Last week the dubiously popular media outlet The Lad Bible apologised, after inadvertently mocking a celebrity who had suffered from depression related weight gain in the past. Wentworth Miller (the Prison Break bloke) may feel a little bit vindicated by the apology, and fair play to The Lad Bible for correctly asserting that "Mental health is no joke or laughing matter". So imagine my surprise the other day when, by way of a connection who follows their page, I saw this post poking a bit of fun at OCD sufferers:
Now here's the thing about this post. I'm not offended by it, because there's really nothing to offend here. I'm not the PC brigade. It's not funny - but that's just because it is what a Lad Bible regular might refer to as 'shit bants'. Like saying "I'm a bit OCD" when someone comments on your tidy desk at work, it is on the surface harmless, and nothing to be outraged about. But there is something insidious about this type of thing that we ought to consider.
Perhaps sadistically, knowing it would only bring me pain, I perused the comments, where there was a fierce debate occurring. I found such gems as: "They're just highly strung shitbags that want to be in control at all times", and "calling it a mental disability is pathetic".
We have a winner! The Lad Bible have wasted no time making good on their commitment to, in their own words, "cover the damaging stigma" that surrounds mental health issues.
Nine times out of ten, I'm totally OK with letting things go over my head. If you worry about people being wrong on the internet, you'll end up worrying an awful lot.
But for the sake of argument, let's talk about John, a mate of mine who has opened up to me about his struggle with obsessive behaviours and compulsive thoughts.
John suffered with varying degrees of anxiety and repetitive thought patterns throughout his adolescent life. It was a tough thing for a 15-year-old to understand or talk about, and by and large he did OK. Though there was always a nervousness, a feeling of otherness, and a proclivity toward not getting a lot of sleep. His problem with health anxiety first surfaced as a teenager with an unhealthy tendency to Google symptoms.
Later, as a university student visiting home, John witnessed a family member during a violent episode that turned out to be a seizure related to an undetected subarachnoid brain haemorrhage. With surgery, she recovered almost unchanged, but the sudden and unpredicted nature of it left John rattled. Soon after, another close family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the lung, liver and bowel.
This had a profound effect on John's mental well-being. In a state of constant anxiety over his own health, John began experiencing cluster headaches. In the case of health anxiety - ever more prevalent in the information era (is Google really your friend?) - the presentation of psychosomatic symptoms is common. He started itching himself bloody in the shower. He'd imagine blurred vision and head pains. His leg would ache dully. He would compulsively rub the back of his head, fingers probing for hitherto undiscovered tumours, even though logically he knew nothing would be felt on the exterior skull.
This is the very essence of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Often a sufferer knows their own obsessions and compulsions are illogical, absurd, but cannot break free of their checking behaviours. What OCD sufferers need the most in these circumstances is support.
When John experienced his first panic attack, the sensation was so overwhelming he misinterpreted it as a seizure, symptomatic of a brain tumour that wasn't there.
Anyone who has ever experienced a panic attack will know - it isn't breathing into a paper bag or getting a bit upset. The body goes into overdrive, and adrenaline courses through your body. That day a doctor told John he was suffering from Generalised Anxiety, and recommended he seek cognitive behavioural therapy to assist with his compulsive behaviours and thoughts. He prescribed Propranolol, a beta-blocker that would help ease John's anxiety.
The panic attacks were intense and unpredictable. John felt trapped inside his own head, and became virtually closed off to those around him. During this time, he felt incredibly alone, and his mind went to some dark places.
Eventually, the pills seemed to work, and the attacks eased. It got easier. There were days where he could laugh at himself. He was slowly able to function a little better and with positive habits, began sleeping more regularly. Though he still suffers from attacks now and again, he can weather them, and it's made him a stronger person. He says that if he told them, most people wouldn't believe he suffered from compulsions or obsessive thoughts.
Look, I get it. It's just another banal meme shared by a Facebook page. But it's symptomatic of a larger problem. The Lad Bible's post was harmless, and it would be absurd to get unduly upset about it (although perhaps ill-timed on their part). But it is worth noting that it passively reinforces the stereotype that people with OCD or anxiety are cry-babies with nothing else to worry about - a "21st century disease", for office workers and wet blankets with "nothing else to worry about". It opens the door for people to openly mock sufferers. Which summarily they did, in the comments section.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder manifests in an extremely diverse and sinister range of ways. Calling someone with OCD pathetic is on the level with calling a depression sufferer a mard-arse. People like John opt to suffer in silence because of stuff like this. In his case, he was lucky and eventually sought help. But it could have been different. As a society, we need to start talking about mental health the right way.