Closing The Loop, Part 1: 'Let's Talk' Is Not Enough
It's important to talk about mental health. In fact, it's essential. The deceptively powerful act of talking holds numerous benefits; the discovery of community, the articulation of long-held (and often distorted) conceptions of oneself, and the means to communicate with professional help, to name just a few. With so many benefits, it may be hard, or even upsetting, to confront the reality that 'let's talk' and other mental health platitudes sometimes lead to redundant or unproductive conversations, but to stop this conversation at the standard of 'any talk about mental health is good talk' would be to ignore the potential pitfalls of 'just talking'. It's not that we don't need to talk about mental health. We do. Indeed, the need for constructive, illuminating conversations about mental health has never been greater. That's just it, though - in the face of such great need, we don't just need to talk more; we need to talk better. Here's how we do that:
Don't just share stories of suffering. Share stories of functioning.
OCD hurts. It affects individuals, families, partners and friends. The stories of how #OCD hurts its victims and their loved ones are important because they remind the mental health naysayers about the real impact of mental health disorders on actual, working, living people. That's important work, but it's not the only work that needs to be done. More often than not, people need to share stories of how they make their lives work in spite of OCD. We need stories of real people living their lives functionally, successfully, and imperfectly, just as we all do, mental health disorder or not. We need to share the strategies that we use to prevent OCD from taking over our normal day-to-day functions, and celebrate the fact that we actually do function. OCD has many stories of hurt, but it also has stories of happiness. Let's share those, too.
Practicalities, not platitudes.
As a parent with OCD, I've always approached therapy with a filter of practicality. Inspiring words and serenely decorated memes make for lovely scenery, but honestly, they don't hold a lot of value for me. I'm not saying that the words and thoughts of others don't hold any value at all. They do. I even have a peg board full of them beside my bed. I just think they need to be paired with the practical stories and strategies that real people use to heal themselves. It's all well and good for someone to remind me that 'life is like a bowl of cherries - eat the fruit and throw away the pits', but if that person drops that quote onto my Twitter feed with no reference to helpful resources or strategies, then the words are ultimately ineffective, no mater how well intentioned they may be. In my experience, therapy is a process that requires consistency and hard work, regardless of mood or energy level. Anyone who posts 'words of inspiration' needs to remember that. Some people will look to social media for a healthy kick of inspiration, but others will be reaching out, in desperation, for something that works. I wrote my book for those people, and I invite anyone and everyone who can to do the same.
So there you have it. Two cursory glances at some of the most common and most frustrating shortcomings of public dialogue on OCD. In the interest of walking the talk, if this article sparked an interest of yours, or the need to talk further, get in touch. I promise I have a lot of practical advice to share.