Compartmentalising, a Worry Garden and Acting

I remember when I was around 16 or 17 having counselling for my mental health and being told something that has just now appeared to me in my mind with a fresh lick of paint. Trevor (my counsellor at the time) told me to compartmentalise the thoughts in my head and my belief systems. He said it might afford me some breathing space to recover or at least try to.

Back then I started out with three boxes. One box was for all of my thoughts, feelings and behaviours relating to OCD. All of the fears of becoming contaminated, tainted and dirtied by things and thoughts and feelings went in the big brown cardboard box in the storage facility that was my mind. They perched askew on a cold shelf, placed there by a tired worker with a stain on his red tie. How ironic that even in my own creation there wasn’t perfection or total cleanliness.

The second box was different. I could never quite visualise it as clearly as the box designated for my OCD. The only reasoning I can attach to this is because depression clouds the mind and makes everything seem blurry anyway. It wasn’t even a box, more a space where I could throw the thoughts of sadness and despair. Whispy clouds of self-loathing and pity skittered and danced, shaping pretty patterns in the gloom. Blue and grey hues spring to mind.

Now the third box was an entirely different story because it was a worry garden. Now I can already tell I’m losing you but stick with me, it’ll be worth it. There was a path with a small wooden fence immediately hugging the concrete to the right had side and on the left there were shrubs and flowers separated by small pools of clear blue water and moss clinging to the rocks. I called it my rock garden. At the end of the path before the small gate there was a tree. A big, magnificent tree standing tall and proud. It’s branches reached down to me and this was where I placed all of my worries and fears. I took the backpack of hate and agony off and placed it carefully on those branches. Upon opening the gate, I was greeted by a wide open expanse of lush, vibrant green grass overlooking a typical Mediterranean coastline with white sandy beaches dotted with boulders and stones with crystal azeal waves lapping the shore. The sun was up and to the left with sea birds flocking and larking in the sky, clouds dancing around to the right. All my nearest and dearest were there but most prominent were the figures of my father, mother and grandparents. There were some classically English seaside holiday deckchairs to my left with red and white stripes and blue and white stripes.

I haven’t visited my worry garden in a long time, but just now I was thinking of compartmentalising my thoughts again. I had the radical idea that if I compartmentalised my life into two boxes, my troubles could be solved. If everything I deemed contaminated or tainted was clumped together and thought of as a collective whole and all my other thoughts that were free of fear and worry were bundled together in another, I could simply separate my life into two distinct halves.

The only way I can think to describe it so as you may understand is that I would become an actor playing two parts. The first being carefree and happy, putting all the negative and terrifying thoughts into the FEAR box and getting on with life, laughing with friends and truly living. The second would be my real life, in the dark and small trailer at the end of a long day. Slowly unpacking the FEAR box and dealing with all of the consequences that spill out, tumbling across the dank floor. Maybe that would be the only way I could get back to living a life again.

In light of the passing of my Nan whom I dearly love and miss, I’ve been reflecting on what it really means to live life. I know that all of my fears are irrational and unnecessary and knowing I’m the one that has to change them is scary and sad, because I’m stopping myself from getting better. But it’s so hard. It’s so fucking hard. Being apprehensive of your entire future based on lies your brain tells you is no life at all. OCD is a plague, a cancer for the cells that make me and give me breath. My heart that propels blood around my body pumps a toxin of dread and apathy, a heady mix that numbs me to the bone.

So maybe putting on a fake smile and acting as if everything is fine is my only hope. Maybe then I’ll have a chance. Quite frankly I don’t think I’m strong enough yet to conquer my mind and who knows, maybe I never will be. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. At the end of the day, it’s all about progress, not perfection.

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