It’s 2:30 in the afternoon – you’ve just rushed onto your Heathrow after somehow managing to single-handedly stop a three-story escalator by dropping a £1 coin after trying to collect the remainder of the spare change you used to buy an overpriced Americano. As you listen the pilot’s announcement comes over the tannoy, two concerns pop into your head: the prospect of the plane crashing and whether you’ll be arrested for causing public disruption in a major airport having accidentally dropped those coins. After putting a few search terms into Google, you read articles about escalator mishaps, plane crash statistics, extradition procedures, the model of the plane you’re on and the likelihood of fatality, and then back to escalators – you’ve done the plane crash statistics search many times before; the escalator violations one, however, is a fun new addition to your psychotic collection. You notice the people around you: a couple bickering over how best to describe the weather, a baby crying in the back, and an elderly woman settling into a cheesy crime novel, heading home to visit her grandchildren. And you think:
‘Wow, this looks exactly like the montage they play in every plane crash documentary. I wonder what that bland pilot’s voice will sound like when he says we’re all about to die.’
As the plane starts racing across the tarmac to take-off, you continue to play images in your head of the plane crashing, of burnt flesh scattered across the seats, and of the headlines that would appear on the news soon after. You wonder whether you’re jinxing yourself by writing about plane crashes now – whether it’ll increase or decrease your chances by tempting fate. Sat firmly in your seat, you look out the window and wonder, what the chances are of you making it to the other side. And even though this is all racing through your mind, you look calm – tranquil even – to the unsuspecting eye. You’ve become numb to this – really, really numb.
I was diagnosed with OCD last June – a relatively late diagnosis considering how present it’d been in my life beforehand. With a differential diagnosis that also included primary psychotic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, it’s safe to say that my mental health hasn’t always been the best.
On the way to one of my first appointments with a psychiatrist, my bus got hit by a car and I had to walk half-way to the hospital. That, in a nutshell, is a very telling metaphor for my condition. OCD isn’t something you can control; like any other mental health condition, it manifests at the least favourable times, especially in the form of intrusive thoughts. And once it manifests to an extreme, you’re left to crawl through the rest of your day in the hopes things won’t break down even more.
Intrusive thoughts and images appear in my mind all the time. Sometimes there’s a legitimate trigger to invoke them, but other times they just appear out of nowhere. Whilst I originally thought they were a normal part of everyone’s life, I soon realised they were not. People are often very taken aback when I describe them all in vivid detail – something that apparently doesn’t make for good small-talk first thing in the morning. Even after describing these thoughts to a groggy psychiatrist as he told me to talk louder whilst a desk fan went off in his office in the sweltering summer heat, I received a rather jumpy reaction. From plane crashes and persecutory fears to imagining death, illness, mass killings, and more, these thoughts consume a lot of my energy and there’s no way to dismiss them. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be addressed.
The problem with the way people talk about mental health these days, in my opinion, is two-fold: one’s condition is meant to be detached from them and one’s condition shouldn’t be laughed at. The problem when we perceive mental health through such a detached and gravely serious perspective is that we forget to realise that those conditions are innately a part of them – at least for an awful long while – and that like any other misfortune or issue, when you can’t laugh or joke about it, the problem at hand becomes that more serious.
The fact that I legitimately thought the UK was going to incite an extradition procedure – one with the same severity of Julian Assange’s – against me, whilst I went back home to Canada over the winter break for dropping a few coins on an escalator is absolutely absurd – it’s something that should be funny. But the way mental health portrayed is often overly sombre and sorrowful.
As with any other issue mental health is complex. Originally started as an anonymous blog that never went anywhere, this column will seek to explore the ways in which mental health, especially with regards to OCD, affects one’s perception of the world and see it as a holistic living process, not just simply a state of mind. It’ll be honest, depressing, alarming, funny, and authentic all at the same time; my thoughts are intrusive, grim, and ridiculous all the same – and that’s something that needs to be acknowledged, analysed, and appreciated.
This is Intrusively Introspective.