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Spotlight on OCD: An interview with Colin Minto

KW: In your own words, how would you describe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

CM: The ‘obsessive’ part is having intrusive thoughts that cause you to go into a panic. The ‘compulsive’ part is taking some action to make that panic go away, to make it feel better. And the type of panic I’m talking about is how you might feel if you walked into a road, turned around and realised there was a car coming towards you at great speed, or if someone pulled a gun on you. OCD causes you lose control of the ability to think rationally; you ruminate and you perform rituals to ward off a perceived catastrophic outcome.

KW: How has OCD manifested in your life?  

“It sounds ridiculous. And it is. But with an OCD brain it’s absolute reality” 

CM: I have had the whole spectrum, really. I have panicked about the fact I might have the potential to harm somebody, and I mean really harm them. I have panicked about contracting a serious illness. I have panicked about germs and chemicals. Even something as simple as driving…I’d overtake a cyclist and panic that I’d knocked them over and killed them. Even though I didn’t hear or see anything to indicated this, I’d have to turn the car around to see if the person was still on their bike. But I’d then panic about the fact that I’d done a U-Turn and could possibly have knocked someone over in the process. So I’d end up driving up and down the same road for hours trying to prove to myself that I hadn’t killed someone. It sounds ridiculous. And it is. But with an OCD brain it’s absolute reality. 

KW: You have been quoted many times as saying that you ‘waged war on OCD’ – tell us a little about this.

CM: After 22 years of OCD destroying my life (I had my first ‘attack’ when I was 10 years old) I really hit rock bottom so, for me, it was a toss-up between ending my life and fighting back. And I chose to fight back…

One afternoon, sitting at home in my garden, I suddenly realised I had nothing else to lose. So, I decided then and there that I would resist the next urge that came along. And when it did come along I just went for it! I resisted. It was incredibly difficult…horrendous…a living hell. But after about 2 – 3 hours, the panic and the compulsion just went away. And from there things started to improve very quickly. I set myself more challenges around resisting urges. I went about trying to intentionally trigger panics. And you know what? I couldn’t! The thoughts and the panic started getting less frequent and less severe. I was essentially re-training my brain.

“After 22 years of OCD destroying my life I had really hit rock bottom so, for me, it was a toss-up between ending my life and fighting back. And I chose to fight back…”

KW: Instead of describing yourself as having a mental illness, you talk about having mental difference. What do you mean by this?

CM: I wasn’t happy with being categorised as having a mental illness or a hidden disability. The terms being used were, frankly, crap. So, I made up ‘mental difference’. I have found that getting people to open up and talk about mental illness is really hard – it has so much stigma around it, and derogatory terminology. But if you re-frame it, it becomes easier. It’s a different classification, that’s all. We are all different from each other, no two people are the same. And a mental difference is just another way that we are different from other people. I don’t need to label myself as mentally ill, I just think differently and my brain is built differently. I have mental difference. It’s a softer term.

KW: The term OCD has made its way into every-day language and, as such, is often misused to describe someone who likes things tidy or who is particular about something. What do you think this has done to people’s understanding of OCD?  

CM: I don’t blame or get upset with people who flippantly state they are “really OCD” about something. It’s just a lack of understanding. I do get upset when it’s used for comedy or for celebrity. David Beckham says he has OCD because he likes his tins lined up in his cupboard; well, it’s not OCD unless you think your mum is going to die if your tins aren’t lined up. There is a massive misunderstanding of the term. There is a van parked up the road from me with a sign saying ‘OCD cleaner…I’ll get your house looking spotless’! It’s everywhere.

“David Beckham says he has OCD because he likes his tins lined up in his cupboard; well, it’s not OCD unless you think your mum is going to die if your tins aren’t lined up”

KW: Speaking openly about your OCD, especially in the workplace, must have been difficult. What motivated you to do this?

CM: One day I was sitting in a hotel room in Paris and I happened to turn on BBC2. There was a programme on called ‘Employable Me’. It was about a man with autism who had, despite his best efforts, found it completely impossible to get a job. Yet via an IQ test he had been classified as one of the world’s most intelligent people – he was an utter genius!  I was watching this as the Group Head of Resourcing and HR Systems of the second largest private employer on the planet and I thought: what is going on here? Why are we excluding someone from employment because of his mental difference? I knew I had to do something. So, I started opening up and telling people about my story.

KW: What challenges do you think people with mental illness face in the workplace?   

CM: Well let’s start at diversity questioning on job application forms. I have lied on such forms because I know what the reaction to the truth is going to be. But it shouldn’t be this way. People should be able to say “yes I do have a mental illness - or difference - but I have it under control”. It’s not black and white and I want the world to accept that there is an in-between. You can’t just tick the ‘I have a disability’ or ‘I don’t have a disability’ box. I am campaigning for there to be a third option. There are 100’s thousands of people with mental illness working in business right now, delivering awesomeness. So why is it a problem? You can rock up to work with a broken leg and nobody thinks it’s a problem. But you can’t rock up when you’re having a dark day!

“There are 100’s of thousands of people with mental illness working in business right now, delivering awesomeness. So why is it a problem?”

KW: What advice would you give someone reading this who is suffering with OCD or a similar condition?

CM: Present yourself to your GP, tell them what your symptoms are, ask to be assessed. Simultaneously, go on a massive health and fitness regime. Focus on exercise, relaxation, stop drinking, stop smoking, cut out caffeine, sleep as much as you can. Get your physical health in top condition. Get yourself to a cognitive behaviour therapists that specialises in supporting people with OCD. We are now in a place where OCD should be diagnosed quickly so you get support. Under the right conditions, with the right help, I think many people can get on top of it.

KW: What would you say to an employer considering an application from a candidate who has declared they have a mental illness?

CM: We see mental illness as a negative. It isn’t. Some people might take offence to this but…consider the X Men films…they are about a group of individuals who are different. Those differences give them powers that are beyond human capability. And it’s always the X Men that win. It’s never the normal lot: the humans!

The skillset I have as a consequence of having OCD is something that sets me apart and makes me who I am. I’m proud of it. Yes, I have a mutation in my brain. And if it’s left uncontrolled it’s a negative. But it’s a massive positive if you can gain control of it.

It’s a missed opportunity not to celebrate mental difference and harness it. There is a lot of strength in people with difference, no matter what it is.

I want the world to recognise mental health not as a barrier, but as something that can be brilliant. And anyway, what is ‘normal’?! What a stupid word! If ‘normal’ means not being different then then there is no ‘normal’. We are all different!

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