BLOG: Learning I had Anxiety and OCD
My name is Will, I’m 39 years old and live in Farnham, Surrey. I have anxiety issues coupled with a form of OCD.
My mental health journey started in September 2018. Whilst this is my actual start date, I’d probably been having mental health issues for a large part of my life. I was just under the illusion that I was ok, everybody has down days, seeking help seemed like a sign of weakness and made me vulnerable. I came from quite a “men just deal with things, you’ll be alright” type of mentality but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Prior to seeking help, I’d had a rough couple of years. I’d left my marriage and, at times, was financially struggling. I found exercise was a big help, I was walking a fair bit whilst also boxing but it wasn’t enough. I was having trouble sleeping, I kept getting racing thoughts which stopped me getting to sleep at a reasonable time. This, in effect, severely altered my mood patterns throughout the day. I was tired, moody, didn’t have a lot of motivation & would have a lot of negative thoughts and after a while, I would drop exercise and socialising because of these effects.
What’s ironic is, if you’d ask anyone that knew me at the time, they wouldn’t have guessed I was struggling. On the outside, I was confident, cheerful, cracking jokes and generally good to be around. I hid my troubles very well, hoping they would go away in time.
In short, they didn’t go away. I was reluctant to get help at first. I’d initially tried in 2012 but felt fobbed off by a doctor that made me feel like it wasn’t important, despite handing them a note (which they didn’t even read) indicating I’d been having suicidal thoughts. It made me feel that I was right all along, I was just being weak and making a big deal out of nothing. So, I took the decision to handle things alone. I joined the local boxing club (notable mention to everyone at Sheerness ABC, those guys helped more than they will ever know) and whilst it did play a big part in helping me on my journey, something was still missing. I still didn’t feel right. I spent a few years just going through the motions, before it came to a point where I just couldn’t do it alone anymore. I needed help.
Fast forward to 2018, which was when I decided to start properly sorting myself out. My first step was reaching out for help, my work ethic was sliding and was causing me issues, so I confided in my manager, Greg (I’m name dropping him because this was a big step in my journey and I’m grateful for the way he handled it). Initially I thought, if I told him, he’d just see it as an excuse or that I was being lazy, but he didn’t. He fully supported me. Straight after I sent him the email, he arranged to come out and see me, had a coffee and asked how we could find a solution to help me. He put me in touch with our occupational health department and I spoke to one of their team members and explained everything. Their advice was that I seek medical help, that thought alone panicked me but I knew now it was something that I had to do. I also confided in my girlfriend at the time, who was a wellbeing manager, so she had experience in mental health and my problems were putting a strain on our relationship. Despite this, she was also very supportive of my situation. She also suggested seeking medical guidance. This was the first time I’d really opened up to anyone about my mental health and all the signs pointed towards getting professional help. I really thought seeking medical help was a defeat in itself. I wasn’t even registered with a surgery at the time.
So, I registered with a local GP and booked myself in for an appointment. I remember the day I went to the surgery. I arrived about 30 mins before my appointment time. I’m not even going to lie, I sat in my car and shed a little tear before I went in. I honestly felt like I was being so weak by asking for help. That I wasn’t handling things like a “real man”.
My GP was great, though. She handled my case really well. She listened to me and didn’t judge. She confirmed that the racing thoughts, struggling with sleep, panic attacks, lack of motivation etc, all pointed towards Anxiety. I explained that I knew what I needed to do to get better, because I’d done it before, it was just this time that I needed some help getting there but I was very reluctant to be medicated. She explained to me that, despite my reluctance, medication was probably the best way to start off but emphasised that medication is only a temporary solution, that I shouldn’t try to rely on it permanently. I was prescribed a course of Sertraline (50mg once a day) . What the medication would do is balance my serotonin levels enough that I could get a good night’s sleep, that way, I would be thinking more clearly and would be able to make better rational decisions. Decisions such as finding the effort to exercise more and be proactive in my day to day life. Once I restored the balance in my life, she’d lower the frequency of my medication (because I was on the lowest dosage) and see how I handled it.
After battling back and forth for a couple of years, I finally came off the medication in September 2020 and whilst it did help me, there was still a lot more work to do. As mentioned above, not only did I have anxiety, I also have a form of OCD. A lot of people think OCD is all about washing your hands, tidying your house and generally being afraid of things like germs, but it’s not, it’s exactly what it says on the tin, Obsessive & Compulsive behaviours. It can be certain thought patterns where you go into them over and over again, losing track of time because of them and feeling generally overwhelmed by the whole process and/or comes with compulsive behaviours, where you do (or think) things you probably shouldn’t be doing for your mental health’s sake but that voice inside your head screams “Do it! Do it!” It’s a hard cycle to break out of for sure but once you realise this is what you’re doing, you can implement ways to combat it.
I’d like to say that medication totally cures you but it doesn’t. Whilst it does help, you have to be willing to do some extra work on yourself. Medication will only suppress your feelings whilst you’re on it and that’s how people end up getting trapped in medicated cycles, because you feel ok whilst you’re on it, so you continue that way because it feels easier. That’s what it’s designed to do but you need to put that extra effort in and work on yourself if you want to get better.
Do hard things. Working on yourself can seem like hard work at times, you have to dig deep inside yourself, expose wounds that were probably caused years beforehand, acknowledge them, accept them and work on ways to counter these past experiences. Talk to a therapist if you need to, book counselling, there really is no textbook way of dealing with it. Don’t be afraid of failure, the therapy session didn’t work out? Try a different one. You don’t think counselling is for you? Try it and if it doesn’t work out, you’ll know that you need to adopt a different method but I guarantee, with everything you try, you’ll learn something different about yourself. That knowledge is so valuable to your self growth.
Everybody is different, it’s what makes us unique as individuals, and everybody will find their own ways to handle things. One small thing I find helpful is reading self help books. I highly recommend Ant Middleton as a go to, specifically his books ‘Zero Negativity’ and ‘Mental Fitness’. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt and accepted is that nobody is coming to save you, whilst this might sound like a harsh and scary concept, it’s the truth, the only person that can ultimately save you is yourself. Get out of your comfort zone, whether that’s looking inside for the answers or trying new things, if it doesn’t work out, that’s ok start again tomorrow try something different. Consistency is key. By all means confide in someone, talk to people but don’t rely on that method alone will help you overcome your hurdles. You have to put the work in yourself. You’ll have bad days, everybody does, but feel them, acknowledge them and try to move on as best as you can.
To summarise, I’m by far the finished product, in fact I don’t think I ever want to be the finished product. I still have bad days but I just accept them for what they are. I want to continue my self-work and growth as a person, I want to continue being the best version of myself, exposing my weaknesses and turning them into strengths, trying new things and experiences, getting out of my comfort zone. Everybody wants to win at life and when you start to work on yourself, you really can’t lose.
LINKS AND FURTHER READING:
- Mental health wellbeing advice and support https://www.healthysurrey.org.uk/mental-wellbeing/self-help/advice-and-support-guide
- Mental Health crisis support in Surrey https://endstigmasurrey.org.uk/mentalhealthfirst/
- What is anxiety / support and signposting https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/anxiety