Mental Health Awareness Week

There is such a thing as over sharing on Social Media, but I believe when it comes to subjects as important as mental health, sharing can be powerful. And sometimes even essential.

I can be anywhere in the world and be connected to other people through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which I think is pretty damn amazing. The constant tweets, photo uploads, Instagram stories, blogs and vlogs, all make me feel like I know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

I know that they LOVE avocado on toast (me too, FYI), I know they were so hungover on Saturday that ‘OMG they are dyingggg’, I know when they get that new job, or graduate university, and I see the scan of their first child.

But what I don’t know from this information is how they are, because what we see isn’t always how that person is actually feeling. And although a status update isn’t necessarily the first point of call a person should go to if they are having a bad day/week/month, what Social Media can do is share experiences. It has provided us with a great platform to share and relate to other people with stories of our struggles as well as our successes.

We can talk about that time life wasn’t running so smoothly, we can talk about the things that helped us along the way, and we can also talk about the things that make us happy.

At the beginning of last year I wrote this post about our trip to the Dominican Republic, and I shared our beautiful, happy photos across Social Media, just like the one above. And there is no doubt that within these moments I was happy, and there were lots of happy things going on in my life. But from the photos, and from my words, you can’t see that on a day to day basis I was really struggling.

A few weeks before this I had began therapy, and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly known as OCD. In the months before my mind had gradually become over run with irrational and obsessive thoughts around cleanliness, contamination, and illness. The anxiety I felt was overwhelming, and I quickly began to struggle with day to day tasks.

In truth, I had known I had OCD for a few years before it was officially diagnosed, thanks to the power of Google. However as relieved as I was that this monster in my brain had a name, I still didn’t confide in anyone. Not my family, friends, a professional, and not even my now husband.

Not when we started dating, when we moved in together, when we got engaged, or when we booked the wedding venue. I told him when I absolutely had to. When the skin on my hands was so damaged from washing they would split open with every movement, when simple tasks took up hours of my day, when I didn’t want to leave the house on my own, when I couldn’t stop crying.

The reasons being I thought I was being over dramatic, and I just needed to get a grip. I felt like I should be the happiest I had ever been, living in America, months away from getting married, yet I had somehow failed. I was embarrassed, and ashamed, and all of this was perpetuated by the stigma surrounding mental health.

During this time I was constantly reading columns, articles, blogs, books, and found whole websites written by other people with similar experiences to mine. When I was having a bad day I was comforted to find it wasn’t just me that felt this way, and that other people understood. I also found comfort knowing that people were able to gain control of their mental health again, that treatment did actually work, and life can get better.

I have wanted to write about my experience with mental health for a long time, but it turns out it’s much less scary to write about our latest holiday, or my new favourite restaurant. And although I am still not 100% comfortable sharing the beginning of my story, I want to. Because without other people doing the exact same thing 20 year old Rachel would have been pretty flippin’ terrified.

The reality is that 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems, so why should we not talk about it. I worked incredibly hard in treatment to fight my illness, and have slowly gotten back to feeling like myself again, and I am very proud of that. I still have bad days, and my OCD loves to throw me an irrational curveball that makes me hide under the covers for a while, but I now have the tools to fight this, and hope to help others by simply talking about it.

If one hundred people read this post, and it helps one person see that they’re not alone, helps them get through their day, or even gives them the confidence to talk to someone about how they feel, then that’s amazing. And if ten people roll their eyes as soon as I hit publish, that’s OK too.

Just don’t tell me, I’ll be thinking about it for days.

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