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At the end of 2010, while I was studying my third year of law degree at Pompeu Fabra University, I was diagnosed with an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) with a high level of severity. I had suffered from anxiety since I was six years old but by 2010 it had escalated -my life revolved around a perverse relationship between obsessions and compulsions.
Before explaining my OCD, let me ask you the following: Have you ever seen someone who washes his or her hands for everything s/he touches? Have you ever seen someone who verifies that doors and windows are close before leaving home?
You can think that these behaviours are, to a certain extent, “normal.” Washing your hands is an excellent measure to prevent infectious disease (such as Covid-19). Verifying that doors and windows are closed before leaving home is a good habit of avoiding a burglary.
But imagine if these people spend, at least, 4 or 5 hours to wash their hands or close doors and windows every day. Do you think it is ‘normal’? Or is something wrong? Why do they have to do it for so long? The answer is easy: they need to ritualise (e.g. washing or verifying) to reduce their anxiety. People who suffer OCD are aware that these behaviours are entirely disproportionate to get or avoid a concrete outcome. Still, they have to repeat these actions compulsively to keep calm.
Magical thinking was my particular nightmare. I like Dr. Alejandra Saqueira’s explanation about this type of OCD:
the belief that one’s thoughts, actions, words, or wishes can alter the course of events in the physical world. This type of thinking represents a form of OCD in which individuals believe it is necessary to follow specific rules to ensure “good things” will occur and/or prevent “bad things” from happening.
In my case, when I underlined a book or took an exam, I had hundreds of intrusive thoughts (among others, “I want my best friend to die” or “I want to assault a person”). As I did not want these thoughts to happen, I had to ritualise through a ‘spell’ ―like pronouncing words (e.g. life, love, and peace) and numbers (e.g. 8,9 and 10) many times.
I knew that this ritual or compulsion did not make sense, but it was the only way I knew to reduce my anxiety. If I did not ritualise, I suffered a lot. I sometimes had these obsessions every 2 or 3 minutes from waking up until going to bed.
When a psychiatrist told me that I had an OCD, I started to cry. Those tears meant two different things: sadness and hope. For the first time, I was aware that this suffering had a cause (disorder), and that I could fight against this monster to recover my freedom.
From the very beginning, I decided to make my mental health condition public. I wanted everybody to know it because I needed to express my anguish and anger. I had been a slave of my intrusive thoughts for fourteen years, and the silence was not an option.
My parents and friends asked me: “Are you sure that it is a good idea to explain your mental health condition?” They were afraid of discrimination. My answer was clear: “I am willing to pay all costs derived from stigma. If someone discriminates me for having an OCD, I do not want to work to them.”
As of that moment, I have been working hard to break the stigma surrounding mental health in the legal community. In addition to being an activist in several organisations, both national (TOC 2.0 Association) and international (International OCD Foundation), I created the Instituto de Salud Mental de la Abogacía – Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions in Spain in August 2017.
After resigning from my position as president of ISMA-MHILP in May 2020, I am starting a new project in the legal sector. I have recently been hired by Ambar, the most important Alternative Legal Service Provider in Spain, as a Culture & Wellbeing Advocate. Among other things, I will be responsible to carry out the Corporate Social Responsibility at this firm, as well as raising awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the legal community. I want to thank Manuel Deó and Rosa Espín (CEOs) for giving me this fantastic opportunity. After receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) I am no longer afraid of my OCD. Ten years ago, it was about to defeat me but I am now stronger, I can stand up to my OCD. I know that it will not be easy, but I will recover.
Lastly, I want to take advantage of this post to thank Elizabeth Rimmer, Kayleigh Leonie, Amy Clowrey, and Charlotte Parkinson for their support all the time. When no one supported us in our country, LawCare and the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales encouraged us to continue with our cause.
Manel Atserias Luque
Culture & Wellbeing Advocate at Ambar
Founder & Honorary Member of the Instituto de Salud Mental de la Abogacía – Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions (ISMA-MHILP)
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