How mental illness is improving my life

When I was in high school, I made the mistake of reading the Wikipedia page on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I instantly identified with most of the symptoms, as did my best friend at the time. I fed into that identity and encouraged it because it made me feel both unique and closer to my friend.

Years later I spoke to my psychologist and she gave me the diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). It was a huge relief to get an official diagnosis, and to know that there is a reason that I think the way I do. However, I have since considered the problems of mental health labels at length, and for the most part identifying with a diagnosis is limiting and potentially destructive. So it’s with some consideration that I say I am grateful for the parts of my identity that are affected by OCPD.

I recently flew to Geraldton for work (I got a new job, by the way! More on that another time), but due to the thunderstorms the planes were delayed. As a result, I only had six hours there as opposed to the nine hours that I had scheduled. I spent those six hours meeting and casually interviewing a young man, getting as much of a picture of him as possible, learning the story of his life and how he viewed his circumstances, what was important to him and what we could help him with. As we spoke, I jotted down notes on the computer, separating the conversation into topics in my head and then making dot points under each heading. After those six hours I had four pages of condensed notes across the various dimensions of his life that were important to him. After an hour, I produced a neat, two-page summary of his past, his hopeful future, and how my organisation would be involved with him.

I am grateful to say that everyone was thrilled with my work, done with an excellent amount of detail in all the right places and produced in such a short period of time. When asked how I did it, I answered that report writing is a strength of mine. I realised that underneath that I have another, more influential strength: I excel at taking large volumes of data, categorising it into schema and then formatting it into something logically ordered, relevant and concise. In the past, I have taken great pleasure in reading scientific papers and extracting their essence into a few sentences or paragraphs. I am glad to see it serves me well now as I meet people and observe their lifestyles and personalities. In my mind’s eye, all of this data is fed into a machine which orders and organises it and prints out a concise summary of how I can work with them.

I have never met anyone who has loved data as much as I do (possibly excepting Dr Mark Liddiard, my statistics teacher at university). While numbers or reports may seem dull, they are the fabric of knowledge, and they inform how we move through and influence the world. They are the key to improving life, for ourselves and for others. For this reason, I always delight in taking surveys and sharing my opinion, because I believe the more we know, the richer life becomes (so long as we recognise the magic beyond the numbers.)

This ended up being a bit of a ramble. How ironic!