Scott Brown, Senior Student Recruitment Co-Ordinator at Gateshead College shares his story about his battle with mental health and his journey to recovery.
Over the last few weeks I thought that I would share my own struggle, battle and challenges with mental health and being diagnosed with OCD. A lot of people think Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is about making things neat and tidy, it has very little to do with that! OCD is mostly about horrible reoccurring negative thoughts that can lead to a lot of other mental health issues. I wanted to share this as most of you will see me as confident, adventurous and normally quite happy! It is a sad fact that many people with OCD delay seeking help. They put up with it for too long, perhaps thinking that nothing can be done or just not knowing where to turn. At times OCD has been ranked in the top 10 most debilitating illnesses in the world and 2% of people suffer with it.
It was only in November I had wrote the following in my Aspire (appraisal programme): “I feel that I am healthy at the moment and I always strive to achieve the best I can for the college. I do feel like my mental health is very good and feel that I am happy with large aspects of my life”.
In December, I was best man at a wedding. At the ceremony the father of the Bride collapsed when the registers were being signed. This was a traumatic experience. He was unconscious and was rushed to hospital. The wedding continued but it was a difficult day for all of those who attended and were involved. Luckily, he has made a recovery and looked well when I visited him in February.
When I woke up on the Monday morning after the wedding I thought that I was tired and run down therefore was not thinking straight and I was also quite anxious. It was on this date that my intrusive thoughts started. They did not subside for the next 10 days. I then visited the doctors.
I went to the doctors 10 days after the wedding thinking that I was depressed due to being injured, what happened at the wedding and the winter months. I didn’t share any of the intrusive thoughts with the doctor or my family as I was ashamed of these thoughts and couldn’t explain them. I attended Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for a month which didn’t really help and the thoughts didn’t go away. I then found OCD on the internet and all of the symptoms were accurate to what I was going through. Now that I knew what it was, I felt relieved that it was an illness but decided that I would wait and see what happened.
I was skiing when my OCD really took hold and started having a negative impact on my life. I was skiing through the Alps with my mates and I couldn’t stop thinking about horrible intrusive thoughts. By this point I was exhausted, couldn’t sleep and I was really low. I knew I had OCD but didn’t understand it. I hoped it might go away in the skiing sunshine but it was just gripping me and dragging me down. I came home early from that holiday after one of my close mates sat me down to ask what was going on and I opened up to him. In the space of about 8 hours I packed up and somehow managed to get myself back to Manchester where my parents picked me up.
In the car on the way home I told my family everything. All the way down to the last intrusive thought. That was scary for them to hear and I was scared but they took time off the next day and we went to the doctors. I went to the doctors and told them everything, I was asking for someone to help me. I was diagnosed with OCD and started taking medication. I was told that part of my brain was not communicating effectively due to a chemical imbalance and that I didn’t have enough Serotonin. From what I remember, the doctor smiled and said it’s just OCD and we can get treat this.
At the doctors I was informed that I would need to take tablets every day. This was what was needed to tackle my OCD. It was outlined that I would potentially get side effects and I would gradually need to work upwards to the therapeutic dose. The next month (March) was the worst month of my life. The side effects caused my OCD to be worse, caused anxiety and days when I felt low/depressed. At this point I was now on sickness leave from work and I was unable to do things I had took for granted such as go to the match or go to the gym or sit in the house on my own. At times, I would ask the counsellor if I would ever get better and was always asking why do I feel like this? During this 4 weeks I also started CBT again with a counsellor, alongside taking medication.
After 4 horrific weeks I also decided that I would only go or take part in daily activities I felt comfortable with. I started rebuilding myself from the bottom at my own pace. I slowly started spending time on my own and popping out to the shops or football. I then went back to going to the match/hiking. Gradually as the tablets/counselling was starting to work the anxiety was lifting and my trust/confidence was growing. I did everything I could to help my recovery. I read books on OCD and looked at forums online, I exercised as much as I could, I gave up alcohol, I ate well and slept to a strict routine. After 8 weeks I was starting to see real results and decided it was time to go back to work. By the end of April the anxiety had disappeared and I wasn’t feeling low anymore but my OCD was still there. Just as the doctors said, all 3 tablets and 12 weeks would be needed for that to start to go.
Where I am now…
I’m edging towards the 12 weeks now and the OCD is starting to clear. 3 months ago I was in a bad way. With brilliant support from my family, mates, Gateshead College and the outstanding NHS I am now having hours and days away from the awful thoughts of OCD. I have no anxiety or low days and I am on my way back to being my confident, happy self. I’m back doing everything which I did before the wedding. The tablets and healthy lifestyle have helped to raise the Serotonin levels in my body to stop the OCD taking hold. I’ve accepted there was nothing I could do to avoid OCD but I can help treat it by looking to beat it head on.
Life is full of ups and downs, within the space of 24 hours I lost that confident adventurous personality all down to a mental illness that I didn’t even know existed. I could not have recovered without the help of professionals, medication and most importantly support from people around me. I have my thirst for life coming back to me. I’m back smiling and getting excited about holidays and the summer! I have learnt about myself, mental health and what is important! In two weeks time, I am running the Edinburgh marathon (26.2 mile) and I will be running the GNR (13.1 miles) in September for OCD action.
If you would like to sponsor me or more importantly learn more about OCD then you can do at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ScottBrown14 or http://www.ocdaction.org.uk/
Lastly I would like to thank the college for their unbelievable support over the last few months!