I Was the Poster Girl for OCD. Then I Began to Question Everything I’d Been Told About ‘Mental Illness’

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From The Guardian: “Six years ago, I sat halfway up a spiral staircase in an old medical library in London, watching an actor recreate one of the most intense moments of my life. We were filming a TV drama based on a memoir I’d written about my struggles with disturbing sexual and violent intrusive thoughts.

The story had started when, aged 15, I was suddenly bombarded by relentless, maddening doubts about core aspects of my identity: my capacity for violence and abuse, my physical appearance, my sexuality, whether I could trust my bones not to break. Graphic, unbearable thoughts and images started looping in my mind, thousands of times a day. I had no language for my devastating anxiety, or for my shame, so I kept it all a secret for 12 years.

The scene we were filming that day was based on the euphoric moment in my 20s when I first discovered that my thoughts were typical symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and that there were others out there battling this common enemy. ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Fuck. It’s OCD. I’ve got OCD!’ said actor Charly Clive as she read a list of symptoms from the medical textbook in her hands, giving voice to the astonishing clarity and relief that diagnosis can bring in a bewildering mental-health landscape.

Regardless of the labels I’d been given over the years (I’d previously been diagnosed with depression and anxiety), doctors had always framed it in the same way: illness. This was due to the received wisdom that mental disorders are diseases of the brain with organic, biological root causes; and to the medical language that infused charity campaigns and the media. It was also due to the ideas explicitly promoted by professionals who treated me. One of my CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapists said that OCD is primarily caused by a misfiring amygdala, a structure in the temporal lobe of the brain. Another said that their trademarked therapy could ‘rewire my brain’ in six weeks.

In 2013, I finally shared the story of my struggle with OCD in an article that became a book, Pure, that was adapted into the TV show of the same name. Soon followed invitations to write more articles, endorse charities, speak at conferences and guest on TV magazine shows. I had become the poster girl for OCD.

And I co-opted the language of medical professionals who treated me. ‘Mental illness can happen to any of us,’ I wrote in Vice in 2014, ‘like a cold or a cancer.’ I broadcast messages I’d been told were facts: the root cause of mental illnesses are biological abnormalities in the brain; mental illnesses are illnesses like any other.

Sitting on the staircase in that library in 2018, watching the TV show being made, should have been an affectionate look back on the pivotal diagnosis that led to my recovery. A chance to celebrate the turning-point moment when I’d first seen my secret inner reality reflected back at me. Charly wept in front of the camera while I wept behind it as we rolled another take.

But as our tale of hope was making its way to the screens of millions of people, in private I was growing more hopeless. I knew what no one else knew, that the relief of being diagnosed had been brutally short. That not only had the terrifying intrusive thoughts now returned, but I had begun to question almost everything I thought I knew about mental health.”

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I was very touched by this story. And it is true that we have all lived with the false ideology expressed here: “Growing up, I was sold the idea that the only way to get people to take your mental struggles seriously is to call them illness.” So, are we just humans–with emotions and feelings–grappling with all the complexities of life? Yes, but I would like to move further and say that we are souls (spiritual beings) having an Earthly experience. If we do not concede to being much more than just “human”, then we will find it difficult, if not impossible to move beyond the scientism that threatens our existence. (Although this idea moves beyond the scope of the article, I think it is an imperative in our postmodern world.)

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  2. “The medical model is insidious – it gets into people’s relationships, influencing the way we frame those we love.”

    Insidious indeed, it’s used to defame mothers, and rip to shreds, families. That second psychologist I was attacked by was a nasty one … and it seems he may still be trying to gaslight me … just a couple weeks ago, Google contacted me to tell me someone had set up a website using one of my emails, entitled my “religious recovery.”

    They asked me if I’d set up the website. I said no. They told me the situation was flagged, because the website was set up on the other side of the country, which is where that gas lighting psychologist has moved to. Google said they would prevent the person from using my email in the future. I hope they do.

    But just yesterday, I noticed that gas lighting psychologist’s emails to me, are now missing from my computer, so he may have hired someone to hack into my computer, and erase them, out of embarrassment. Some systemic, child abuse covering up psychologist “partners” of the paternalistic religions, don’t know when to quit.

    “Writer Charles Foster says that true sceptical science embraces mystery. It is, he says, prismatic. “It takes a prism to show that white light is anything but white: that it’s composed of many colours.” If we’re to overcome our mental health crisis, we need to think prismatically. We need to resist simplifications and be inspired by the certainty that we are missing some richer shades of complexity on the side of the prism we can’t see.”

    Part of why I’ve spent decades trying to teach children, via the arts, how to utilize the creative sides of their brains. And artists have known for decades about color theory, and the mysteries of such. But if children are not taught to utilize the creative side of their brains, they can’t see the big picture (even according to honest “mental health professionals.”) And the gross oversimplifications of the “medical model” are largely proof, that this has been a big problem with our education system for decades … since before I was born, at least.

    “Every year, studies are published ‘proving’ that things like nature, creativity, exercise and community make us happier, framing them as prescriptions for ills rather than age-old preventives.”

    Isn’t it shameful that the oversimplified “medical model” lacks all common sense? Those who developed it, never learned to utilize the creative side of their brains and common sense, IMHO.

    “I’d already done two years’ therapy with an underground guide, working with MDMA, alone and in combination with psilocybin. I was already feeling a lot better.”

    I’ve never tried these drugs, so am not an expert. But it seems the author may somewhat be trying, once again, to profiteer off of psychiatry’s newest drugs? Albeit, I do agree with much of what she’s said.

    “The medical model had taught me everything about being ill, and almost nothing about being a healthy, well-adjusted grownup, who has a sense of agency and accomplishment, ….”

    Psychology and psychiatry today, with their oversimplified and “invalid” DSM “bible,” their total lack of common sense and insight, seem to have as their goal, to prevent their clients (and even those who refuse to hire them) from being “healthy, well-adjusted grownup[s], who [have] a sense of agency and accomplishment.”

    That second psychologist, who I refused to hire, did try to steal everything from me, given the satanic contract he’d wanted me to sign, because my work was “too truthful,” and “there might be a market for a Chicago Chagall.” Even though, that is a grossly over simplified description of my work.

    Truly, a paradigm shift in the so called “mental health” industry is needed. But instead, it seems we may be dealing with an insane and terrifying – total takeover – by the WHO?

    https://thephaser.com/2024/04/international-wake-up-call-who-plans-insidious-coup-in-194-countries/

    Not sure how credible this link is … but it does seem when the entire Western medical community adopts psychiatry’s “bullish-t,” due to it’s profitability. Big Pharma and psychiatry are more than willing to take down the entire Western medical community’s reputations, worldwide?

    Why any sane person would believe a globalist corporation should be in charge of everyone’s health, rather one’s own doctor, is insane. And the mainstream doctors need to wake up.

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    • “To deconstruct my definition of suffering as mental illness was to also deconstruct my definition of getting better. If healing doesn’t mean a reduction in symptoms, what does it look like? I wasn’t going to find out by tripping or reading books or having therapy, but by stepping away from it all and living.”

      Stepping away and staying away from the ‘mental health system’ was an indescribably wonderful feeling of freedom and self-empowerment; it was like stepping into myself—INTO MY OWN LIFE—because that’s EXACTLY what I was doing, something that allowed layers of anxiety and self-doubt to slowly begin melting away.

      It was like seeing blue sky for the first time in years.

      And NONE of this would have happened had I not decided to walk out of a psychiatrist’s office for the last time on the spur of the moment. Or more accurately, in the spirit of the moment.

      And it’s something I’ve never regretted, not even for a moment.

      So, it would seem to me there’s something to be said for ‘acting impulsively’, despite the many impulsive criticisms impulsively ladled out by many (impulsive?) therapists —

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  3. “To deconstruct my definition of suffering as mental illness was also to deconstruct my definition of getting better. If healing doesn’t mean a reduction in symptoms, what does it look like? I wasn’t going to find out by tripping or reading books or having therapy, but by stepping away from it all and living.”

    Stepping away and staying away from the mental health system and anyone connected with it was an indescribably wonderful feeling of freedom and self-empowerment; it was like stepping into myself for the first time, because that’s exactly what I was doing.

    Decades of anxiety slowly began melting away the day I unexpectedly walked out of a psychiatrist’s office for the last time, never to return.

    It felt like I was seeing blue sky for the very first time.

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  4. “This is what I think is wrong with the medical model: a failure to understand mental health in context. An assumption that a disorder is a “thing” that an individual has, that can be measured, independent of subjective experience. The trauma model can be just as reductive, turning healing into an individual consumer journey and ignoring the environmental conditions in which wounds form. This has empowered professionals to decontextualize distress from the lives of those who experience it; to create pseudo-specific taxonomies of mental disorders. Diagnostic manuals have for decades been giving well-meaning psychiatrists and psychologists the illusion of explaining the suffering of the patient sitting in front of them. This system has hurt none more than those facing social adversity: financial deprivation, poor education, racial discrimination and so on, who are pathologized as though their reactive stress, and not the things to which they’re reacting are the problem.”

    Absolutely. Especially the part about the trauma model turning healing into an “individual consumer journey” while ignoring what’s going on in someone’s present life, because even though exploring the distant past can often be very helpful—even if done on one’s own—this may not be for everyone because it’s not something everyone wants or needs. Which to me just makes “trauma-informed therapy” one more way for therapists to make money while stuffing ‘new’ dogma down people’s unwilling throats.

    “If the medical model is willing to examine its assumptions, it may admit that its research is often a repackaging of knowledge that the west has forgotten or destroyed. Every year, studies are published “proving” that things like nature, creativity, exercise and community make us happier, framing them as prescriptions for ills rather than age-old preventives.”

    “If the trauma model does the same, it may admit that searching for causal agents in the past can facilitate dissociation from the normalized dysfunction in the present; from the miseries of consumerism and the 40-hour working week; from the fact that many of us live without meaningful relationships in what psychiatrist Bruce Perry chillingly calls “relational poverty”.

    These are the reasons I keep criticizing most of the research in ‘mental health’. And I think the reason why such ‘research’ keeps happening comes down to this: unless something is ‘sanctioned’ by mountains of essentially needless ‘data’, the professionals can’t legally charge people money for doling out information ALREADY readily available to anyone who has the time to look for it—which speaks to the reason why I’m not onboard when the author describes the psychiatrists and psychologists she’s talked with as “largely compassionate and nuanced”. Because it’s my view that the only people who can TRULY be called compassionate and ‘nuanced’ are the ones who have enough insight and wisdom NOT to therapists in the first place.

    And finally, it’s my firm opinion that ‘seeing a psychotherapist’ in no way qualifies as a ‘meaningful relationship’.

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    • CLARIFICATION: unless something is ‘sanctioned’ by mountains of essentially needless ‘data’, the professionals can’t legally charge people money for doling out information that’s ALREADY readily available FOR FREE!!!!!!

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