by Timothy Hillier

    As a child I would have these strange thoughts, something I identified as a ‘voice’ or a ‘bully’ constantly bugging me. The theme was often around religion, with the thoughts being ‘was I a good person’, ‘how did I know’. After wrestling with this throughout the day I would often conclude maybe I was a ‘sinner’ and going to hell, a scary concept for a 7-year-old.

    In addition to this I had other obscure questions or ideas that would stick in my head, the timing and intensity completely out of my control. For example, ‘how much saliva should be in my mouth before I swallow’ or ‘my pillow must be in the middle of my bed’ before I can sleep, leading to hours of checking each night.

    This continued as I got older, with the ‘thoughts’ or ‘questions’ changing, however never subsiding. During puberty I would be bothered with the nagging doubt of ‘was I straight or gay’ and ‘how did I know’. I also started obsessing about whether my clothes fit properly and became convinced that certain t-shirts / pants etc. were lucky and others unlucky.

    Despite this inner world of torment for the most part I appeared fine, I did well at school and was very social. There was no outward sign that anything was wrong. During my second year at University, I would sit outside a local hospital after classes, trying to work up the strength to walk in and ask for help.

    Around this time, I finally spoke to my parents and was referred to a psychiatrist by a GP. I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), around 14 years after my first symptoms (which is about average).

    It was such a relief to have a diagnosis, however the medical treatment of Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and medication was only partially helpful. I also found great comfort in joining a support group, where I could discuss my experiences with others.

    I remember a participant in my first ever support group meeting was having trouble articulating their point and made the comment ‘you’ll have to excuse me I’m competing with my OCD whilst trying to talk to you’. This summed up the condition perfectly and made me realise others understood.

    After completing University, for a while I hoped my OCD would simply go away, something I eventually realised wouldn’t happen. I developed a symptom relating to a fear of the sun damaging my eyes and became completely preoccupied, checking the sunrise and sunset times to plan my day around them. I would lie awake all night dreading the coming sunrise, frozen with fear.

    This and other symptoms lead to a two-year break from the workforce, where I became severely depressed for the first time. It seemed like I would never return to work, at the age of 30 my OCD and depression had left me completely exhausted.

    Yet it wasn’t medical or professional treatment that provided a path to recovery, it was talking to family and friends and attending a support group through the charity ARCVic – Anxiety Recovery Victoria.

    ARCVic has run support groups for many years, but never in the West so I’ve been working hard to find a venue and establish a support group for the Anxiety and OCD in the inner western suburbs. 

    As a volunteer and support group facilitator, we will be hosting sessions once a month and welcome community participation. I’ve found that sharing experiences with peers, professional treatment and talking to family, friends and coworkers are all equally important in managing mental health and staying healthy. 

    The Anxiety Recovery Victoria group will meet on the 4th Wednesday of the Month at Footscray Library conference room from 6–7:30pm. 

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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