Mental illnesses are invariably tricky.

With many physical illnesses or diseases, the symptoms are fairly cut and dry—or there are scientific, diagnostic tests that prove you do or don’t have a given condition.

But a mental illness, well, that’s another story. Because mental illnesses are linked with our thoughts and feelings, we tend to wallow in symptoms or think those symptoms are just “who we are.” In a way, we give ourselves permission to ignore them—or to try to, at least. We often avoid going to the doctor or a psychologist because we feel the stigma of mental illness so heavily. We don’t want to admit that we could be “crazy.” 

People hardly think twice about going to a medical doctor for a physical ache or pain, but deciding to go to a psychologist or psychiatrist? That’s totally different for most people.

So how do we accept the fact that we have a mental illness, and how specifically do we accept a diagnosis of OCD?

The work of acceptance

I was surprised to learn that I had been diagnosed with OCD way back in 2005. I didn’t accept that diagnosis, obviously, because I promptly forgot about it (rereading an old journal recently was how I discovered that I had been diagnosed way back then).

When my symptoms became specific and more pronounced, I suddenly remembered hearing about contamination OCD somewhere previously. I sat at my computer, looked it up, and saw my exact symptoms listed out under that diagnosis. That’s when I forced myself to accept that I had OCD. At that point, it really meant something to me.

Finding personal meaning

I think that’s what acceptance really is—acceptance is when it means something to you, and you acknowledge your new reality. Acceptance is when you understand what the diagnosis implies and take responsibility for that knowledge. For me, responsibility meant that I needed to go see a doctor who specialized in OCD so I could get proper care.

Maybe I’m “lucky” to have one of the more common and well known forms or types of OCD. It was easier for me to confirm my diagnostic suspicions. For others with more subtle forms of OCD, acceptance might be difficult. You might think, “Well, I’m different than that person who has OCD” or “I’m not that bad.”

Levels of “badness”

It makes me think of my endometriosis. It’s common knowledge with endo that someone with stage 1 endo might have significantly more pain than someone with stage 3 or 4. Some people handle pain differently, and/or in some cases, deep damage doesn’t demand the same attention that more superficial or slight damage does.

Just because you might think “you’re not that bad” and therefore assume that you can ignore your OCD (or other mental illness), I highly recommend that you accept and seek help—and not just generic help but help from a specialist for the mental illness that you have. I wish I had taken to heart my diagnosis back in 2005 and gotten behavioral therapy rather than just medicating. Maybe I could have avoided the supreme lows that I have had and continue to have at times.

Do your research

Another key to acceptance is knowledge. Like I said, there are so many forms and types of OCD. I personally haven’t researched them all in depth, but I can see in them the common thread of obsessive thoughts leading to unwanted but seemingly necessary compulsions to alleviate the anxiety those thoughts cause. If you have any variation on this theme, do your research. Maybe it’s hit and run OCD, checking, counting, relationship OCD, pure O, etc. etc. Figure it out.

Hopefully your research will lead you to a similar place mine did—seeing your symptoms neatly laid out on a computer screen or in a book—so that you can finally have answers and, more importantly, know that a solution is possible.

Work work work

Acceptance is not a passive emotion that “just happens.” It takes work and willpower to accept that you have a mental illness. Yes, they can be easy to deny, but denial doesn’t make a mental illness disappear. In my experience, it makes them worse. So do what you can, accept who you are, and decide now to make changes to regain your life.

If you have a mental illness, how has acceptance worked in your life?

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