I have mental health (just like everybody else). But it took me a long time to realize that, unfortunately. I could have saved enormous amounts of pain, energy, and money, if I’d taken a more proactive, preventive approach to mental health much earlier in life. That’s why I now spend my time talking about my own experiences with mental health.
We need to start treating our mental health the same way we treat our physical health: recognizing that we all have varying levels of improvable mental health, and if we aren’t proactively taking care of it, we’re likely going to experience mental illness. We can all take practical action today to get our brains healthy and keep them healthy.
Below are some questions I commonly get asked:
What’s your personal experience with mental health?
My journey into mental health began a couple of years ago. It was after more than a decade of struggling with OCD and other anxiety-related compulsive behaviors, I’d hit rock bottom in so many areas of my life, and I was devoting most of my time to trying to control anxiety (and only managing to create more anxiety). I finally went and spoke to a counselor and ended up spending about a year bouncing around various parts of the mental health system before I was lucky enough to get into an Exposure-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program with Dr. Maureen Whittal. We dove right into doing Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. It was incredibly tough but in a couple weeks I was starting to see anxieties disappear that had been around for as long as I could remember.
Coincidentally, at the same time I was working with Dr. Whittal, I was studying and working with Tom Wujec, (www.tomwujec.com), a facilitator, frequent TED speaker, and consultant to numerous Fortune 500 companies. That’s when I began working with organizations to help them manage change. To do that, we were essentially helping them to manage anxiety in the boardroom with a range of design and systems thinking tools.
The same tools we were using to help organizations understand change, how to support it holistically with environmental changes, and then how to implement those changes, helped me enormously in beating my OCD.
And at some point while working with both of those great people, and seeing how much that benefited my life, I wondered: “Why don’t more people know about this stuff?” So now I’m trying to spread the word about the benefits of behavioral therapies like ERP and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, and how visual thinking techniques can support success with them.
What kind of OCD did you have?
The anxious kind. I caution people against getting caught up in the superficial symptoms of OCD. I think there’s an unhealthy tendency to classify OCD symptoms into categories like Relationship-OCD, Existential-OCD, Harm-OCD, Pure-O, etc.
At its core, any anxiety disorder is about attempts to cope with, check on, or control uncertainty. Sometimes that exhibits itself as various forms of OCD, but it could also express itself through substance abuse, or violence, or social anxieties, or all of those and more.
A specific anxiety disorder symptom is like a runny nose, and that runny nose has a source–it could be a simple flu virus, or it could be a serious infection, like pneumonia. Whatever it is, eliminating the runny nose doesn’t mean you’ve eliminated the source of the problem. When it comes to anxiety disorders, you have to go after the core, underlying fears and unhealthy thought processes if you want to see lasting change.
I do talk extensively about my OCD symptoms in my books (www.markfreeman.ca/books) and on my YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/everybodyhasabrain and how they relate to core, underlying anxieties and what actions you can take to embrace those fears and stop responding to them.