Lately I’ve been immersed in thinking about mental health and OCD. It’s kind of exhausting, but also fascinating because, well, it’s interesting to me that you really can immerse yourself in thinking about those things. There is enough to keep a mind occupied for a long, long time.
One thing that I’ve come to understand is that accepting that you have a mental illness and even going to get help may put on the path to recovery, but those things don’t guarantee success. You have to want it. You have to be honest with yourself and your doctors. You have to work for it.
A proven idea
It’s like any aspect of self improvement, really. You can register for college and go to class but still get a failing grade. You can join the Church (or any church) and sit in the meetings but not read your scriptures, pray, or repent… and if that’s all you are going to put into it, you may as well not be doing anything. You can buy exercise DVDs and healthy food but sit on your couch watching those DVDs while eating ice cream and nothing will change. In fact, your health may get worse.
It’s the same with mental health. You can make the phone call to the doctor and decide you want to get yourself back, but if you don’t actually follow through, go to the appointment, and do your homework, you won’t get yourself back. It doesn’t work like that.
That’s the way God made it. He made it so that we have to exercise our agency to make progress. Mental health is not exception to that rule.
Being honest, I think, is one of the first steps. If you go to the therapist but withhold how you are really doing and tell a glossed over version of your life and mental health, you won’t receive the proper care and advice. It is hard to be totally honest. I blubbered my way through my first OCD group session because I allowed myself to be honest. I was honest about how the OCD was destroying my family relationships and my sense of self. I was honest about my past. And that allowed me to finally be honest with myself and in consequent situations and doctors’ appointments.
Then comes following through with the doctor’s orders and assignments. Simply going to appointments, talking, and listening is not enough to change. You have to confront your OCD. You have to be uncomfortable. Trust me, I know that it is uncomfortable. Even now, sometimes there are things that seem too much for me to do. There are times when I rationalize doing exposures and engage in compulsions instead. It seems easier to do that, but doing the easy thing doesn’t change us.
It’s so easy to make excuses. It’s so easy to rationalize away getting help, saying that we are too busy or doing “fine” in managing our OCD or other mental illness. But eventually, it will catch up to you. I’ve been there. I spent years convincing myself I was managing my mental health just fine. There were good times, there really were. But when a challenge came, a significant life event that damaged me emotionally, the OCD found its foothold and wrecked havoc with my entire life.
I don’t know what would have happened if I had taken the steps to get help before I hit rock bottom. Maybe some of us need to feel that utter helplessness before we are induced to be honest and do the work to change ourselves. But in the end, if we want to get better, we have to work. We have to fess up to ourselves and make changes. That’s the only way.