Hi, and welcome to my blog!
May is the month of Mental Health Awareness and it’s high time that the stigma around mental health is removed, so that everyone who has been affected, and WILL BE affected, can get treatment.
Unfortunately mental health issues are so very common, as many as 1 in 5 are suffering from some form of if, from phobias, to anxiety, to eating disorders, to panic attacks, to OCD, to chemical imbalances just to mention a few. The umbrella that covers mental health issues is a very, very big one and it’s sadly very underfunded.
Over on Instagram there is a hop going on now, where lots of crafty people are banding together to spread awareness and hopefully help others feel less alone in their struggles with mental health. You can find the hop by following this graphic.
Today’s post is very uncomfortable, probably for you as a reader and me for talking about difficult stuff and I’d like to make a trigger warning announcement right now: I’ll be talking about bullying, and the resulting issues that comes with that. I’ll also be talking about my struggles with depression and obsessive compulsive tendencies. As I have never been diagnosed officially with OCD I’m going to call it ‘my obsessive compulsive tendencies’ rather than actual, diagnosed OCD.
I also made a video, and I ask that you be kind when you watch it. Anyone who leaves a negative or derogatory comment will be permanently banned from my YouTube channel. It took a lot of courage to share all this, and it’s only part of it. There is so much more, and I simply will not let anyone shame me, or anyone else, for sharing what they have/are going through.
My story is complicated, and long. So long. From almost as early as I can remember I have felt anxious, painfully shy and different. As I started school, I almost immediately was singled out by ‘the popular girl’ and she made my life hell for nine straight years.
When I look back now, I realise that she wasn’t popular because she was nice, fun to be around and a lovely person. She was popular because of her family’s social standing in the village I grew up in, and she based her own self-importance on that, and she thought she was VERY important. In actual fact, she was mean, spoilt and downright nasty.
So much so, that one day her best friend decided to give her a taste of her own medicine and banded all of the other girls in the class together to freeze her out, like she had done to so many of us. I vividly remember that day, and when I was told she was crying in the bathroom after one day of being treated like i had been treated for years, I finally found the courage to tell my other classmates that I had spent many, MANY days crying in the bathroom because of her and her behaviour towards me. Clearly having had no idea about this, some were sympathetic but things didn’t really get much better after that. She got her power back and she kept on misusing it, even after feeling as bad as she made me feel. Even though for her, it was just for one day.
Having seen this, I shrank back even more and tried to make myself so small that she wouldn’t notice me, because surely she wouldn’t pick on me if she didn’t notice me? I also started having thoughts like ‘if I can make it to that spot before that car passes me, it will be ok today’. It’s funny when you look at things from an adult perspective, on things you didn’t understand as a child. Now it’s very obvious to me where a lot of my anxiety, insecurity and impostor syndrome come from, but back then? Those weird thoughts could induce a full-on panic.
On the way home from school I had to cross a river, and there were times I stood on that bridge watching the water flow wondering how long it would take to drown. Looking back on those days I am full of rage that someone managed to make me feel so worthless that I actually were thinking along those lines. The only reason I never did anything stupid like jumping the railing, with the intent of not coming back up, was fear it would hurt, love for my little sister, who was also bullied, and my cat.
It wasn’t until I started at a new school, and met new friends (who actually wanted to be friends with me!) that I started to find some confidence in myself and believing that maybe everything she had told me, sometimes on a daily basis, wasn’t true. I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t fat and ugly, I wasn’t a waste of space, the clothes I wore didn’t reflect my value as a human being, etc etc.
It took a while, but as I spent a year in the US working as an au pair, I really found my feet and let my personality blossom. It turns out that I wasn’t half-bad, after all, people wanted to be friends with me and thought I was fun! Imagine that. After having spent so many years feeling so small and insignificant, it was truly wonderful and that year I spent in the US is still one of the best ones of my life.
After I got back to Sweden, my family unexpectedly imploded. I was 20, but all of a sudden I felt like I was 5. My father walked out on us, with very little indication of what he had planned, and left us in the dust to pick up the pieces. That was extremely traumatic and left us all shell-shocked. I didn’t know how to deal with the onslaught of emotions and responsibilities, so I ran. I’m not proud of it, but I ran. I packed my bags and left, never to move back to Sweden, ever again.
This sudden departure of my father left me with trust issues and a lingering depression, but luckily for me I met The Man that very same year and he did everything in his power to prove to me that he was staying, he was supportive, understanding and patient. Most of all, he simply loved me. Still to this day, some 20+ years later, he’s the same. He’s stood by me through all of my emotional wobbles, my manic cleaning and tidying episodes, all of my depression lows, all of my obsessive tendencies.
The cleaning thing he never really understood, and I have hidden some of the worst from him, which was easy at one point as he worked away from our home during the week and was only home on the weekends. As my trust in him was growing, I entrusted him with more and more of ‘my crazies’ as I call them. Whilst he doesn’t fully understand how cleaning and order could make me feel calm, and would mess with me by moving stuff, he accepts that it’s part of me.
When I have my depression lows, the first thing that goes is my personal hygiene. Gross as that is, it’s the truth. The next thing that goes is the need for cleaning. As I mention in the video, at one point the cleaning and the cleaning routines were almost the very thing that structured my day. I could feel it getting worse, but I also couldn’t see what the problem was with me wanting to have a clean and tidy home. As my compulsions grew stronger, my lists grew. I had one for things I had to do daily, another for weekly tasks, a third for things that needed to be done once a month, and lastly a list for things that only required doing every three months. These lists were laminated and I’d obsessively tick off the things I had done, and then calculate how long it would take me to achieve the rest. There were days where I had to stay up late to get it all done, but going to sleep without having ticked off all the things? Close to impossible.
My obsessive compulsive tendencies started out with a traumatic incident in my life, and ironically, it was another major tragedy that helped me overcome some of it. When we lost both of our dogs within six weeks of each other, I stopped functioning for a while. All I could do to get through the day was by one breath to the next, the grief was so bone deep and devastating that I felt like I was drowning in it.
It took me a little while to get my head above water again, and when I surfaced I realised a lot of time had passed and I had done absolutely no cleaning whatsoever. That need for it had disappeared almost like a switch had been flicked. Like my brain had short circuited and been somewhat reset. I couldn’t hear those voices telling me I ‘had to do this or that, this way, not that way’, over the deafening roar of heartache and grief. Those very voices that had made me believe that if I did what they said, nothing bad would happen. Well, talk about a wake up call that that was a big fat lie.
I still have some of these obsessive compulsive tendencies today, I’m not going to lie. I am a bit of a basket case some days, for sure. If I’m feeling stressed, anxious or sad I will very often clean and tidy stuff. I think the difference now is that those voices aren’t telling me something bad will happen or someone will die if I don’t do this, it’s almost like a trade ‘if you do this, I will tamp down on those anxiety feelings for you’. I don’t even know if that makes any sense to anyone other than me, but there you have it. It does help most of the time, and those times it doesn’t help, at least I will have accomplished something. That’s how I try looking at it these days.
For instance, recently I have had a lot of stress from a family situation, and at first it left me feeling like nothing matters so why bother? I spent three days on the sofa with my chicas and books, and then all of a sudden, I cleaned the kitchen until it was spotless. The next day I moved on to the bathrooms. We have two, so there is always something that can be done there. Admittedly, the levels of anxiety I have had about filming the video for this Mental Health Awareness hop, meant I needed to clean those bathrooms two days in a row, but ok. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the physical, as well as mental, tiredness I need, rather than the order? It’s really too bad I’m not focusing these energies on doing squats. I’d have buns of steel!
Like everyone else, my issues are very personal to me, and everyone is affected differently. Just because someone else has the same issue as you do, doesn’t mean it affects you both the same way, which is why understanding and acceptance are so important. By sharing my story, and opening the door to my inner crazy, I’m hoping that it will help someone out there feel less alone. Know that there are people out there who know what you are going through, and how you feel.
If you are struggling, please know that there is help. Know that people care. You are NOT alone. Ignore those voice that tell you it’s not worth it, why bother, nobody cares etc. They are wrong, they lie and they do not get to tell you you are not worthy, loved and needed in this world. You are not alone.
So much love, and big hugs if you made it all the way to this point.