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GUEST BLOG: Understanding OCD

It’s OCD Awareness Week this week so before we start, lets have a look at this snippet from ocd.org.uk

I want to draw attention in particular to the term ‘I’m a little bit OCD.’ It’s my opinion that many people don’t understand what the illness is about so now I’m on a mission to educate.

I posted a photo yesterday of myself holding the OCD Awareness Week placard.

Here is a selection of the comments I got: ‘The sign isn’t straight.’ ‘You’re obsessed.’ ‘How many goes did it take to get the photo right?’ ‘Shouldn’t it say CDO?’

Now imagine for a moment it was Breast Cancer Awareness Week and I posted a picture of myself wearing a pink ribbon in support. How many comments would I have received that said ‘How many double mastectomy patients does it take to change a lightbulb?’ or ‘A Priest, a Rabbi and a cancer sufferer walk into a bar….’

Now, before I go any further, i should point out that these comments were left by friends. Friends who know about my condition. I hold no ill will towards them for their comments, i am just using them to prove a point. Why is OCD so often belittled and a condition that’s ok to make jokes about?

I should also point out that in the interest of fairness, I make bad taste jokes on a quite regular basis, I use humour as a coping mechanism to deal with the things in this world that cause me emotional distress. I’ve even made the odd OCD joke, again as a coping mechanism, because if I don’t try and laugh, I’ll breakdown and cry.

People reading this will be thinking the comparison with cancer is ridiculous. Cancer kills people, OCD just gives people tidy houses, right? It’s a typical response that I experience every single time I discuss my OCD with someone for the first time. So now time for another image that I hope will stick with people reading this.

‘Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK.’

Seriously, bigger than cancer, bigger than traffic accidents, bigger than anything else. SUICIDE. Mental health is arguably the biggest challenge this country has to face in coming years. The treatment of it needs serious work. The funding for it is desperate. But for me, perhaps most importantly, public perception needs to change. The biggest killer of men under 35 in this country is suicide, with the suicide rates in men over 35 on the rise, yet when someone dies under a train people take to twitter to complain they will be late home from work. Or, ‘couldn’t it at least have happened on the way into work, selfish twat!’ It’s a world where even my closest friends can see me try to raise awareness for my condition and make a joke about it. There is no malice there, my mates will almost certainly read this and apologise but it’s just a tiny part of a much bigger problem. It’s socially acceptable to mock OCD, to laugh at people with mental health disorders, or, even worse, fear them. And it doesn’t come from a perspective of hate. It comes from ignorance. People just don’t understand mental illness. It still makes them uncomfortable.  It’s invisible, unlike pneumonia or a broken leg, yet is no less an illness, and no more amusing or threatening to those around us.

To end this blog I’d like to tell you a bit about how my OCD affects my life.

Firstly, my house is a mess. I don’t need it tidy, I just need everything where it feels right. Ah, ‘feels right,’ that’s a big phrase in my life and one I don’t think people fully understand. I can have piles of magazines stacked up on the floor, but God forbid someone puts a cup next to it. The anxiety sets in; pure blind panic. I feel physically sick, I shake, the cup has to be moved. I can’t explain how it feels, I just know something terrible will happen unless the cup is moved.

At night, when I was married, I’d lie next to my wife and panic she was going to die. I’d check her breathing every few minutes and woe betide if her breathing wasn’t obvious enough, because I’d prod her and wake her up so I knew for sure she was alive. In my downtime, between those constant checks, I’d be planning her funeral, I’d panic about who to invite, what songs she’d like, what flowers. I’d panic because I have never organised a funeral before, I don’t even know who you speak to first. What if I can’t do it? What if, even in death, I let her down? Then it’s time to check she’s alive again. At my worst I’d operate on 2 hours of broken sleep a night for weeks at a time. And with more tiredness comes more panic, more anxiety and less ability to cope with my condition.

I worked in a concrete yard once. I had to wear gloves. People took the piss out of me every day as I couldn’t have my hands dirty. I was 18, I didn’t understand my condition, I couldn’t articulate to anyone why I had to do it. I just knew my hands had to stay clean. I was bullied every day because I was ‘the little tart who needed gloves on so he didn’t get his dainty hands dirty.’ In the end I just stopped going to work, I couldn’t face it anymore. I fell behind on my mortgage payments, I had to sell my house due to the debt I was in and move back in with my parents. I was 18 and for the first time in my life I considered suicide.

I have considered suicide a lot since then. I’ve even attempted it once. Around that first time I went to see my GP to explain how scared I felt. My GP listened for the allotted 5 minutes and told me I was quirky. ‘Lots of people have habits’ she said. So I went on my way, with no help and thinking this was normal. This was what everyone dealt with every day. So I bottled it all up. I attempted to ‘man up’ and deal with it. Which subsequently led to a life filled with fear and anxiety. A constant panic that a loved one will die unless I keep my hands clean or lock the door the right number of times.

The list below details just some examples of commonly occurring obsessions that affect people with OCD:

  • Worrying that you or something/someone/somewhere is contaminated.
  • Worrying about catching HIV/AIDS or other media publicised illnesses such as Bird Flu or Swine Flu.
  • Worrying that everything needs to be arranged symmetrically or at perpendicular angles so everything is  ‘just right’.
  • Worrying about causing physical or sexual harm to yourself or others.
  • Unwanted or unpleasant sexual thoughts and feelings, including those about sexuality or fear of acting inappropriately towards children.
  • Intrusive violent thoughts.
  • Worrying that something terrible will happen unless you check repeatedly.
  • Worrying that you have caused an accident whilst driving.
  • Having the unpleasant feeling that you are about to shout out obscenities in public.

Here’s another quote from the OCD UK website

The obsessional thoughts that plague somebody affected with OCD are repetitive and intrusive by nature, and most importantly they are not voluntarily produced.   The affected person recognises that these often horrific and repugnant thoughts are their own and not controlled by some outer force or other person.

See, it’s not just about putting your CDs in alphabetical order or your cups in a straight line.  It’s much more than that, and until people understand the complexity and severity of OCD, it will remain simply a point of amusement and stigma.

You can read more from Ant Meads on his blog HERE

You can read more about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on the CALM OCD issues page or over at:

www.ocduk.org

There is no shame in asking for some help and I’d like to think that one day we can remove the stigma from mental health disorders completely so it can be treated the same way as any other major illness.  If you need to talk, talk to CALM.

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London: 0808 802 5858

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