By: Zach MacLean-Szwaz
Mental illness and/or addiction is something that affects approximately 1 in 5 Canadians in any given year. Although we are taught to be compassionate towards these individuals, there is still plenty of prejudice and ignorance in terms of the view of the lives these people live. Myself, I suffer from OCD. It first made its presence known in grade 4, making it even harder to understand. The things I had enjoyed, became “dirty”. The things that were dirty, became an area of avoidance at all costs.
I remember the first moment I was made aware something was amiss. It wasn’t my parents or a health care professional, but a student, the same age as me. She asked me why I kept spitting in my hands. To me, this was my form of making my hands clean if I had touched something I perceived to be “dirty”. Before this moment, I believed nothing was unordinary, but as I sat at my desk, being asked by a 9 year old for an explanation I could not give, it clicked that I wasn’t like the rest. My brain fired differently, sending out thoughts and feelings that the other kids weren’t experiencing. I began to notice more and more my actions. From jumping around spots on the ground, to avoiding contact with feathers, to washing my hands until they were red, raw, cracked and bleeding.
It’s truly a feeling I will never forget, losing contact and being distanced by misunderstanding. Being made fun of for something, I wasn’t given the proper tools, in order to manage the irrationality of it all. I trucked on, with nobody but my parents by my side and it’s to them I owe my life to. They brought me to the weekly CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions and they helped accommodate my needs as I made progress towards coping with it. They took the negativity I received and made me feel just like everyone else. Eventually after about 7 years of weekly sessions, I was symptom free, under control and able to be me again without.
Years went by and I found myself being a third year student, in University with a solid support group of friends, family, girlfriend and extra-curricular activities. Everything was smooth and then in the matter of a month it all went downhill. OCD sometimes is triggered through stress, traumatic events or even small things like maybe remembering a past thought (depending if you've had it before). For me, I was dealing with a change in family dynamic and the stress of it all began presenting symptoms. I ignored it is because I was in denial, I wanted to believe that it wasn't making a return but because of my negligence, it had become 10 times worse than it was as a child.
I was couch ridden, unable to open doors and light switches, I was dodging and weaving, showering for extended periods of time because something that was “dirty” grazed my leg, so I needed to wash my whole body. It took until I was fully unable to function where I found myself in the Emergency Room at Credit Valley Hospital. They wanted to evaluate my health and I passed out merely from taking blood. I was weak and physically and mentally drained. They suggested hospitalization until I could regain some strength. I refused because I was (and still am) very stubborn. So they prescribed some medications, to take some of the edge off and on my decision, left to the comfort of my home. It took about a month before the actual results began to appear. I was much calmer, washing my hands less, I was given back rationality. Although the improvement, I still wasn’t at a point where I felt I could be in public. I wasn’t working and decided the stress of school was too much to handle. I took time to rebuild and regain myself and despite my disinterest to do so, it helped me more than I could have predicted.
Now, 2015 going into 2016, I’m in school, I’m feeling good and the OCD is lessened. I have my bad days and good days but with the help of medication each day makes me stronger, making me push forward towards becoming symptom free once again. My support system still remains and what I attribute a lot of my success to. They became a reason to get better when things seemed so bleak. Provided me with comfort when I felt so alone, gave me an outlet to express my thoughts.
The point of all this is not to have people feel sympathy towards what I went through. It is to show that mental illness is strong and prevalent everywhere we step. It is something that should be handled more seriously but delicately enough that people will want to confide in a support system. While you walk down the hallways of the school, look around. You don't know what people have going on, you don't know what they are feeling. We individuals are all around, most of us disguising our true colours. Some others don't have the ability to do so, but we are here and we are human just like everyone else. Sure, we are a bit different but who doesn’t have a quirk or two. To all my fellow people who deal with mental illness and to all those who don’t, we are all human beings under one roof. Let’s make sure everyone can have some shelter.