disorder as possible. The stigma can be perceived as something that can absolutely destroy your life if the wrong person knows you have suffered with mental illness.
But, there is a whole other layer of shame and embarrassment associated with Pure OCD, and those exacerbated, negative emotions are likely fueled by the OCD itself. That seems odd, right? Well, it is a secondary fear OCD plagues us with when contemplating coming out of our own OCD closet.
We know that our obsessions are not a reflection of our character, our moral compass, or who we are as an individual. Therapy teaches us how to see our obsessions just as any other intrusive thought we may have and not to assign meaning to it. But, what if other people don’t understand it in the way that we do? What if people questioned whether we really had OCD or not? What if they judged us based on our obsession? What if they believe we really could be capable of acting on our obsessions? What if they thought we were a monster?
We spend so much time battling those thoughts about ourselves, until we finally understand what OCD is and how it affects us. So, to have to go through all the ‘what if’ questions for other people feels even more exhausting! We can’t convince everyone and that opens up uncertainty when contemplating how and whether or not to share our experience with Pure OCD with others. And as we all know, uncertainty is a breeding ground for OCD thoughts.
I had all the same questions I mentioned above about those that will hear my story about emetophobia, scrupulosity, and homosexual OCD. What if people just think I’m really nuts and I’m using OCD as an excuse? What if they think I’m just in the closet and I don’t want to come out? What if they think I’m making it all up? These questions kept me from telling all the details of my story for years, and sometimes still do! I had to make a choice. I had to take the risk and live with the uncertainty that maybe people won’t believe me. Maybe they will judge me. But, what if my story helps someone? What if it saves someone’s life? That was a risk worth taking for me.
So, I started in a place where I felt comfortable. First, I started talking about OCD in general without getting into the details about my own struggle. I would talk about what OCD is and what it is not with a general overview of my story. When I got comfortable with that, I pushed it a little further and talked about my suicide attempt in general without details. When that became easier, I began going into more detail about my story and suicide attempt. And this is how learning how to effectively tell my story keeping my comfort level as the utmost importance in check.
It took me many years to be able to talk about the intricate details of my story with Pure OCD, and I still sometimes ruminate when I leave a venue on whether or not it was received with acceptance and believed by my audience. But through the years, what has really given me the courage to keep speaking out is the profound effect my story has on those suffering alone and in silence. Even if they are suffering by supporting a loved one with mental illness, they still understand and appreciate the openness. Overall, my insecurities have become less important and helping others feel less alone now takes center stage.
At the end of the day, the questions OCD will throw at you about whether or not people will judge you, believe you, accept you, or even respect you because of your journey with mental illness are meaningless. The real value is that YOUR STORY MATTERS. What you have been through with OCD can and will impact others who need to hear your message of hope and survival. You will be surprised how many people will resonate with your journey. You may not get instant validation, but people listen and they remember. And the personal impact is you will begin to feel more comfortable in your own story and push farther into recovery as you will be less afraid to hide and silence what you have lived through.
Start slow, share the details as you feel comfortable, and let the thought of helping others feel less alone be center stage.
OCD will tell you that you shouldn’t speak up and out about overcoming its claws of shame, guilt, and embarrassment, but I’m here to tell you that your story is powerful, it matters, and it can change and save lives.
If 99 out 100 people in a room reject your message, but one life is saved…it is worth the risk.
There is hope, recovery is possible for anyone,
Mental Health Advocate, Public Speaker, Peer Support Specialist, Resource Consultant, ERP Coach/Effective OCD Treatment