I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When I tell people that (something I have only really started doing over the last couple of years) I tend to get one of two responses. People will either say, ‘well at least your house is clean’ or ‘oh, right, that thing where you have to have all the tins in your cupboard facing the same way’. In short not many people really understand what OCD is. Few things annoy me more than people saying ‘ooh I’m a little bit OCD’ because they have to dust twice a week! OCD can be a totally debilitating condition, and goes a lot further than just colour coding my CD collection.
Let me explain exactly what OCD involves for me…
On average, 3 times a week, I lay awake until the early hours writing and re-writing in my head what I will say at my wife’s funeral because I am so sure that’s the night she is going to die and I need to be prepared. No matter how physically and mentally exhausted I am, I can spend a good 3 or 4 hours doing that. Briefly punctuating my inner dialogue to ask her if she’s awake for the 20th time since she climbed into bed trying to fall asleep. When she does get to sleep she wants to hope she is snoring because otherwise, if I can’t hear her, I prod and wake her back up! I also hold a hand near her face to check she is still breathing every 5 minutes or so, because sure, she was alive a few moments ago but anything could happen in that time. So to pass the time until she either passes to the other side or I manage to fall asleep I plan what I will do and say when she goes. How soon I will manage to go back to work, who would I need to contact about the funeral, how long would I keep up the pretence that life is still worth living before giving up completely and ending it myself to shut up the noise in my head that at times like that is at a constant.
As a kid I would turn lights on and off the right amount of times and repeat things to myself. If I brushed against a table with my right leg I’d have to do it with my left. Then if I did it slightly harder with my left leg I’d have to even it up and that could be a whole 5 minute exercise if no one was watching. If they were and I couldn’t complete my rituals then I’d get anxious and start to worry which would just manifest itself in yet more obsessive behaviour. I think I was taken to a doctor as a child who told my parents I would grow out of it. They probably said to come back if it persisted but as I got older I learned to hide it more and more so people just didn’t notice what I was doing. I’ve read a few accounts of mental illness in the past and had some experience in my life of self-harm and I always wondered how people hid these things from their loved ones. I was seemingly oblivious to the fact I was doing the exact same thing for years.
18 MONTHS ON…
I wrote the above 18 months ago when I first started telling people I was ill. Since then I’ve been on 3 different types of medication, experienced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and regular psychiatrist visits. Am I better? Sadly not. It’s a constant daily struggle and there are days like today when I feel it getting on top of me. I have managed to master some of my OCD traits but they seem to have been replaced by others. I stopped hair pulling but started hand washing. I sleep better but am more obsessive when I’m awake. It’s hard to describe and at times like this I question my ability to write as I struggle to articulate whats happening in my brain.
I get hung up on the most minor things. Today I’ve spent 2 hours planning a train journey I have to take tomorrow. It’s simple enough, I have to be there at a certain time and the train I plan to get will get me there without a hitch. But what if it’s late? What if I miss my connection? What if the train crashes? 2 hours with a booking page open on my computer and I’ve thought of nothing else. Every few minutes I’ve washed my hands or cleaned the kitchen, because in my head these actions will stave off the impending disaster tomorrow.
And here’s the kicker. I know how to rationalise these recurring thoughts, through my experience of CBT. I get trains regularly, there is never a problem, if there was what would be the worst that would happen? I may be 30 minutes late to meet my friend. Yet the anxiety won’t go away. I’m told I need intense psychoanalysis of my childhood. Doctors suspect I didn’t develop the correct emotional range as a kid which is why I struggle with CBT. However it’s a 9 month NHS waiting list for this therapy, and so I struggle on.
Every day my brain finds something new and exciting to obsess over, filling my head with negativity and every day I try to write something like this. This is my outlet. Writing focuses my mind and makes me feel like I’m doing something productive. If just one person reads this and realises OCD isn’t as trivial as having all the pens on the desk positioned ‘just right’ then I may have made someone else’s life that little bit easier.