Let’s Talk About OCD

With the arrival of Mental Health Week in Cambridge, Tab Columnist VIC SAUTTER addresses some of the issues raised in her most recent column.

addendum column columnist mental health OCD vic sautter

Welcome to CUSU’s Mental Health Week, a week so publicised that I had no idea it was happening until yesterday. I unknowingly contributed to the event last week by publishing a column about my experiences as an OCD sufferer. As a result, I found myself involved in an interesting and intelligent conversation in the comment section, which was a wonderful reaction to receive and which led to some excellent points being raised.

And one of these points is something I’d like to address here. Namely, that my article may be seen as increasing the stigma attached to mental health (i.e. that sufferers are dangerous) and also that it presents a scary prospect for others who are only just starting out on treatment. I think it’s a very fair point to make, and definitely something that warrants an answer and further discussion, and so I have chosen to address it in this piece. However, I cannot entirely promise that the answer I have will satisfy everyone.

There are two aspects to the point raised, so I’ll look at them each in turn.

No. 1: If you read that article and took away from it that people with OCD are in some way dangerous, then you’re a moron, and I think we can both see who’s the bigger threat to society. Anyone who still clings to the idea that everyone with a mental health condition is dangerous is very out-dated, clearly knows nothing about the subject and it’s not my job to educate you. That’s not what the column was about.

No. 2 concerns me more, because obviously I don’t want to scare people who actually suffer. At the same time, though, I have to say that my agenda was to stop people from throwing around the term OCD as something trivial, and it’s hard to do that and provide comfort simultaneously. It’s not the agenda that everyone wants to see from a column about OCD, but it was my column and it’s what I wanted to say. I would strongly encourage anyone who has something they want say to write their own piece and submit it to The Tab. I think to get a real discussion going about OCD and mental health would be brilliant. We’d certainly get a more rounded and detailed view of a complex subject, more than I alone can provide – because the fact is, I am not a spokesman for the OCD community any more than I was a spokesman for J.R.R. Tolkien when I wrote my first column. This was a column about my experience, with my own agenda.

Every single word of that column was true. And yes, it’s not pleasant to read, and it probably would scare someone fresh from a diagnosis, but let me postulate another point of view. If you are an OCD sufferer, or are having severe enough symptoms that you think you might be, you already know it sucks. You already know that it’s dark, and scary, and indeed can be dangerous, and a column trying to downplay that would not be accurate. I was honest, brutally so, and I can see why that may have be problematic to read, but what I’d like people suffering from OCD to take away from the article is this:

It is okay to be scared, and to be miserable, and to sometimes think that your life sucks, and to get depressed about the bleak prospects that OCD can provide. Because we are all scared, and we all feel shit sometimes.

Shortly after my diagnosis I felt pretty rubbish, but people telling me that it was going to be okay annoyed me. Because I certainly didn’t feel that it was “okay”. What I wanted when I was first diagnosed was that brutal honesty, because what that honesty says is that it’s “okay” is to be scared. I accept that it may not be the same for everyone, but I can only write about my personal experience of OCD.

And, on the whole, the article has been a success. I have been truly humbled by the stories shared in the comments, the texts and messages I’ve received over the past few days, not because they’ve been calling me brave, but because people have started to share their own stories with me. Some have even confided in me about their own worries for their mental health because my article has made them realise that they are not the only ones out there who feel like that. There’s been a genuine sense of community and solidarity that’s come out of this, and a genuine sense of understanding from those who aren’t sufferers.

And in the end, isn’t what Mental Health week is all about?

To find out more about what’s happening during CUSU’s Mental health week, join the Facebook event or visit the CUSU website.