OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Or the fucking bane of my life! The chains around my wrists and ankles that prevent me from letting go and feeling completely free. Embedded into me from the age of eleven, this disorder is so much more than obsessive hand washing and turning light switches on and off. Here I wanted to give an honest, raw insight, and also some hope, to others who have been on their own journey and suffering with this debilitating and distressing disorder. This is second in a series, if you like! I’ve already done a post about anxiety, but there is so much more to it than that for me. I also suffer with Emetophobia and Health Anxiety, so I guess you can say there are many facets to my anxious mind! I hope you find this helpful, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. People may be surprised to hear that someone they know suffers with OCD or any other mental illness. It can be masked or hidden by the sufferer, some more easily than others. Here’s my story…
Summer 1996. I’m sure it was, although I probably stand corrected. The morning of the village carnival and it was always such an exciting time. A tradition and a day full of laughter and memories, everyone used to look forward to it. Then that all changed. My friend’s mum passed away very suddendly at home a few hours before it started, and the whole village went into mourning. Suddenly the world didn’t seem as safe as it did before. My parents mortality, and the other people I loved, became disgustingly clear. Oh. My. God. My parents could actually die. Never in my life had I thought about that. I hadn’t needed to. I was only eight. My friend no longer had a mummy. Nor did her baby brothers. Shit. There was a shift in my thinking after that, but I felt ok until I was about nine, where I became obsessed with something happening to my mum. If she was a few minutes late coming home from work I would become hysterical. I’d sit at my bedroom window crying, my hands pressed onto the cold glass, just waiting to see her car pull up on the drive. When it did the sense of relief was overwhelming. I’d rush into her arms sobbing, telling her I thought something had happened.
November 1997. My beloved Grandad passed away. This time someone in my life who I loved very much had gone. My idillic childhood was now no more. This was the start of something else. Making the one and a half hour journey in the dark to my Nana’s house, clutching the box filled with the trinkets he’d given me over the years, I looked up at the stars and felt a massive sense of emptiness. Why was this happening? After his funeral I wrote him a letter. I left it on my bed and went to school. All day I thought about it. Had he opened it? Had he written back like I’d asked him to? When I got home I rushed into my bedroom, only to be consumed with disappointment and sadness. The letter was in the same place and, heartbreakingly, unopened.
After that I suddenly noticed that I was doing “funny things”. I would have to turn the light switch on and off so many times, touch the door handle and open and close the door so many times. I told my mum fairly soon after this happened, and it all moved pretty quickly. I saw a man my parents had been recommended, a child psychologist at his home. My mum sat in with me and I remember just feeling confused and being told my new behaviour had been triggered by my Grandad’s death. We had recently moved from my childhood home into an old, run down semi detached house, and I’d also moved from my wonderful, safe primary school up to secondary school. Everything was changing and I couldn’t cope with it. I had started having trouble at my new school, too. I was being bullied which made my OCD sky rocket. I was now thinking about people dying most of the time, so would have to act out a compulsion to erase the thought. I actually believed me not doing it would cause someone to die. My parents were so amazing. They were so supportive and would reassure me all the time that nothing bad would happen. It wasn’t possible. But I had conditioned my brain and didn’t have the tools to deal with the anxiety, which fed the OCD.
I saw a GP at my doctors surgery as I couldn’t deal with seeing the man anymore. He had a daughter at the same school I now went to, and I was paranoid she’d recognise me, tell everyone I was a freak and a weirdo and I’d get bullied even more. I saw a lovely doctor who referred me to a local hospital under another child psychologist. By this time my OCD had gotten worse, my thoughts and compulsions becoming more frequent and I now actually pictured the bad things happening rather than just thinking them. I had also started to feel depressed. I felt like a freak. The psychologists were two ladies, and as we sat in the plain, uninviting room I felt so isolated. The first meeting was a family one, and I felt like I was being assessed by everyone. I guess I was! My mum, dad and little brother (who was far too young to be involved, I’ve no idea why he was asked to be in the room), sat opposite me whilst the ladies asked me questions and took notes. What a failure I must’ve been to my family, I thought. I felt like the black sheep and a total weirdo. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed. I was almost thirteen at the time and more confused than ever. I felt like I’d let my parents down, that they must wish they’d never had me. I didn’t understand any of it. Why did I feel like this? Why was this happening to me? No one was explaining anything to me. I’d just be told to write a feelings diary, stretch parts of my body until it ached and then enjoy the feeling when I relaxed my muscles when I had the thoughts. I’d be told to close my eyes and count elephants. WTF? After about eight months on I was on medication (Fluoxetine) and I’d taken up horse riding. The psychologist thought because my mood had lifted she’d discharge me. I still wasn’t better nor did I have the sufficient understanding or techniques to cope with the day to day life of trying to function with OCD.
Then the bullying became worse. I guess I was an easy target because of my temperament. I was quiet but very caring and conscientious, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They’d push me, call me names and spit at me. One afternoon my mum had been to Tesco and seen a bag she thought I’d like. It was made of different coloured wool and had a wooden button closure. I loved it. Then one of the bullies started on me in class. She spat on my new bag. No one stuck up for me. I just sat there, dumbstruck, tears pricking my eyes and my mouth wobbling. I bit my lip to stop me from bursting into tears. When I got home my mum cried with me. She held me and told me everything would be alright. She washed the bag but in the end I shouted at her to throw it away. It was tainted and just reminded me of the bullies. I always seemed to be the first point of call for friends to fall out with, too. I honestly to this day still don’t know why. Petty arguments and jealousy I was told. That may have been the case, I don’t know, but there were many times and it really affected how I viewed myself growing up as a teenager. I’d spend many a lunch time on my own in the school library. Or in the canteen with my packed lunch. All the other girls around me were laughing and joking, walking arm in arm and generally looking like they were having the time of there lives. I was living in hell. I felt like a misfit. The boys in my class had picked up on my sense of style and the fact I had bad breath. In the end it turned out I’d been suffering with Helicobacter Pylori, something I wouldn’t be diagnosed and treated for until many years later. Bad breath is a symptom but at that point we didn’t know anything about it.
I remember, when things were really rocky, I couldn’t get out of bed as the anxiety and OCD was so bad because of the bullying. I just sobbed in my mum’s arms, telling her I wanted to die. I had no way of getting through this, I didn’t know how. I still hadn’t been told what OCD, anxiety and depression were. Not really. My mum bought me a book but I just felt confused. I was consumed by it. My mum would have to help dress me in a morning as I would have to keep taking my clothes on and off as I had the distressing thoughts all the time. I couldn’t do anything without repeating it until I felt “ok” or “just right” about the thought being gone. Which meant I couldn’t put something on without taking it off again about ten times. I would be in pieces.
I would see around four other counsellors after that, be on and off antidepressants and feel very up and down. So much has happened over the years, including other deaths in the family, my mum being very poorly and my confidence being in pieces, but I have a very supportive family and made friends with people who understand how I am, and I hope, love me for being me.
I’m finally at a place where I feel I can accept myself the way I am. Well, almost. Believe me, that has taken a hell of long time, and I’ve had to face my demons head on and fight bloody hard to get to this point. Two counsellors have helped me with this. One told me, really matter of fact, “Don’t you realise it’s ok to be Bex?” “No!” I cried, bursting into tears. It was like a release for me. Someone who I didn’t really know actually accepted me for me. Another lady, who I’m currently seeing, has worked with me using CBT and again, has reassured me that it’s ok to feel the way I do. I can now accept it all for what it is and I can recognise the triggers and why my brain reacts the way it does. OCD is about having some sense of feeling in control when life throws things at you that are out of your control. I still battle with OCD every day but it’s a battle I can confront and win most of the time. It humms gently in the background and is always there, but I’m able to block it out a lot more easily. Only occasionally does it blow up in my face and I have a serious meltdown. But now I know that’s ok. My parents and my husband have been incredible. I’m so lucky to have them, for fighting for me and always being there. No matter what.
So, what advice can I give? A few things…
Accept Yourself – I’ve had OCD for nineteen years now. It’s pretty clear to me that it isn’t going anywhere, and I’ve accepted it as part of who I am. It is my coping mechanism when things get tough, and it will vary in intensity according to what’s happening in my life.
Be Compassionate – With yourself. It’s ok to feel anxious, or worried, or pissed off with the situation. Recognise it for what it is and learn to accept it. Don’t be hard on yourself.
Talk About It – Whether it be a friend, family member or a healthcare professional, there is help out there. If you are paying privately to see a counsellor make sure you check them out before hand, and don’t be surprised if it takes you a little while to find “the one”. It takes time.
Challenge the Fuck Out of It – The first step to becoming in control? Challenge it. Head on. Tell it to fuck off, or to piss off, whatever you want. Challenge your thoughts. “No, don’t be stupid, that isn’t going to happen. Get lost!” Then move on to the next thing. No, you don’t need to pick up your phone and put it back down three more times. Because doing that will not prevent something from happening. You are in control.
Medication – It isn’t for everybody, and you must discuss your options with your GP first. For me, I feel more balanced and able to tackle life taking mine, it has controlled my anxiety, but it isn’t the sole treatment sometimes.
Keep a Diary – Write down your thoughts and feelings. Recognise triggers and think of other ways of how you could deal with things or situations that make you feel anxious and trigger the OCD. Alternitavly, there’s a fantastic app called Pacifica that I now use, where you can log your thoughts and feelings and turn negative ones into a more positive outlook.
Self Help Books – Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Overcoming Books) by David Veale and Rob Willson is fantastic. As are the following websites…
Find a Hobby – Occupy yourself with positive things and people. Join an art group, take up a sport or get crafting. Read, write, whatever makes you feel inspired. But don’t. just. sit there.
Laugh About It – There are some days where I catch myself acting out the compulsion and I have to laugh about it. I must look really funny to someone who doesn’t know me! One time, when I was about eighteen, me and my mum were cooking dinner. After getting the olive oil out of the cupboard, I had “an urge” to act out a compulsion. “Oh for fucks sake! I need to go back and open and close the fucking kitchen cupboard thirty times now I suppose!” I stormed back over, slamming the door open and closing it and my mum just started laughing hysterically at my outburst. I did then, too. It’s ok to laugh at yourself and make light out of the situation sometimes if you need to.
Keep fighting, never give up and believe in yourself. Much love Xxx