School, OCD and prison… I think..? Maybe?

My last blog post was about OCD and in that post I mentioned that I would be writing a separate one on my experience of trying to manage OCD and the school environment. As my OCD type thinking patterns and behaviours began to show at the age of 3-4, it is something that I’ve always had; it is my normal because I know no different. There are times when it is worse and there are times when it is a little easier. The impulsive thoughts and compulsive behaviours have changed over the years, as I have grown up, as I have experienced different events and as I’ve learnt new information. However, it has always been there, locking me into a constant state of anxiety.

So, setting the scene… I was an anxious child that didn’t like to do things without my mum or dad, I wasn’t comfortable with socialising and I didn’t like being left anywhere because ‘what if..?’ Before year one of primary school, we had some time in ‘reception’. My mum would take me to the school and the teachers would be welcoming the children and interacting with the parents. I was terrified. I begged my mum not to leave me, I cried, I screamed, I clinged on to her, refusing to let go and this ultimately led to the teachers/support staff literally pulling me off of my mum. At the time I didn’t know this, but when I was older mum told me that she had walked home crying after many of those episodes.

I became a little more settled over time and whilst I remained anxious, I didn’t scream the place down each morning! For dinner time we had the option of staying at school for a cooked dinner, having a packed lunch, or going home with our parent/carer. I was very particular with food so cooked school dinners were difficult because of the food, the commotion of the dining room and the scary dinner ladies. The rule was that you had to ask to ‘turn around’ before we turned our tray from the main meal to the dessert and then again before we left the table. There were two dinner ladies that I would pick out, but the rest I’d avoid because they were much harsher. If you’d eaten enough of your main meal then you’d be allowed to ‘turn around’, but if they thought you needed to eat more then you’d have to eat more before you could ‘turn around’. I fully accept that I was a picky eater and that many people will be of the belief that children should eat what’s in front of them because that’s what happened when they were young and it ‘never did any harm’… Newsflash; not everyone is the same! I can understand that it’s important for children to get the right nutrition, but some of the dinner ladies seemed to suffer from a slight power complex. I remember a boy crying because he didn’t like peas but he was told he had to eat them, they sat there for ages and he was gagging. My friend taught me how to hide food, which now seems disordered, but it wasn’t in a disordered way at that time. I didn’t really do school dinners, but on the odd occasion that I did, it wasn’t something I ever looked forward to!

Most of the time I’d go home for dinner. My mum would pick me up, we’d go home to munch and then we’d walk back to school. I managed that pattern much better because it broke the day up and gave me a chance to speak to mum – the whole day was horribly scary. Other times I’d have a packed lunch, but that came with it’s own problems. We had an attendance register and a lunch menu where our name would be called, and we’d answer with ‘school’, ‘packed’ or ‘home’. It sounds simple enough, just a quick run through the class and a one word answer, easy right? Well, no… During year 4 this became one of the most difficult times of my day; what if I gave the wrong answer, what if I’d remembered wrongly? Every morning went something like this, ‘Rebecca?’ -hesitation- ‘Er. Er I’m, I mean, I think I’m packed lunch, I think.’ ‘Would you like to go and check you have a packed lunch in the box Rebecca?’ So off I’d go, to look in the big bin thing (which I’d always struggled to get my head around) and sure enough, there was my packed lunch box, with my name on, where I’d left it when I first walked into school. I’d go back to the classroom repeating over and over ‘I am packed lunch, it is in there’, I’d go into the classroom and the teacher would look up and I’d say ‘I’m packed lunch, well I think I am, I might be…’ I knew I was, but what if I wasn’t, what if I was remembering from the day before? One lunchtime I sat at the table with my packed lunch box in front of me crying and a dinner lady approached me asking what was wrong, I tried to explain it to her; ‘It might not be my packed lunch,’ ‘Okay, so it isn’t your packed lunch?’ ‘Well it might be my packed lunch, it is, it might be,’ ‘So it is your packed lunch?’ ‘Yes, well no, I don’t know, because it might not be!’ I was becoming more upset and panicked as the conversation continued. ‘Well don’t eat it if it isn’t yours!’ ‘It is mine, but it’s just it might not be!’ We then discussed what I had in my packed lunch, the way my lunch was packed and the fact that I’d seen my mum make it that morning. Following on from this particular event, mum then added notes in my lunch box each day, to provide reassurance to avoid a repeating cycle, but the lunch register continued day in, day out.

I had an awesome teacher to begin with, she was kind, caring, gentle and she was good with children. Although, she did have time off when she had her two children which left us with a rather scary stand in who I didn’t particularly like. During the summer holiday between year 2 and 3, whilst on holiday, we witnessed an incident in which someone lost their life. I was 7. My brain was already wired slightly differently, but at the age of 7 my OCD became much more intense and overwhelming. I remember going to a friends birthday party a few weeks after that holiday, which we came home from that night thanks to the boat company helping us with the travelling. Several of the kids were on the bouncy castle with a few parents standing around keeping an eye on us. Whilst bouncing around we were all chatting about what we’d done over the summer holidays which led to a rather awkward conversation and looks from some of the adults that, at the time, I didn’t really understand.

On the first day of year 3 mum came in to speak to the teacher, a new teacher, just to inform her of what had happened and that I probably wouldn’t want to speak about my summer holiday and also to flag up any possible anxieties that may crop up. Now, I believe this was quite a sensible thing to have done but it would appear that the teacher thought otherwise. She told my mum, in the most condescending way possible, that we wouldn’t ‘be chatting about summer holidays’, that ‘this isn’t a nursery class’ and we wouldn’t be ‘sitting in a circle on the floor’. Year 3 of primary school was a complete nightmare and my year 3 teacher seemed to find pleasure in making things even harder for me. I’m going to refer to her as Miss3.

My mum bought me a book with cartoon pigs on it and she told me to write down the things I worried about during the day at school, so that we could talk about them after school. My head seemed to become so full of worries over the course of a school day and this was just an idea to try to ease that a little. I was in the playground and Miss3 took great delight in commenting on my ‘little worry book’; the comments, belittling and embarrassment that she caused during that year made school almost unbearable. Nothing was off bounds, little comments about my OCD in a joking, snide type manner were very common. One incident sticks with me more than the others, we’d been making something with little red beads as decorations, when we had finished we cleaned up and a couple of us went and picked a few up from the floor and put them in our pinafore pocket to make cards for our mums later on. Miss3 found out and she was cross, she was beyond cross, she did lots of shouting and screeching and told me that I was a thief, that I’d end up in prison, be on my own, my mum and dad wouldn’t love me anymore and would never see me because I would be locked away etc. I can’t remember everything that was said, it went on for a prolonged period and it was 21 years ago, but I do remember feeling frightened. When my mum picked me up from school I sobbed, telling her that I was sorry, that I didn’t want to go to prison, that I didn’t want for her and dad not to love me; she had a word with someone within the school staffing team, but very little was ever dealt with. Even now, it isn’t something I talk about because there is still shame attached; I was wrong to do what I did, but I was a seven year old child, the beads would have been hoovered up at the end of the day anyway, and I don’t think a teacher should be speaking to students of any age in that kind of way. She taught us a dance and told us that we’d be performing in the school assembly, so we needed to practice so that we had it just right. We were lined up, waiting to go into the afternoon assembly, excitedly chattering about the dance when she laughed and said ‘you’re not doing a dance’ and made a comment about how we wouldn’t be embarrassing her, she wouldn’t let us embarrass her, or something along those lines.

I’ve always tried to be good, do the right thing, meet the expectations that are placed upon me and those I place upon myself, and I suppose that’s probably partly my personality to a degree, but it’s intensified by how OCD works.

I became quite skilled at hiding behaviours, although some were still noticed some of the time. Middle school came with suffocating anxiety about awful things happening to those I cared about, whilst I was at school. The pay phone in the school reception became a common feature in my day; panicked phone calls to my mum to check everyone was okay, needing that reassurance, that bit of oxygen. I spent my lunch time and break time participating in clubs and doing ‘office duty’. My school work needed to be perfect, and when I was given a detention my world felt like it was ending although the detention ended up not happening because the teacher told me that I’d learnt my lesson, I’m assuming he came to that conclusion from looking at the mess I was in.

The overwhelming need to be good, make sure I’ve not endangered anyone, keep people safe, obliterate any risks, please people, get good grades, avoid germs, protect from contamination and all of the other bits that create the crunching pressure that OCD brings, all whilst trying to pretend that you’re just like everyone else, is utterly knackering. It’s as though you have normal life, and then you have a constant barrel of thoughts and anxieties that you’re having to deal with whilst appearing not to be dealing with anything other than what others can understand or see, every day and it’s incredibly draining.

There’s a lot of talk about providing mental health support in schools, there are positives and some very concerning negatives to this and in my own personal experience, I think kindness could have gone a long way. (There are many amazing teachers – high school will be a separate post – out there who do a great deal of good, but there are also those that taint an experience and cause harm.) A general understanding would be a good place to start, before we become entangled in a discussion around teachers becoming specialists and having to do that on top of their usual work, if they had an understanding and awareness and an ability to be kind, then that could make a difference to many; and even if a positive change impacted only one person, that’s one persons family and their future, and I can’t see anything negative in that.

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School, OCD and prison… I think..? Maybe?

(TWsuicide) An unknown to many but a dearly loved one to some…

On Saturday, whilst a very distressed man stood atop a very high building, people below shouted up encouragement. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us would assume that the shouts of encouragement would be to come down, that it’d be okay, to not do it, that people cared, all of those things that might help because in a desperate situation you try everything in order to save a life. Yeah, no. The encouragement was to jump. The people down below had their phones out filming and taking photos of events as they happened which they then uploaded onto social media sites for the world to see. On top of all of this, many also jeered and shouted encouragement along the lines of, ‘Go on – do it, jump!’ Apparently, as reported by a BBC news article there were youngsters running around trying to get a ‘better view’. It’s thought that this went on for around an hour or so, people continued to behave in this way for an hour. The police arrived and tried to talk to the man and get him to safety but unfortunately the man fell and was pronounced dead at the scene.

There are several parts to this and I think it’s important to recognise them separately, because they are all important.

Firstly, the man who lost his life. Suicide is always horrifically sad. People often say that suicide is a selfish act and it is, but it also couldn’t be further from selfish. If someone were thinking completely rationally, they were able to look at things from every possible angle and their mind was completely free from any illness and they knew that by taking their own life they’d cause unimaginable pain to those around them then that could probably be called selfish. However, when someone is mentally unwell, irrational, frightened, vulnerable, uncertain with a mind that is trying to murder you in a world that doesn’t understand and a belief that everyone would be better off without you..? If someone is in that kind of place, I’d question whether the capacity to be selfish is even possible, because at that point everything is muddled and mixed. Someone can seem completely rational, will be assessed as having awareness, insight and capacity, but what someone may seem isn’t always what someone is. We don’t know anything about his life, his background, his current situation, his family, his medical circumstances or any support he may or may not have been receiving. We know nothing, absolutely nothing, about him as a person, but what we do know, what was undeniably clear, was that this man was in desperate need of support and kindness; humanity failed him big time. In that moment of complete hopelessness and dealing with whatever horror was torturing his mind, he was met with a group of people who stood below telling him he should jump, and those words probably reaffirmed all of the horrible beliefs that had led him to that point. Perhaps a little human decency and kindness could have made a massive difference to how things ended for this gentleman.

Secondly, what? Just, what? I struggle to understand humans at the best of times, but to witness a visibly distressed man stand on the edge of a building and think that the best thing they could do is to pull out their phone and capture the event, whilst shouting ‘Go on – Do it, Jump!’..?! How removed from humanity do you need to be to act like that? How horribly callous, unfeeling, heartless and cruel must someone be to think that that kind of behaviour is acceptable? In the past, people would attend public executions but we’ve moved on since then, times have changed and if someone was being publically executed it was usually due to a crime – or what was deemed to be a crime during that period of time. This wasn’t a public execution, nor do we live in a time when causing harm to others is acceptable. This is 2015, not 1425, we have an awful lot more knowledge than we did then, we have come a long way in terms of mental health awareness and yet this unacceptable and barbaric event took place.

Life isn’t a DVD film or a video game with a rewind button, a restart switch or reset setting; there is no replay, no second chance, no ‘whoops, that was a mistake, better try another way’. Is it that people are disconnected to reality, to humanity, and so these things are seen as a laugh, a bit of fun? That it doesn’t matter? That a life doesn’t matter? If they are an unknown does that mean that empathy and kindness don’t exist? The jeering and goading, the filming of a desperate scene, the anticipation of waiting for someone to fall; what on earth is happening to society?

So many people judge situations that they don’t understand and make the typical ignorant comments of, ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’, ‘she’s proper crazy’, ‘he just needs to sort it out, I’d never end up like that’… Some become irritated by the fact that someone has held up their travel plans or delayed their daily schedule when in reality, instead of annoyance, perhaps gratitude would be a better response. The person causing the delay must be in such a horrific place, be grateful that your mind is not in that place. Of course, for those that rant and rave about how they’d never have a ‘mental problem’ or those that believe that no one in their family would become ‘one of them’, they don’t believe they have anything to be grateful for, because ‘those people’ are different.

The man who fell on Saturday was an important individual and whilst the people on the ground didn’t know him and some of them didn’t give a flying monkeys about his safety, the reality is that he was a part of a family, he was a son and perhaps he was a brother, an uncle, a dad, a grandson, a husband. Perhaps he was a member of a sports team, a social club, a staff team, a member of a voluntary group. He may have had some input from support services, he will have had a GP and perhaps other medical professionals. Friendship groups, those he went to school with, those he went to college or university with, those he bumps in to occasionally around his home town. Those people watching this awful tragedy as if it were part of an entertainment show probably didn’t consider any of those possibilities. Had they of looked up and seen a man and thought, ‘I could know him’, then I think they’d have reacted differently. Even the toughest most idiotic human will have something that would cause them to crumble and watching losing someone they love is usually pretty high up on the list. Had they have thought about the fact that that man could be their brother, their son, their dad, their uncle, their boyfriend or their friend, would they have behaved in the same way? If they were in the man’s position, would they want people to treat them the way that they treated him?

I wouldn’t wish the agonising torture that is mental illness on anyone, but I do wish that some people could live with it for a day, just a single day. Those that proclaim that they’d never have that, they’d never be in that position, that people are weak and over sensitive, that it’s easy to get over and pull yourself together and all of the other ridiculously stupid statements that are made far too regularly. If they could know the pain, if they could feel the confusion, if they had a sense of how overwhelmingly bleak and hopeless things can feel, if they could live for a day with a mind that is not their own and an illness that hell bent on destroying you, maybe they’d understand. Maybe it would mean that they wouldn’t make harsh judgements or be as insensitive towards those that are in desperate need of compassion. When everything terrifies you and you feel that lost that you’ve ended up on top of a building..? This man needed kindness, hope, care, love, support, a safety net, a chance, security and protection. That is what this man should have been given.

To those who chanted for him to jump, to those who thought it was a form of entertainment, to those who ran around to get a better view, to those who gave zero thought to the welfare of this man or his family and to those who shared photos and videos on social media… I really hope you realise that actions have consequences, kindness costs nothing but ignorance costs lives. It is illegal to assist someone in their own suicide, but that is exactly what has been done here. I’m sure some will say that it was his choice to fall, but if he was battling against his own mind, who knows what thoughts were racing around, what beliefs he had or what his take on things was. Those people may as well have been standing on the roof with him because regardless of physical contact, he was pushed, partly by whatever demons he was battling but also partly due to the abhorrence of other people. Maybe they won’t sleep for a while, perhaps they’ll develop PTSD from seeing something so upsetting, perhaps they’ll be charged or perhaps they’ll use this experience to change their life and educate themselves in psychiatry and go on to save others… Perhaps they’ll continue to think their behaviour is perfectly acceptable and they’ve done nothing wrong because ‘whatevs’. The first group of people will have at least looked at themselves, the second group have not only remained ignorant but also ignored the chance to educate themselves which makes them stupidly ignorant. To that second group of people, one day that could be you, or your child, your parent, your best friend, your sibling, your partner… What happens if it is your child? What happens if it is someone close to you? Will you continue to ignore that it’s a genuine issue? Will you stand there, as you were, and cheer, as you did, for them to jump to their death? Or will you be crying out for support for them, begging services to save them, pleading with them not to jump and to come down because you can work things out and you love them..? That is the reality. This is the reality.

I thought the chorus of P!nks song ‘Dear Mr President’ was pretty fitting for those involved;

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?

How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?

How do you walk with your head held high?

Can you even look me in the eye?

And tell me why?

This is a heart-breaking situation and my thoughts go out to his family, friends, police officers and others who tried to help and also the people who happened to be in the area at the time, genuinely unaware of what was happening, and witnessed such a tragic incident. I’ve included the link to a BBC article because I’ve mentioned some of the things mentioned within that article, but I’ve not added any of the images associated with Saturday afternoon because it just doesn’t feel right. Actually, I guess writing this feels wrong in a way, but after reading various things regarding the behaviour of some people on that day, and also having read many similar articles over the years, I felt it needed to be said.

I’ve lost several friends to suicide, I don’t believe they were being selfish but I wish they’d survived. I wish they’d have had support at that exact moment, I wish they’d have felt a smidgeon of hope, I wish they’d not felt so lost and desperate, I wish their life hadn’t been extinguished whilst their light was so bright, even if they couldn’t see their own brightness for themselves. I wish I could have done more, I wish I’d have spoken to them more, replied quicker, not lost battery on my phone… I think that’s why people say that suicide is selfish; the pain for those left behind is painfully crushing, the questions you ask of yourself and others are never ending, the agonisingly excruciating heart-break of wanting them back, because all you want is for them to come back and for it all to be a bad dream, because you miss them and you never stop missing them because they’ve left a hole in your irreparable hole in your heart. I remember feeling angry because they knew they were loved, they knew they were wanted, why had they left when they knew all of this?! I then felt guilty for feeling angry because I understand it from the other side too and because I know that in that moment what you know and what you feel aren’t the same thing, feelings are more powerful than what you know sometimes…

To anyone that is struggling, feeling suicidal or thinking that the world would be better off without you; stop, breathe and seek support. Your mind may be telling you all manner of horrible things, it might feel hopelessly impossible to imagine anything other than where you are right now, there may have been upset with family, an unsettling life event or an overwhelming feeling of desperation… Those feelings are real, they are painful and they are your reality right now; but they won’t always be and I know you will probably just roll your eyes at that statement, but things can change. Please reach out to someone, please speak to someone, please find somewhere safe and please try to ignore the voice of the illness and seek out those little pieces of true reality that isn’t clouded by depression. Speak to a parent, speak to a teacher, speak to a work colleague or contact the Samaritans. Cuddle up with a pet, watch a comforting DVD, do some colouring in or reading. Take one day at a time and if you can’t think as far ahead as a day, take an hour, take a minute, but hold on. Seek support from professionals, speak to your GP, go to your nearest A&E department – do anything that gives you the safety you need at that time. No matter how bleak things seem or how impossible everything feels, please know that you are important, you are valuable, you are wanted and there are people who love you. (Sometimes those that love us might not understand which can make things feel cold, but that doesn’t mean they do not love us or care about us. It just means they need a little help so that they can understand.) I’ve known people who have felt so full of bleakness that they felt their only option was to eradicate themselves, they reached out, got the support they needed and they are now healthy, happy adults that enjoy life and are truly grateful that they held on. It’s impossible to believe that’s possible when you’re so far down that deep hole, but you can climb out, with support and patience, people can climb out.

I suppose for those in the hole it’s a case of holding on to that teeny tiny piece of possible hope that maybe we can be one of those who make that climb and emerge from the hole, grateful for every beat our heart takes because it means we are alive; despite everything, we survived.

Samaritans (UK) – 08457 90 90 90

Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

NHS page & other links – http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Getting-help.aspx

Support Line info – http://supportline.org.uk/problems/suicide.php

PAPYRUS (Young people) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org/

Mind & other links – http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicidal-feelings/useful-contacts/#.VQjAhemzVMs

Suicide Prevention Life Line (49 states) – http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

(TWsuicide) An unknown to many but a dearly loved one to some…