Choosing to Tell My Story

If you're afraid of opening up, trust me, it could change your life.

Key Takeaways:
  • Jordaine Chattaway has been dealing with OCD since childhood. She shared her story publicly in 2017.
  • Despite frequent talks of fighting stigma, it still keeps the majority of sufferers silent. It's impact is very real and will require hard work to fully overcome.
  • Most people are afraid of the judgement they'll receive if they discuss their condition. In reality, sufferers are often met with kind words and support.

Telling my story wasn’t easy: here’s why.

I’ve spent my entire life writing. I spent my late teens up until my mid-twenties as a journalist across print, online and TV but my love for writing and telling stories started much earlier.

In high school I remember feeling terrible after getting an A+ and a special mention from my favorite English teacher for a poem I wrote for my ‘late’ grandmother. She held my poem high as she told the class through teary eyes how my piece had been so powerfully written that she felt a personal connection to my grandmother despite never meeting her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my grandmother was alive and well and that I had written the piece mere hours before the brief’s deadline (which, by the way, was to share a story which drew on strong emotions).

Some people are born to lead; some are born to cook; I was born to place words next to one another and make them sound good.

As a journalist I have covered some unbelievably scary, sad and shocking stories. From biker killings to homicides, fatal bushfires to a battle for freedom by an Aussie stuck in a Thai jail: I covered it all. And I covered it fearlessly – often putting myself in physical danger to get the best story.

However, when it came to telling my own story, the fear was too much to bear and so I left it untold … for two decades.

Journalists are trained to look for the human element in a story; the part that will resonate with the audience or encourage conversation. And here I was, with a damn gem of a story buried deep within me, which I knew would resonate with thousands, if not millions of people around the world, and yet, I couldn’t summon the words to tell it. Despite having media contacts and the ability to share it at any moment, I didn’t. I waited … and waited … and waited. It was raw; it was sad but it was ultimately a story of hope. I knew that if I was ever going to tell it I would have to craft it so carefully in order to tell the story authentically, warts and all, while truly depicting the wonderful life I was now living.

Every mental health organization speaks about fighting stigma. I know this, because I reported on the topic of mental illness many times. Yet, it took me two decades to share the story about my battle with OCD — a story I always knew I would write one day, but was too terrified to open up to the world. Because, well… I was scared of the stigma.

Despite the amazing efforts of numerous organizations and advocates around the world who tirelessly try to bring down the rigid walls which divide sufferers from speaking out due to stigma: it’s still an issue.

Whether it’s self-imposed stigma or external stigma (assumed or real) it’s a barrier that desperately needs to be torn down. And so, I wanted to share a few pointers surrounding my fears and why I waited two torturous decades before I wrote my real story.

Why? Because to beat stigma, we have to expel the myths which its born from and speak honestly about our fears so others can be empowered to overcome it too.

My fear: If I speak out about having OCD that is how people will define me

The reality: OCD has always disturbed me. But it will never define me. As a professional writer whose name was out in the world against news articles; fashion interviews and features, I was scared to suddenly have Google reference it against an illness. Why? Because I unconsciously thought it would pidgeon-hole me into a ‘sick’ category. What actually happened? I was connected with people from around the world who were dealing with the same illness (who happened to be some of the most high-functioning individuals I’ve had the pleasure of knowing). I was praised by friends and treated no differently than I was before. I was closer to people I hardly knew prior and those I already held dear because suddenly, everyone knew they could speak openly to me.

When it came to work, I always thought about what one of my favorite managers once said: “Bring your true self to work everyday.” It always resonated with me. I wanted to be authentic at work, but I was always a professional. So, how do you share your story with your colleagues when 99% of the time you’re fine and 1% of the time you’re in shambles internally (while laughing over coffee)? So – when I shared my story – I was not only shocked to hear that two people in my direct team were also affected by OCD, but that instead of treating me differently, work celebrated me by sharing my story.

The best part? I gave myself permission to see that speaking about my illness meant it was no longer a secret I had to hate about myself. I had turned it into something I could be truly proud of, which meant I could start loving every single part of myself whole-heartedly.

Stigma can be tackled in two key ways:

  1. Telling our stories with pride and making it okay for others to do the same
  2. Rather than seeing mental illness as a weakness; see surviving mental illness as a strength

I once saw my illness as the scariest, most embarrassing, weakest part of my soul. Now I see it as the catalyst for the strong, confident, change-maker I have made myself become. In my darkness there is great strength, and the key for other people’s happiness.

Anyone who can’t see that needs more help than someone coping with an illness ever will.