A Derry vlogger who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder has started an online campaign to support people who may be struggling silently with mental health issues.
Caroline McMenamin is probably known better by her online name ‘The Red Dutchess’ - and writes a lifestyle blog about fashion and make up. Most recently she opened the new make up counter at Debenhams.
But the Derry woman is also a mental health counsellor specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy.
She has recorded a number of videos to highlight issues relating to OCD and mental health which can be viewed online and on the big screen in Waterloo Place.
Now 26, Caroline was diagnosed with OCD when she was just 21.
She explained that OCD can often manifest itself in thoughts a person wouldn’t normally have.
“Everyone gets crazy thoughts, it’s human nature,” she said. “But for someone with OCD the thought can get stuck. And that can put you into a downward spiral, then another thought can come, the worst thing you can do is try and ignore it.
“There is often a compulsion to act on that thought. If I have a bad thought I neutralise it mentally. Others have a thought and the only way they can deal with it is to straighten something or clean something.
“Ever since I was a young child I wanted to learn more about what was going on in my head. I had anxiety and I was worried about things a four years-old shouldn’t worry about. It began with tying my shoe laces so tight that my foot wouldn’t slip in my shoe, to the extent that every morning was an ordeal for my Mum and Dad.
“I had a great childhood and upbringing and come from a good Derry family. I couldn’t ask for better parents. OCD is not always about society and it can be purely biological.”
Five years ago Caroline was given her official diagnosis of OCD by a psychiatrist.
“The day I got my diagnosis was glorious,” she said, “because it gave meaning to the many years I had been dealing with anxiety. I always say the day I was diagnosed was better than the day I got my degree.
“I was given a prescription and started medication. Life was great and the tablets were working.”
But after she started feeling better - Caroline took the decision to come off the medication, without seeking medical advice.
“I shouldn’t have done it,” she said. “You hit an abnormal low, for me it was hitting rock bottom. I thought I would never get out of that.”
Caroline met her boyfriend Stephen, a man she said was very tranquil and helped calm the storm in her.
“Stephen helped me do things I thought I’d never do. I travelled to Australia alone to see my brother and we now make a point of visiting somewhere new in Europe every three weeks.
“I got back on medication, and thought - I don’t care if I have to take it, so be it. That’s when I started opening up about mental health. It was one of the worst things I had to deal with so I decided I had to talk about it.
“My first video was about anxiety and that paved the way to another video where I spoke about myself and my journey. I want to be real in my videos. I want to normalise mental health. One in four people will be affected directly by mental health, the other three will be indirectly affected. Now I get messages on a daily basis from people thanking me for making them more aware. They called me brave but I don’t think I’m brave. I’m just honest.
“That’s why I started the #faceOCD campaign - to not only face OCD but everything else that people are quietly dealing with. I am putting my face to it, its not about how you look but how you feel internally.
“One of the captions on my video is - maybe she’s born with it.
“Everyone is on the OCD spectrum, that’s why you often hear people say - ‘I’m a bit OCD.’
“The hashtag #faceOCD means enjoy your life, but you have to face what is causing concern in your life.
“I have no shame. I am not afraid. I am proud, from a wee girl who didn’t know what was going on to being a stronger girl now. It’s been victorious.”
You can view Caroline’s videos on www.youtube.com/reddutchess22
or www.facebook.com/thereddutchess or www.derryjournal.com
Caroline wants to start an on and offline OCD support group. You can email her on firstname.lastname@example.org,