One of the most difficult aspects of living with mental illness is realising that you don’t have a choice. Sounds weird, sure, but for years I have been convinced the obsessions and compulsions I have are a lifestyle choice and so it seems do those nearest and dearest to me.
I can’t blame them because unless you possess a high level of self-awareness, balance and insight or have mental illness and are forced to confront yourself every day, then you don’t realise nor dwell on the possibility that feelings are not a choice. How we act and put those feelings into perspective may very well be, but I don’t choose to shut out the physical world, I have had to do so because it was affecting my choice to survive life in a negative way.
Just like I cannot snap out of having OCD, I cannot choose to get up go to a job, work regular hours, socialise, feel enjoyment of the simple and great things in life and not feel a depression so dark and deep that it seems a part of my soul and physical being is missing.
When I became functionally unwell for the first time after I was married, I remember asking my husband if he was doing alright. I felt incredibly guilty about not being “normal” and well, pursuing all the things we planned. His response was, “I’m fine, because I have to be.” The implied slight that I choose to give into these base urges that render me incompetent and impotent in my own world, because I am lazy, selfish and insensitive to those I love, consumed me for years.
In fact it was only this year, eleven years after he first used that phrase, that I addressed him about it. Even then it was only because I realised during the course of psychodynamic group therapy that I don’t choose to be the worst version of myself I can possibly imagine.
His shock that something he said could haunt and hurt me for over a decade was genuine. It had no effect on my feelings for him or our marriage as I live with much bigger personal imperfections. He certainly didn’t mean all the inferences I drew from his words, but he had never had to think about his own feelings leading him to take action in a way that severely derails his life and how he functions in it.
I would like to be a person who feels joy in the simple things in life, who isn’t pursued by negative thoughts and fear of what I can only describe as immense emotional pain, vulnerability and a lack of security that surpasses just not feeling confident, but I don’t know how to change my feelings, essentially how to change me. We all grow and mature but imagine life lessons being taught to you by an inner voice that shows no compassion and understanding, does not allow for mistakes and never ever stops, and you will take a small step closer to how I have felt since my teens.
The greatest wounds, put downs, harsh words and insults I have suffered are those I have mercilessly inflicted on myself and the only let up in this barrage of internal assaults occurred when I isolated myself and gave in to the avoidance I now live with. I know I cannot change the past, who I am and the hope of being someone not ruled by OCD fades, but this is the most self-awareness and the closest understanding of happiness I have ever achieved.