I would like to share my experience of mental illness to encourage others to seek help for their difficulties and to emphasise that there is no shame in having such illnesses and no shame in seeking help. There is much stigma associated with mental illness, and more so in certain cultures such as ethnic minorities, that sufferers find it extremely difficult to speak out about their problems, let alone seek help. It is my aim to contribute to breaking this stigma and shame and over-turn mental health myths. Mental illness is just as significant as physical illness. MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT A WEAKNESS.
I am from an ethnic minority culture and I have suffered from severe, long-term Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for most of my life. My condition became so chronic and all-consuming that it left me completely housebound and unable to function. I was unable to take care of even my own basic needs without support. I became so mentally crippled by the condition, that I became physically disabled. It was very difficult to see a way forward and to have any hope for the future. I received specialist Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and it completely changed my life around. I am now in recovery, and I want to help others with such illnesses to do the same.While I was suffering, I often felt inspired to write creatively. This was a good outlet for me and a fulfilling way to express how I was feeling. It almost felt therapeutic! OCD is an extremely debilitating condition and my lived experience of it has been so extensive, that it would be impossible for me to describe it in any such detail. So here is a brief summary….in the form of a poem…..
My Longest ‘Friend’
Oh OCD - why are you so cruel?You took my vulnerabilitiesAnd used them as fuel,To torment and torture,To entrench me in pain,Physically and emotionally,And for what gain?
You seeped into my bloodstreamYou sawed into my soul,You thieved me of all dignity,Whilst leaving me with no goal
Until I could bear no more,Until I was clasping at strings,Until my strength became vacant,You persisted to fore-bring....
....The obsessions...The compulsions,The intrusions....and more,More obsessions....More compulsions,More rituals...abhor;Old, new, large and small,Standing beside me, observing...While I cripple and fallAll day....Everyday,For weeks....months....years;Were they not enough....my heart-wrenching tears?You felt obliged to persist,To bring me to all fours,Crawling, grovelling, begging...For you to open those closed doors
How could you be so unkind?Eat away at my life?You left me hungry, starving, fighting,Through all that grief and strife
Not one glimpse of remorse,Not once did you clear the way,I thought maybe....just maybe,This could be the end of your slay;Each time you attacked,Each period of dismay,Oh...what a fool was I,To think in such a way...
Never did it get easier,Not that but only worse,Since that's all you intended for,To have me wallow in your curse
And as each string loosened,And the more I yearned to keep hold,The more you tore away at your pleasure,So confident, so bold
OCD - you'll be sad to know,My strength persevered...My faith led the way,I saw through your malintentions,And gained tools to no longer be your prey
Now I am in control,Now I have the means,For you are only weak OCD,Just like all the other bullies I mean;For that's all you are -You treat others as victimsWhen you are one yourself;You too have insecurities,At least that if nothing else!You too have tough times,Perhaps more than I!For you are not invincible,No matter how much you tryI am ready to take the lead now,To break all my ties,With you my longest ‘friend’,And bid you goodbye.
But before you leave....I would like to thank you for your stay,Although not of the most pleasant,I did grow stronger by the day;And now I feel able,To fight anything life throws my way
And I know you'll always be there...trying to creep your way in,But the locks have changed now my friend,So you'll have to knock before you come in.
You thought by keeping me silencedYou could keep me tucked away,Only I unravelled your cryptic password,And sought help my way
It may have taken a while, but I managed to see through....And there is no shame to admit;If I were to have a broken legShould I do the same and just sit?Or should I shout from the rooftop?...Just as I am now...For it's all the same; The only difference being...is a different kind of pain;And I will shout again and again,For all to hear,That such illness is nothing to be afraid of,So don't live your life in fear.
As well as an OCD survivor, I am also a qualified Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist. Since being in recovery, I have managed to achieve certain goals that I never even dreamed would be possible. I have recently set up my own private psychotherapy practice, specialising in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for OCD, other anxiety disorders and depression. This time last year, this goal was nothing more than unrealistic, but my passion to really help others in similar situations made me persevere and accomplish it. It gave me something to look forward to. It gave me something to work towards. It was a great weapon to help pull me out of that obscure, hollow pit. Being in the position that I am (as a sufferer and a mental health professional), I feel as though I have so much to share - REAL knowledge and REAL experience. I just cannot let this go to waste, when I could be doing something really positive with it. I feel as though it has become my duty to use my devastating experience in a positive way; in a way that it can impact the lives of others for the better and I feel blessed that I am in a position to be able to do that. I am really eager to share my experience to demonstrate that it is possible to achieve goals, no matter how big they are, even when you have been so deeply engrained in OCD’s ways and never envisaged a way out. I really truly want to use this to show that there is HOPE and that there IS a way out……
By Ruji Rahman
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist & OCD Survivor