Why I Opened up About Having Pure O, a Form of OCD

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A woman walks in silhouette across a rain soaked street. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

We all sometimes feel lonely, as if there's something so different about us that will forever keep us detached from everyone else in the outside world. We feel like it's impossible to express to others what's going on inside. Imagine doing that when you have a mental health condition, which makes you think that you're not only different—but also seriously damaged.

A year ago I wrote a piece on how to learn to live with obsessive thoughts, or Pure Obsessional ('Pure O')—a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When I first wrote it, all I could think about was why anyone would ever want to read it and why was I sharing something so personal with others?

After so many years of having to deal with 'Pure O' alone, opening up to a large number of people—most of whom I didn't even know—was not easy. For some reason, writing my personal story down made it feel less real. It made it feel like complete fiction. 'What if' this was all fake and just an excuse for me being the way that I am? The 'evil' doubting 'what ifs' started flooding in faster than I expected them to, as is typical for people with 'Pure O'. There was no cathartic moment; expressing what I felt didn't bring immediately relief, the relief that people with anxiety so impatiently seek. It was the people who, having read my article, so eagerly wanted to understand me and those who already understood me so well (even without previously expressing it to me) that made sharing my personal story so worthwhile.

Read more: How I learned to live with Pure O, a form of OCD

In the first couple of days my inbox was flooded with messages—some from people I knew, others I didn't. Some opened up about their own issues, others just shared their thoughts. People asked for advice; people asked for support; they even asked for concrete steps to take to make things better. People told me that what I wrote made them feel less alone, that it seemed to describe how they felt too.

When you have 'Pure O' your primary goal in life is to seek reassurance—or at least 'Pure O' tells you that it should be. You seek reassurance for things in life that you are uncertain about, whether it's work, relationships or even having 'Pure O' in the first place. Apart from constantly harassing those close to you with an endless stream of repetitive questions, you reach out to others within the 'Pure O' community. You make connections with people you have never met, in the hope of finding out that you are not the only one.

I'm guilty of that myself. I always knew that this was an important part of accepting your mental health condition, but all of a sudden I found myself on the receiving end of things—I was now the one being approached. While I am not quite there yet myself to be able to confidently direct others, the responsibility of having people trust me and share their issues will be something I always value.

People in my personal life surprised me too. As someone who has struggled with mental health, I can say that every time you think about opening up to someone, you imagine they will just turn around and run away from you. That they will think you're too much work or that you have made the whole thing up; that you are looking for attention or drama, or trying to come up with excuses for your strange behaviour. Sometimes you even try to preempt a bad reaction by quickly dropping your mental health bomb on them. But despite my irrational fears, no one ran away. No one started treating me as though there was something wrong with me. Instead people supported, encouraged and accepted me, sharing my story with others.

It was the people who showed me constant support, who shared their own stories with me, who stayed patient with me—and still do—that made me realize that I was not the only one experiencing these things. If people felt the way that I did and respected the way that I felt, I was most definitely not alone. It showed me that making others aware of your journey can help create a community or a space to give others struggling with mental health enough strength to seek help one day. We have to continue to open up to others who may one day also open up to you. And as I said last time: There is nothing weak about mental illness, and there is no shame in speaking up.

Valeriia Voshchevska is a social media editor at Newsweek.

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