I am a trainee counsellor who struggles. There. I said it. I am blowing that taboo out the water that counsellors are masters of mental health. We are no more “fixed” or “sorted” than anyone else. And that, dear readers, is entirely ok.
I have lived alongside my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for as long as I can remember. For those of you who aren’t familiar with OCD, it is defined as an anxiety disorder that can cause the individual to obsess over intrusive thoughts that pop into their minds. These intrusive thoughts can be partnered with compulsions that urge them to carry out rituals in an attempt to calm the anxiety and/or stop the intrusive thought or “bad thing” from happening.
I am so familiar with this definition because this type of OCD is exactly the one I have myself.
I first noticed what I can now pinpoint as OCD during my childhood. In my room, I had a box of toys near my door that included some plastic dinosaurs. I didn’t trust these dinosaurs. Not one bit. So, each night, I would perform a ritual whereby I would turn the dinosaurs to face the wall, believing that by doing this, I was preventing them from suddenly coming alive whilst I was asleep and eating me.
Fast forward to my teens, fourteen to be exact, where I entered an emotionally abusive relationship that lasted for four years. During this time, my every move was monitored, interpreted and used against me which, as you can imagine, made me feel as though I was treading on egg shells every single waking day. I no longer felt safe. I was constantly braced for “something bad” to happen. This was when I first received my formal diagnosis of OCD.
Having a label to describe the way I think, feel and behave has brought with it a mix of feelings. On the one hand, I have felt relief that there is a name I can put to a way of being that can cause me distress. I have been able to use this name to find others out there who experience the same/similar symptoms which can provide comfort and even a sense of belonging.
However, having this label has also had a negative effect on me. Having a diagnosis of OCD has made me feel as though my way of thinking and being isn’t normal. To be told by my GP: “Ah yes, you have… and this is what we can do to change it” has made me feel that I have been lumped into a category of “unusual”. In turn, this has made me feel ashamed of who I am and I have spent many years convincing myself that I am isolated, that no one understands me and that I am just plain weird compared to other people.
But I am so tired of disowning this part of myself now. Instead, I want to openly, honestly and proudly admit that I am someone who lives with OCD. I am a counsellor who finds life difficult and has their own diagnosis in the same way their clients may do.
I can now look at my OCD as a younger, more vulnerable part of myself, not a separate, unwelcome beast that needs to be tackled and tamed'
When I first applied for my MSc in Counselling, I was presented with questions at interview inviting me to talk about my personal experiences that had lead me to pursue this training and ultimately, this career. I felt struck with fear at sharing the truth about my struggles with my own mental health.
Weren’t counsellors supposed to have mastered their mental health? Surely those who struggle with their own can’t then go on to help others?
This was naively going around and around in my mind as I stared at these interview questions, deliberating over what I was going to divulge. I ended up taking a chance and being truthful about my own experiences, what had lead me to apply and why I wanted to become a counsellor. This involved being very honest and open about my own experiences with my mental health including my life with OCD, daily anxiety and a bout of depression.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed already, I was granted a place on the course!
I would go as far as saying that studying on this person-centred counselling course has changed my life. Not only have I opened up a whole new world of opportunities to pursue, I have also been able to explore myself and become more accepting of who I am.
'Watching my clients flourish and grow fills me with great happiness and hope that recovery is possible. I am constantly empowered by their journeys and outlook on life..'
This year, I have spent my time reflecting on my mental health (mostly OCD) and what it means to me to be living with a diagnosis. For so long I have hated this part of myself and seen it as being a separate entity that needs to be conquered and eradicated. Training on a person-centred counselling course has taught me that this doesn’t have to be a way of living with OCD, something of which I have never entertained before.
I can now look at my OCD as a younger, more vulnerable part of myself, not a separate, unwelcome beast that needs to be tackled and tamed. I can work with it, attempt to understand it and be gentle with this child-like self.
Sure, there may be times when OCD can become a bit overwhelming and I will become angry with her persistence but with like any friendship, you have fall outs and then you make up again.
And I have learnt that I can work with my OCD as a counsellor too. Having a diagnosis and an experience of when my mental health needs attention, I feel that I have a great understanding of where my clients are coming from. There are times that I sit opposite individuals in the counselling room and I can really see so much of myself within them. By working with people who are struggling with their mental health, I can help not only them, but also myself.
Watching my clients flourish and grow fills me with great happiness and hope that recovery is possible. I am constantly empowered by their journeys and outlook on life, something which makes me feel incredibly privileged.
So, there we have it. Counsellors struggle too, perhaps more than you think. We are all human beings at the end of the day, we don’t have super powers. The world is tough and we all have our own way of coping with that, OCD just so happens to be mine. And that doesn’t make me any less of a good counsellor. In fact, I believe it makes me the best I can be when faced with a distressed individual who is looking for compassion and understanding.
I wouldn’t be me without it and I am proud of that.
Beth, is a 23-year-old Mental Health Blogger and Trainee Counsellor, who just so happens to live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Beth promotes awareness of this disorder and how she lives with it over at her blog