Too often we use the phrase “it’s all in your head” to diminish someone’s fears, to try to convince someone that they do not need to be afraid. We have to stop using that phrase in such a way. An internal battle is just as valid as an external one, and in some ways even more terrifying because it can feel like it’s just you against the entire world. It’s you against your fears and it’s you against all those that can’t see or feel those fears. The illness that I battle every day is invisible to others making it that much more isolating. My battle is “all in my head”, but that’s not to say that it isn’t real, or that I’m not brave for fighting it. I may be the only one fighting this particular battle in my mind, but millions of others are fighting their own invisible battles all in their minds too.
Battles are typically made up of two sides and this still holds true in the case of my mental battle, even though it may appear I am fighting nothing but myself. I have often used the words “invasion” or “imposter” when describing my experience with OCD. It’s the best way I can think to describe this fight in such a way that someone else can imagine it too. All the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and viewpoints that were there before my OCD are still there. The difference is that now they are fighting for space in my mind, fighting to be heard, fighting to be more important than the OCD thoughts that have invaded their home. OCD’s fears are not mine; when it’s scared it convinces me to be scared too because at the moment it’s louder than me. But there’s still a small voice back there in my mind, the voice that’s always been there, and it’s telling me that I don’t need to be afraid. For every time that OCD tells me to wash or avoid or perform some safety behavior, the other side of my brain is telling me not to. I feel frustrated, angry and beaten every time that my OCD wins, every time I perform a safety behavior. This constant battle between the two sides makes my mind feel too full, confused, like it’s not my mind anymore. The longer this battle continues, the more unsure I become of which side to listen to, which side is me and which is my OCD.
This battle that is “all in my head” effectively splits my mind in half. When I’m talking to someone they only have the “me” half. The other half of my brain, the half controlled by OCD, is focusing on everything that person is touching, everything I am touching, and all the steps it will take to “fix” things when this conversation is over. The truly disheartening thing about this is that this person does have all of me, but the me that’s left is half of what I used to be. All that I can possibly give to someone feels like half of what I used to give, less than what I want to give.
So it honestly feels like there is an imposter in my mind. A new voice that didn’t used to be there and that’s not mine. A voice that is always scared, always loud, and always present. That’s my battle. It is all in my head, but it’s so very real and terrifying. I’m exhausted from this fight that never seems to end. But I’m proud of this battle that’s “all in my head”, because even though I’m the only one that can fight it, I still haven’t given up.
So let’s stop diminishing others’ fears and mental turmoils simply on the basis that we don’t understand them. The mind is a vast and scary place, certainly a masterful foe, and a fight against the mind should not be underestimated. Let us be proud of our fight that’s “all in our head”. Because we are brave for fighting it.