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Green Light in the City

You Are Not Alone

7 May 17 words: Nick Marlow

Nick Marlow is a 46 year old Peer Support Worker and Volunteer. He is in recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and has experienced addiction. We caught up with him in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week to talk about his own experience with mental health, in the hopes that it will encourage others to open up themselves.  

I remember being disturbed by my thoughts from a very young age. It wasn’t until my late teens that my thoughts and behaviours started to have a debilitating effect on my day-to-day life.

Quite simply, aside from a few embarrassing conversations where I tried to broach the subject, I didn’t really speak to anyone. I had no idea what was wrong, and began to believe that this was “just me.” As my life became increasingly difficult, I couldn’t understand why I struggled so much on a daily basis. I looked at others doing everyday tasks, and wondered how they were able to do these things without any anxiety.

I was sure that whatever was wrong with me was down to me to deal with; it was my bed, and I’d have to lie in it. Besides, I was so ashamed of the thoughts and my ensuing behaviours, that I knew there was no way I could ever share them with anyone. I felt stupid, weak and useless. Perhaps worse than this, I felt alone.

My alcoholism was very much related to my mental health. For years, alcohol was the only solution I found to quieten my thoughts. This was fine, until the solution became a problem in itself. My life was becoming increasingly unmanageable – I had all the consequences of being a daily drunk to deal with, whilst the thoughts in my mind still deafened me and dictated my actions. Eventually, I broke. Literally broke. One morning I woke up in hospital, again, with two policeman standing at the door. I asked for help. Later that day, I entered rehab.

I was scared and I was desperate. Desperate enough to tell the psychiatrist at the rehab clinic what was going on in my mind. It was right there and then that my life began to change; “Nick, you’re ill. There are others like you. And you can get better.” I was diagnosed with acute Obsessive Compulsive Disorder alongside my addiction. I was forty-one years old and, for the first time in a long time, I no longer felt alone. I had hope.

After 28 days in rehab, I fell under the care of a NHS psychiatrist. I was prescribed appropriate medication, and referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to address my mental health. Armed with a diagnosis and the gift of desperation, I now embraced all the help that was on offer. After years of embarrassment and painful silence, of trying and failing to “just pull your socks up and get on with it,” I now talked openly about my thoughts, my feelings, and my behaviour. It was hard work. There is no silver bullet. I learned that I wasn’t stupid, or weak, or useless. I was ill. Full stop. With the right help, from the right people, combined with courage and determination, I could change.

Nearly five years later, I remain clean and sober, and in recovery from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I have re-trained as a peer support worker in an effort to use my experiences to help others. I am actively involved in the recovery community. I was invited to become a trustee for the national charity, OCD-UK, and regularly chair recovery support groups. Not bad for someone who, only a few years previously, came up with a plan to sever both hands in the belief that this would stop me behaving as I was. Most days, I pinch myself just to check it’s real. I am grateful to all those who have helped me. I couldn’t have done it on my own.

Without a doubt, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy turned my life around. It is also the evidence-based treatment for OCD, recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). I have also found peer-led support groups incredibly powerful, both in my recovery from addiction and OCD. My therapist signposted me to the local OCD-UK groups, and I have been a regular attendee ever since. People sharing their experience, strength and hope is a formidable force in the battle against mental illness.

I’m a big fan of mindfulness, despite it having become a bit of a buzzword at the moment. It helps keep me grounded, and rooted in the present. For many years I owned a time-machine, spending all my time analysing the past or risk-assessing the future. Always anxious. Always afraid. I never appreciated the present, and being able to do so is one of the greatest gifts of my recovery.

In appropriate circumstances, I am usually prepared to talk about my mental health. Besides being therapeutic for me, these conversations might be the moment the light comes on for someone else – when their recovery process begins. Even if not to individual benefit, such discussions can only help raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health. Indeed, OCD-UK spearheaded a campaign, “Are You a Little Bit OCD,” where we actively engaged with the general public in an attempt to do just that.

Generally, reactions are positive, and information around mental health well-received. There is still a huge gap in public understanding around mental health, and I am pleased to see that such conversations are starting to happen on a more widespread basis.

Very rarely have I had a negative reaction. The more typical scenario is the use of the term “OCD” in a light-hearted context. I can assure you that most people are not “a little bit OCD.” It is a noun, not an adjective, and it is a disorder, not a “nice-to-have”. Neither does the illness centre solely on cleanliness and order. These beliefs stem from ignorance, not malice, and thus opening dialogue around mental health becomes all the more important. Indeed, for years I thought I couldn’t have OCD since I was never concerned if pictures were hung at an odd angle. Conversations thus also have a very practical impact in the diagnosis of mental health issues. I remain acutely aware that many people, young and old, continue to suffer needlessly simply due to a lack of awareness and understanding.

I think there is a stigma regarding mental health that runs through society in general. I think this is increasingly driven by lack of understanding rather than fear of the unknown. There is a noticeably dismissive attitude toward mental health, and I see this as more generic rather than differentiated between men and women.

I think that stigma, or a gap in understanding, stops many people from seeking help. Experience tells me that this stigma is as likely to be self-imposed as it is driven by society. I guess men are less predisposed to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings, and are therefore less likely to discuss or address concerns they may have in this area. That said, I believe that the cliché “man-up” is as likely to be used by women as men when it comes to perceiving mental health issues as some sort of weakness, a “lesser” illness as compared to physical health.

I see a need for encouraging both men and women to talk about their mental health. It may be more challenging to succeed in this with men than women, I don’t know. My experience perhaps shows that women are more likely than men to seek help with OCD – research shows that men and women are equally likely to suffer with this disorder, yet the charity OCD-UK receives significantly more enquiries from women than men. My overwhelming feeling, however, is that mental health should be a topic of uncensored conversation on a day-to-day basis by all sections of society. Everyone should feel as comfortable discussing their mental health as they do discussing a broken leg. I accept there is much work to do here, and this must start with education and awareness. I am happy to do my bit whenever and wherever I can.

Nick’s Advice:
You are not alone. I promise.

If you, or anyone you know, are struggling with your mental health, there are people that can help. You can freephone the Samaritans, any time, on 116 123.

OCD UK website

The Samaritans website

Nottingham Insight Healthcare website

Mind website

CALM website

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