Sunday, 15 April 2012

Dyslexia, Depression & OCD

"that's *SO* depressing",

"yeah, he's really OCD about that",

"oops, sorry, I just had a dyslexic do you spell that again?"

Have you ever heard any of these phrases? Have you ever said any of them? Most people have casually said something similar.

Last night I was watching the million pound drop live with my mum and during the show Davina used 2 of these terms quite casually, at one point describing one of the contestants as "OCD" for stacking the bundles of cash neatly. Later in the game, she reassures the couple after a big drop, saying "I know it's really depressing, but..."

I'm not sure what it is about these 3 conditions, there are plenty of other invisible disabilities but, somehow, in the public mind these 3 are "fair game". If someone said that they felt a bit anorexic, epileptic or HIV positive today, would we be as quick to accept it? Probably not. But these conditions are just as invisible and, as far as I can tell, just as misunderstood by the majority of people. They also seem to be just as well known. The same could be said of Diabetes, Cancer or a whole list of other conditions.

I know that when most people say these things, they don't mean any harm; they just say it without thinking, because that's what everyone does, and, in a way, that's the point. By saying your partner is OCD because they like the house to be tidy, in a conversation with your friend on the bus, you are perpetuating the idea that the very real psychological condition OCD is really just a fancy medical label for people who like to be tidy. you're reinforcing this idea, not only in your own mind and the mind of your friend, but in the minds of all the other passengers on the bus. and that's assuming that none of the people listening have OCD.

I don't have OCD, but I have been depressed. I know it's a lot more than the "feeling a bit sad" most people use it to describe.

Before I became depressed, I used to feel "down" sometimes in a way that I naively assumed must be like depression. At these times, if it became unbearable, I allowed my mind to drift towards the idea of ending it. When I thought about this, part of me would always scream NO. I thought of this as the compulsive gambler approach to living (can't quit when you're winning, can't quit while you're loosing. Yes, I know it's hypocritical of me to use addiction in this way in a post on this subject, but that really is the best way to explain it). I found that little voice that wanted to live so comforting, whatever crap I was feeling, life was still worth it.

After being diagnosed with depression, I tried the same thing. There was no little voice. I didn't even have the emotional energy to be scared about that. I wasn't scared or sad or angry, I just felt flat and tired and bored. I had no urge to do any craft activities, very little appetite and barely enough energy to get up in the morning.

My point is, these conditions are real. All of them can represent huge challenges to the people who have them and their families, challenges that often last a lifetime. Challenges that would be nearly impossible without the support of loved ones.

Returning to the example above, you don't know the other passengers. you don't know anything about their lives or their loved ones. If one of them has OCD, you're reminding them that the majority of people see their condition as a joke. If one of them has a loved one with OCD, you may be depriving that person of an ally. It's even possible that you don't know your friend as well as you thought. Would you feel comfortable discussing your mental health with all the friends you might gossip or bitch about your partner with?

The worst part of it is, because I know that most of the time OCD is mentioned the person isn't actually talking about OCD, I tend to assume that no one is. A few months back, a close friend said they had "some OCD tendencies". My initial thoughts were "yeah, whatever", but as they described their experiences I realised they were talking about OCD the psychological condition, not OCD the joke. It was only the politeness that stopped me expressing my initial reaction that allowed me to listen and be supportive. Without this, I would have dismissed my friend completely, and they would have felt alone.

I'm not a bad person, and I have a better understanding of an empathy for mental health issues than most people I meet. I was talking to a friend I've known for several years, who I care about very deeply, yet because these 3 conditions are so commonly treated as a joke, I almost dismissed my friend at their most vulnerable.

I know "everyone" does it, I know no one can stop it happening, but if you, as an individual, stop using these conditions (or any other invisible disability) to describe normal, healthy personality traits, you at least won't be adding to the problem. if you pass on this message, maybe more people will stop perpetuating this idea, then, maybe, more people will feel able to discuss these issues with the people who really care about them. There will be just as many people with OCD, Dyslexia and Depression, but they would have better support networks and, hopefully, life will become easier. It's not much, I'm not asking for money or material goods, just a bit more understanding and thought in the way you interact with people.

No, your boyfriend's not OCD, but his tidiness drives you crazy, you're not having a dyslexic moment, you made a spelling mistake, and, no, that film wasn't depressing, it was bleak.

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