As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I’m not keen on labelling myself and my anxiety problems. However, lately I’ve noticed the term mental illness cropping up a lot in the media and it set me thinking – am I mentally ill?
I have always struggled with excessive anxious and have endured periods of severe OCD at various stages of my life. It’s always been there, just something I put up with that makes me who I am -perhaps more a medical condition than an illness. However, anxiety disorders are recognized as mental illness and can be attributed , in part, to chemical (ie. physical) causes in the brain.
To help me make up my mind, I looked up the definition of illness and condition in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. This was somewhat inconclusive although one definition of condition was – ‘circumstances affecting the functioning or existence of something’ , a very apt description of how my anxiety affects me on a daily basis.
To me, an illness is something that needs to be cured or one can try to recover from. A condition is an ongoing disorder or problem that, with the right treatment can be managed and brought under control although it may always exist in some form. For instance someone with severe asthma can hope to manage it with the correct treatment and therapy in order to minimize its impact on his or her life. Similarly my anxiety and OCD is currently controlled by a combination of medication, therapy, self-help and family support.
Before you start thinking – well bully for her – I would like to qualify the above statement by saying that I definitely have been mentally ill. Recently, after a gradual build up of anxiety and depression, exacerbated by a painful operation, I suffered a rapid decline into a severe panic disorder in which I nearly took my own life and was admitted to a psychiatric unit. I became completely incapacitated, required heavy medication and could not work for several months. I was obviously unwell, both physically and mentally and have no doubt that I was ‘mentally ill.’
I am not ashamed to say that I have suffered from mental illness but , if asked today, I would describe myself as well. Yes, I have a challenging condition and it is a daily struggle to manage. I may become mentally ill again sometime but that possibility only makes me determined to appreciate my health while it lasts.
Interestingly, while thinking about writing this blog entry a question was asked on a popular OCD support forum – Is OCD a disability? While it can certainly be debilitating, I suppose it boils down to the fact that everyone experiences is differently and the answer may well be a subjective one. To date the forum thread has had well over 70 replies so it’s certainly a contentious question – one with, I suspect, no easy answer.