There’s a lot that’s unknown about mental health disorders. They are widely misunderstood. They carry stigmas, are joked about, and lack proper research. You may ask yourself: Why is that? Many people struggle with their mental health. Research shows that 20.6% of U.S. adults deal with mental illness. This translates to one in five adults or 51.5 million people. But here’s the truth: unlike a physical injury or disease, mental illness attacks under a cloud of ignorance and uncertainty.
My Mental Health Journey
I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in January of 2020. Little did I know, this was a problem I had struggled with since 2007. Typically, OCD begins at an early age but will go undiagnosed for a long time. I have Pure O, which means I do not experience compulsions in the normal sense. OCD is a severe anxiety disorder at its core. Typical OCD forces people to carry out compulsions that decrease their anxiety level, such as turning lights on and off or checking that the door is locked. While this may work short-term, it does not quench the ever-present doubt that accompanies anxiety.
With Pure O, rather than carrying out compulsions, I experience everything in my mind. Here’s the truth about OCD: it’s extremely irrational. There are certain triggers that OCD targets in specific people, which can build up to an attack. Everything is fine until suddenly it’s not. When this happens, I feel as if someone has tied thick rope in circles around my body, and I’m straining with all my willpower to escape. People often describe OCD as having a knife stuck in your brain. While you pull with all your strength, the blade remains unmovable.
OCD does not revolve around being extremely clean and organized. While some people may experience those obsessive cleaning compulsions because of their anxiety, that is not the core of OCD. Many people use OCD as an adjective in their everyday language. “I’m so OCD about this…” Now every time I hear that I cringe inside. Because here’s another truth: those people most likely have no idea what it’s like to have OCD. OCD is not straining to keep everything perfect and organizing your refrigerator with color-coded bins. OCD is a horribly invasive, debilitating disorder that swallowed me in a depression I never imagined I’d have to face.
The Anxious Generation
There’s a certain stigma attached to anxiety and depression. Research has found that 39% of college students experience a severe mental health issue, while 67% do not seek treatment. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults. Because so many young people struggle with mental health, these problems are blamed on our generation, social media, and a sense of privilege. Mental health is easy to dismiss because it is invisible. People can see a broken bone or gunshot wound. But how do I tell you that my brain is damaged and I’m screaming for help? Let me voice to you that these responses do not help: “Just get over it” “Learn how to live with it” “Anxiety is not real” “You’ve lived a good life” “You do not have anxiety.” Because yes, I’m incredibly blessed. That doesn’t change the fact that my brain does not function normally. While there is limited research on why OCD happens and what it entails, scientists know that OCD greatly affects communication in the brain.
What OCD Does to the Brain
Specifically, the decision-making that occurs in the orbital cortex is significantly impaired. Scans of the OCD brain have shown communication pathways light up like a Christmas tree even when unprovoked. The brain signals that something is wrong, even when nothing is. Therefore, an OCD brain will obsess over what could have happened until there’s some relief. In turn, the cingulate gyrus, which has a hand in emotions, is linked to the orbital cortex, so when the brain signals that there’s been a mistake, the body experiences severe discomfort. This lack of communication within the neural pathways signals a switch or a disconnect that constantly raises an alarm, triggering high anxiety in everyday situations. Specifically, the neurotransmitter Serotonin is affected, which leads psychiatrists to prescribe SSRI drugs, normally up to three times the amount used to treat depression. Unfortunately, medication is not known to be very successful in treating OCD. About 40% of patients will fail to respond to tailored treatment.
Living with OCD
Before I was diagnosed, I inherently knew that my brain was not normal. I have to fight a battle within my own body every single day. OCD is also known to fluctuate. Sometimes it’s at a peak, while other times, it dips lower. When my OCD was very severe, it led me into a steep depression. It’s easy to dismiss depression; judgmental attitudes are common. Studies show that people with OCD are ten times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Depression pulls all your emotions down, forces you to feel alone, tells you it will never get better, that you are forever stuck. But let me tell you that there is always hope. Always. What you may not realize is that there are millions of people out there who are just like you.
There’s Always Hope
I’ve believed in God my whole life, but when you’re presented with a debilitating disorder like this, it’s a lot harder to cope. When experiencing trials, sometimes you begin to see things clearer. The chaos of life and suffering reveals the creator who pursues us relentlessly. I believe Jesus is alive. Because of Jesus, I have strength each day that I struggle with OCD. And while I still fight, I am not bound by OCD, and OCD is not my identity. There is freedom in living with mental illness. Reach out and get help. It will always be worth it because you are loved so much more than you know.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Emily Stewart is a content creator for a marketing agency in Atlanta, GA. She also works as a freelancer, writing SEO-based blogs, articles, and web content. Visit her website at: yourfreelancewriting.com.
Photo by David Solce on Unsplash
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