As we enter the last day of Mental Health Awareness Week, I’ve been reflecting on my own mental illness and why some TV programmes behave as though my condition is a good thing.
I was 19 and at university when I was first diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My fears about failure resulted in obsessive cleaning and small, obtrusive-to-me, rituals. I had some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to deal with it and it subsidised quite a lot. Now, it is only at times of intense stress, it rears up again.
It is not about cleaning or tidying. It is about thoughts and control. Nothing is ever clean to me and, when I am stressed, I equate the Sisyphean task of a clean home with happiness. As though, once everything is perfect, there will be redemption of some sort and the worries will go away. Except they don’t because the perfection I seek is unachievable. It isn’t achieved with a tidy or clean house because if that level of cleaning was ever achieved, there is then an invisible germ layer that is unseen to human eyes but nevertheless exists. Add to that the fact I get excruciating migraine headaches at the smell of bleach and you begin to see my problem with this mental illness.
I mention this now because I was somewhat distraught in the shower yesterday. Why? Because the frame opposite the shower was wonky and I realised that no matter how many times I straightened it, it has the capacity to get wonky again. And, besides, how would I know it was straight anyway without a spirit level? And what if the wall itself was a millimetre or two out?
I live in a new build and it is not conducive to my problem. You see, an old listed ramshackle cottage would be perfect for me to live in because it was built to be at odd angles and its perfection lies in its eccentric shapes and rusticity. The sea also comforts me with its flotsam and jetsam because you can’t tidy the sea. Sure enough I did go to the Maldives once and saw the Muslim cleaning women in full abayas sweeping the beach before dawn so that westerners wouldn’t cut their precious toes on sharp shells, but even I could see that it was a futile endeavour.
Thoughts that make you question the whole point of doing anything ever shouldn’t then be made into TV programmes about cleaning. Just because this is a mental illness that inconveniences the sufferer more than those around them doesn’t make it a handy television format. I would imagine the brain chemistry of those who hoard and thereby really harm their families as well as themselves is very similar to those who clean and throw things out. Both sets of patterns are similar – bad things will happen if I can’t control this by cleaning up/keeping hold of it. We approve of OCD because we see it as a more dramatic form of being clean and tidy and, as we know, cleanliness is next to godliness. However, it is as damaging as hoarding because it is a broken way of looking at things. The compulsion is unhealthy.