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FIRST PERSON: OCD and Me

It’s OCD Awareness Week, so here’s a first person account of what it’s really like to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s become a cliché term for a harrowing issue. OCD is a form of mental illness, and like many mental illnesses, there comes a stigma attached. Most think it simply as having-to-have neatly arranged shelves, meticulously sorted cupboards and clothes drawers. Or even making sure your hands are ‘clean’. I’ve once heard a friend tell me that they are ‘a bit OCD like that’ and that their ‘OCD [was] kicking in’ when they put away their food shopping in front of me. I didn’t respond, winced to myself and instead continued to make myself a cup of tea. Of course, they don’t know about my illness, and I guess that’s part of the problem. 

“Speaking from personal experience, it’s not something I love to share about myself because of the absurd and blasé attitudes towards it. I know I shouldn’t, but I feel embarrassed to think I suffer from OCD. I feel as if I suffer alone and that nobody really understands it. A fear of mine is close friends finding out about my problems, which is in itself an ‘obsession’ that I will soon describe. I am haunted by a fear that they will mock me and that I will never again be taken seriously. OCD is only partly what I’ve illustrated, it’s a lot deeper and more complex. 

“Firstly, most of us have intrusive thoughts that make us worry excessively about a loved one, or even something to do with one’s self. Personally speaking, an ‘obsession’ of mine is worrying that I’ve left the tap in my bathroom running and that if I don’t do something about it, I will flood the bathroom. Usually at night-time, this intense worry builds up in my mind, often causing unbearable amounts of anxiety. I can’t sleep and I worry until I get up and check it. I’m often by the tap checking it is not running for a good few minutes, putting my fingers under the tap each time so I don’t feel a drop of water. After my anxiety is calmed down, this worry diminishes, and I’ll find it easier to sleep.

“It’s not just the water taps that I have to deal with; every day I struggle with an array of things. For example, I find it hard locking doors when I’m leaving the house because I worry I may get burgled. It’s hard leaving my car once I’ve locked it in case it unlocks itself and gets stolen. I can’t simply set alarms for the following morning in fear that they don’t go off. Making sure windows are shut has the same fear as locking the house. Checking that my money and debit cards are in my wallet, however, is a hard one to describe. I could be a victim of fraud and that all my savings would automatically disappear. 

“What I’m detailing is only entirely applicable to myself. These ‘obsessions’ I have described are personal and they are completely different for each sufferer. A lot of the time, however, it’s checking that the door is locked ‘one more time’, checking that the windows are shut ‘just to be sure’ or washing one’s hands for the tenth time ‘to feel clean’. 

“Many sufferers of OCD stick to certain ‘rituals’ or habits as a means of feeling secure or providing temporary relief from anxiety. So, like I described, my ‘ritual’ is putting my fingers under the tap repeatedly. The key thing to remember about obsessive compulsions is that the relief is only temporary and the same thing does happen soon again. The next night brings the same issue; the environment has changed (time and use of water) and so it’s hard to recall on the experience of the previous day. In simpler terms, it would be hard to calm the anxieties caused by the new day by accepting that I managed to control the anxiety the day before. The cycle of rituals have to happen again until I feel better. 

“The people around me, my family and my closest friends do not have this problem. Obliviously to them, they are able to shake thoughts off easily, or, simply, are able to ignore any thoughts that might persuade them to check something ‘once more’ just because they ‘know’ they locked the door when they left the house. Yes, I know the door is locked, but I have to check it.

“But then again, there is a lot more to it than that. What I’m writing is a personal account, I’m not sure if everyone is the same. It’s by glancing at definitions and symptoms of OCD that I can make generalisations like these. Regardless, even as a sufferer, it’s hard to explain it. Unlike them, obeying these thoughts and performing these rituals and checks are one of the only ways that I feel I can get on with my day. Without performing those rituals, my mind would be filled with more worry all day; I would have to go back and check. Again….and again.

“When I am at home I try my hardest to avoid locking up the house. I ask someone else if they’ll do it, running up the stairs to my bedroom in an attempt to avoid the situation. Furthermore, I admit it must look quite comical to see a young man circling round his car pulling the door handles about twenty times to find each time that it is securely locked. It may look silly to see the same young man look through the windows to check that the handbrake is upright. You may question why on earth that boy is standing at the front door checking it’s locked for a few minutes. But OCD is on the basis of intrusive thoughts like “is it locked, though?”, “are you sure?” and “just check again”. In all seriousness, though, I don’t think that’s particularly funny. These thoughts are emotionally painful and are draining. It’s exhausting dealing with these problems every day. I’ve suffered for about four/five years now and I can’t imagine how great it would be not to deal wi th this. I look at others and imagine how their lives must be a walk in the park. 

“However, what many people do not understand is that OCD has relations with other mental illnesses. I have also suffered from perfectionism, general anxiety disorder (GAD), depression and anorexia nervosa. Although the latter is firmly under control and I have undergone hours and hours worth of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to mainly aid my depression, OCD is the worst one of all to govern. For some reason I can’t let go. Although this is the disorder talking, it’s a form of security and it helps me feel safe.”

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2 Responses to this article

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Ryan. I know it’s not easy. My son suffered from OCD so severe he could not even eat. Thankfully he recovered through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the front line treatment for OCD. I know you say OCD makes you feel safe, but you also know how difficult your life is with OCD in charge. I hope you will consider committing to ERP therapy so that you can go on to live the life you deserve. I talk about anything and everything to do with OCD on my blog at: http://www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com as well as in my upcoming book Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery which will be published in January 2015.

    Janet Singer 16th October 2014 at 1:34 am
  2. Great article Ryan and I know oh too well about ‘circling the car’ to check locks. The good news is I have managed to get it to one cycle only by counting each ‘check’ and if I count 5 then I know it’s safe (four doors + boot). If one door was left unlocked then start again from drivers door. Simples!

    To expand on your article (I am unsure if you get similar thoughts) my level of OCD is often ‘cascading’ as in I will be focused on something and then see or perceive something that triggers a thought cascade. A good example:

    – Cleaning my living room then my child is being loud upstairs (but at a reasonable loud, not super loud)
    – I worry that the neighbor will complain
    – The neighbor will complain and get angry so I will have to defend myself
    – There will be physical violence so I need to prepare a camera for evidence in court
    – But then I will get a criminal record for defending myself and lose my job
    – With no job we will lose the house
    – My family are going to disown me for being a violent chav
    – The police will lose the footage so I would have no leg to stand on
    – The device will fail to record
    – Is the device reliable?
    – I had better double check reviews online for it
    – If the reviews are bad I need to go and get a new one ASAP before neighbour arrives
    – What if the neighbour isn’t in but went out for a walk?
    – Maybe they got lost on the walk and I will get the blame somehow
    – Is it my child that is making them go on the walk?
    – Technically then my child made my neighbour get lost
    – But the child can’t possibly know that so whos fault is it?

    and so on… until I snap out of it some minutes later. The thoughts are deep and feel 100% real, it’s hard to describe really unless you experience it yourself but it leaves a sense of dread/anxiety. I can have several ‘channels’ of thoughts running at once – in the above example it would be the first thought (child being loud) and then instead of linear thought it would branch out like a tree causing migraines at times.

    These cascading thoughts occur anywhere between 2 and 40 times per day depending on what im exposed to. They are almost like micro-nightmares but while awake and triggered by real life occurrences.

    The good news is it’s manageable as I somehow have managed to find a wife, have a child and have a mortgage and a great job.

    I have used 50mg Sertraline 1x a day for the past 6 years and it changed my life. I feel I may need CBT at some stage. I used to be heavy hand washer especially when touching coins or anything metal but I have had ‘involuntary’ exposure therapy due to hectic family life over the years that have helped a lot with that.

    I hope this info helps someone out there, find something you really enjoy doing and then find a way to convert it into something somebody will pay for and your life can begin from there. Thanks for reading.

    Anonymous User 31st December 2014 at 11:20 pm

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