I recently read a twitter post by a photographer I highly respect. It was a light hearted quip. Another photographer I follow responded in a similar light-hearted and jokey manner.
No malice or offence intended by either party.
But still it bothered me. Why? Because the joke was about OCD and about two years ago that illness ruined my life.
I just want to make clear am not offended or upset in anyway by jokes about OCD.
I don’t have any ill will towards people who joke about OCD. At all. Even my family jokes about it! I believe that laughter is the best medicine. But sometime I get the impression people laugh for the wrong reasons.
It troubles me how prevalent and accepted these types of jokes are. It also troubles me that some fellow sufferers lash out at the people who make jokes, that’s not cool either guys!!
So to the reason for this blog post: I began to think about how OCD interacts with my photographic process. And it’s not the way you’d expect. So I thought I’d share.
Just to be clear OCD is not about being obsessively neat/clean or having things in order. Here’s a picture of the current state of my bedroom.
I know, right?! I am an A-grade slob! 😀
It’s not about making sure things are just right because they need or you want them to be.
OCD is about having troubling thoughts and the faulty believe that particular rituals (which, yes, for some sufferers is tidiness and order) will somehow neutralise these thoughts. And this process stops you doing what you love. If untreated and allowed to run wild, OCD stops you living your life. It causes crippling anxiety that something terrible is going to happen and you are the one responsible. That is, if you don’t do the ritual over and over and over again.
So to be completely clear the THOUGHT is the OBSESSION and the cleaning/orderliness (if that’s what you do) is actually the COMPULSION.
Ergo, people who suffer with OCD are not OBSESSED with being clean/tidy/ordered/ect.
I’d like to pause for a moment to help you understand the gravity of living with a mental illness. Because luckily, not everyone has suffered as I have. People are perhaps a little in the dark about why I am so passionate about sharing my experience with OCD and trying to get people to truly understand what it’s like.
Whilst untreated, my OCD took away:
My career. I chose to leave my job because my panic attacks were so bad I was exhausted and I would often just collapse. If anything went wrong, I would blow up in a bout of uncontrollable hysteria. Not very professional. I was actually really good at that job and was in line for a promotion.
A relationship. I don’t really know what caused the end of this relationship, do we ever? But I can see how my untreated illness put undue pressure on everyone involved.
Friends. I was scared I couldn’t save them from the bad things that I believed would happen if they were around me. So I cut myself off. A few probably still think I’m an aloof, stuck up bitch. But I cut them out of my life because I believed I was protecting them.
My hobbies. Most days I couldn’t leave the house.
My independence. Dealing with all this took it’s toll. I couldn’t cope living independently so had to move back in with my parents.
My self respect. I thought I was insane and a failure.
I lost everything and had to start from scratch. I had the equivalent of a midlife crisis at the age of 25.
Photography, integrated with my therapy and medication, is helping me earn all that back.
Photography actually helped me recover. I am rebuilding my life.
It gave me a reason to leave the house. I was petrified that I or my loved ones were going to die horribly if I even put a toe out of bed and did anything other than my mental rituals.
It gave me something to focus on outside of my head.
It helped me deal with violent intrusive thoughts. By just letting them be and getting on with something else, I took away their power.
At the beginning of my recovery I began to meditate and practice mindfulness. I feel photography is an art, a process, that is, in every way, mindful. When I found photography it was finally a way for me to take mindfulness and meditation with me everywhere.
OCD doesn’t push me to take perfect photographs. OCD doesn’t cause me to fuss over the perfect lighting of a shot. It doesn’t make me want to get best composition.
That’s all down to me and wanting to be the best photographer I can be.
If my OCD had it’s way: I would never take another photograph.
Because photography has helped me loosen the grip that OCD has over my brain, over my life.
So next time there’s a meme about freaking out if all the Smarties aren’t organised by colour.
Or there’s a buzzfeed page how great it is that a snake is zig zagging perfectly through some paving stones.
Or someone says “I’m a BIT OCD about that.”
Think about what I’ve just shared with you. Label it correctly. It’s being anally retentive, not OCD.
Because trivialising an illness doesn’t help. It just makes people more ashamed that they are unable to deal with it. When people are ashamed the clam up. They don’t ask for help. They hide away and the illness takes over. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Because being anally retentive is annoying at worst.
Because OCD, at it’s worst, takes people lives away. And that’s just not funny.
I have chosen to speak out today, not to call anyone out, but because I have heard people speak out before. Those are the people who saved me. Who helped me realise:
I was not insane,
I was not going to get sectioned and locked up
that I needed to get help.
If you or someone you care about is suffering from mental illness Mind have some great resources to help you and other understand what is happening. As does the NHS website. OCD UK’s website has been really helpful for me too.
Peace and love!
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