Trigger warning: This article contains details about suicide and self harm which may be triggering to mental health patients.
I’m 18 and currently in Class 12.
During the first phase of the lockdown, I had started feeling anxious – I would cry for no reason, without truly knowing why I was feeling so low. I wanted to study – I have always been studious – but I just couldn’t concentrate, no matter how hard I tried. I had many irrational fears, many of which I don’t want to talk about.
But my family wouldn’t understand why I was feeling that way. They guessed that it was probably because we were locked inside because of the pandemic.
In September 2020, my mental health became worse and I asked my parents if I could go for therapy. Initially, they were a bit shocked, but it wore off – my family has always been aware of mental health issues because my mom had been diagnosed with OCD and depression.
I went to the same therapist that my mom used to visit. I remember sitting in the clinic with my mom when I was just 14 or 15. I would try to help and understand, even though I had no idea about what OCD meant.
Now, coincidentally, I was in the same room at 17, seeking help for myself. I had this constant fear that my family might hurt each other or break up. Even a tiny household conflict would make me vomit four times a day due to anxiety. These fears may sound irrational, but they weren’t for me at the time. I broke down in front of the therapist and spoke my mind. My therapist felt that I needed more than just therapy, so she suggested I see a psychiatrist – again, the same doctor who treated my mom.
I was trying therapy, I was trying everything I could, I tried to not give a f*** about anything – but I just couldn’t. Whenever I’d hear someone talk loudly at home, I would start having the thoughts I mentioned above. Even after a month of therapy and medication, my mental health didn’t improve. In fact, it got worse. It was getting harder for me to study. Everyone would tell me to concentrate but I just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.
I knew my Class 12 board exams were looming ahead and that the results would play an important role in determining my future, but I was helpless. My teachers would call me to ask why I was not paying attention, to tell me they were disappointed in me.
My doctor and therapist would say that I needed to take steps to fight my OCD, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. I was scared, helpless and felt useless. I didn’t want my family to get worried or stop expressing themselves, so I kept trying. I would not let them know when I would cry or vomit. But no matter what I did, my face reflected my state of mind.
One morning, when I woke up at 3 am as usual, and my chest felt so heavy and weird that I wished to God, “Please, I don’t want to live.” I didn’t have enough strength to kill myself. But I had lost around 10 kg, so I wished I would get a heart attack or something to be free from it all.
My doctor asked my family not to suppress their feelings because that would just increase my problems and protect me from the trigger I so dreaded.
In October, my family couldn’t suppress themselves anymore and a normal household conflict broke out. I was scared, my hands and legs were shivering. “All those thoughts are irrational,” I would tell myself, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Even while writing this, I have tears in my eyes. And I’ve always believed that the point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. So this was the time for me to ‘seek discomfort’. My entire treatment was based on ‘seeking discomfort’ and learning to handle my anxiety. So I was broken, completely fearful but in that moment I decided to do something about it.
On October 15, my sister was planning to go back to Mumbai when she suggested that I accompany her. We talked to our parents and they agreed. My doctors also felt that it would be good for me. We left on October 22.
When I came to Mumbai, there was an improvement. I would still be anxious at times and cry or vomit, but it was way better than it had been in September 2020. I tried to reason with my mind, pay attention to my thoughts; it was like a conflict between the two sides of my head. While travelling, I’d observe people, see their faces and tell myself that even this person might have problems in his life but they are surviving. I used to do everything to find solace and calm my mind. All of a sudden, I developed new kinds of interests and my perspective towards life started to change. I’d go for long walks, sit on the beach, take pictures of graffiti and so on. And I don’t know what exactly it was, but I started to feel better. And I’ve never been more grateful.
My family could see the change and were happy too, as were my therapist and doctor. I started attending classes and paying attention, even though it was quite late already. I started planning my future once again like I did pre-OCD, without any fears. I started editing my bucket list again. I stayed in Mumbai for about a month and returned to Kanpur. I then went back to Mumbai and I’m still here. My anxiety is still fragile – it stirs up even with the slightest triggers.
I still get scared of the idea of being back in the same place I was at in September 2020.
I’m still healing. I’ve gained 15 kg due to the medicines. But I’m forever grateful to this precious city for bringing me back from hell and saving my life. There was just something about it that worked like magic. Now I’ve started studying regularly. I want to have no regrets, and therefore I’m doing my best in whatever time I have.
I have no idea what’s going to happen in the future: will my OCD be handled? Will I heal or will September 2020 happen again? Will I do well in my boards and in my life, or will things go bad? Too many questions unanswered. But I’m fighting and I’m proud of myself.
My struggle with OCD has changed me in many ways. The most important thing I’ve learnt is to never judge anyone, no matter how crazy their story or ideas sound to you. I am more than my OCD – I have loads of wishes, loads of problems, health issues, dreams and goals, Let’s see where life takes me.
I wish that someday I can reach out to people like me and make them realise how tough they are. Tough for smiling, working, surviving with such turmoil brewing in their minds. I wish I could let the people know that having a mental illness is normal and it’s in fact such a badass thing to have it and face it, and openly talk about it – which I have been on social media.
I am also proud of myself – I have a health issue, I am facing it, I’m recovering and I’m talking about it.
Each day, I receive messages from anxiety survivors and sufferers. In October, I felt like a victim. Now, that I’ve started to tell my story, I realise how brave I am. I’m no victim. In fact, I’m a strong human who has privileges as well as problems, weaknesses as well as strength – and it’s all a part of my life. We’re stronger and more capable than we think.
Manvi Tiwari is a Class 12 student from Kanpur.