Features Essays Published 21 November 2011

Purely Obsessional

Creating a “dark, ridiculous, horrible and real” play out of mental illness.

Gareth Jandrell

My name’s Gareth. I’m a playwright, and I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “God, it’s hackneyed to use the Alcoholics Anonymous structure to start an article”. And you’d be right.

But the fact remains that I do have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve had it since I was a small child. On average it takes seven years for the correct diagnosis of OCD and the World Health Organisation lists it as one of the top ten most debilitating illnesses in the world. I know that as I’m copying facts from ‘Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques’.

My diagnosis saved my life. I had the pills in my pocket ready to kill myself. I took a taxi in the midst of a panic attack to the hospital. On the way the taxi driver helpfully told me I ‘didn’t look that ill’, and when I got to the front desk of A&E, I cried. The receptionist looked at me, gave a reassuring smile and said, “Shall I just put down depression, love?” and ushered me through. I was 22.

Since then I’ve had many crises. They tend to come in roughly four-year cycles. My most recent was only this September, which is why the podcast I usually do for Exeunt has suddenly become much more infrequent (my apologies to Chris, the angrier, funnier one of our interrupted partnership)

I never told anyone of my diagnosis. I was terrified. Terrified of the stigma. Terrified of people thinking I was insane. Terrified that I actually was insane. So I kept it secret. It was my dirty little mental illness. A stain that would never fade.

Through some absolute fluke of nature I got accepted onto the MA Writing For Performance at Goldsmiths. I struggled. I was working two jobs to pay for my degree, I continually felt worse at writing than my peers and I lived above Amir’s Chicken. This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is enough to push anyone to the edge of a mental breakdown. So I had one. I found myself crying, curled up in a ball and rocking on the floor of my tutor’s office. He was amazing. He sat me down, bought me lunch, got me a doctors appointment, then took me to hospital and sat with me until I was seen.

I didn’t get admitted then. I was given diazepam and told to sleep with the radio on. I went back three times in the next three weeks. The third time I laughed hysterically at a man called Alan until he admitted me. Even to this day, I do not know what was so funny. Something was though. Something.

After two weeks on the ward being drugged up past my eyelids and playing table tennis with a wide range of mental health nurses, I returned to university. My first lecture back was on 4.48 Psychosis. Trippy.


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Gareth Jandrell is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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