People say mental illness is a lonely place. They’re right. You’re trapped, living in a mist of uncertainty and sometimes depression. Below the polished surface that is you, lies confusion and pain. I know that’s how I felt when I became hostage to the crippling mental illness that is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
OCD is a disabling anxiety disorder that can severely impact on the functioning of the everyday life of its sufferers. Approximately 12 in every 1000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with the illness. It was ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the top 10 of the most disabling illnesses due to the low quality of life it can give you.
It was 2013 when I was officially diagnosed with OCD. I admit I was terrified, and I felt like I was crazy and an embarrassment to my family. I feared no one would take me seriously, and it took a while to be heard. Even today it’s still hard. I’ve endured the disorder for as long as I can remember, however it became more of a problem as I grew up and it began to get out of control, and it was interfering with my everyday life, so I finally found the courage to speak out and ask for help.
The earliest memories I have of it was when I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old. When I went on holiday I had to check every couple of minutes that my favourite doll was still in my bag as I became obsessively paranoid that I’d forgotten her even though I had just checked a few minutes before, or that someone had stolen her. Also, If I didn’t touch objects a certain number of times or keep my little eyes open and not fall asleep until my mum came home from work or a night out, consequently my OCD brain would process hideous negative thoughts of my mum being stabbed or raped. I still remember those images vividly until this day. At such a young age, that was tough to handle, yet I kept it to myself as I thought it was perfectly normal and every child behaved in such a way. How wrong I was.
My OCD is constant. Sometimes it has a brief snooze, and its grip on my brain loosens a little. It soon wakes up, and continues to paralyse it with fear, unbeknown to my surrounding loved ones. The horrific and graphic intrusive thoughts thrive once again; temporarily relieved by acting out repetitive behaviours known as compulsions.
However, the cycle soon repeats relentlessly, like a conveyor belt. This was also accompanied with my diagnosis of depression. Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by intense sadness, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, withdrawal from others, poor appetite, insomnia and lack of energy.
Unbeknown to a lot of people, there are different types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, such as contamination, hoarding and checking. No, I don’t have to constantly wash my hands or organise everything perfectly neatly, like the stereotypical preconceived image portrays. ‘Messy’ individuals can suffer from the anxiety disorder too! Obsessions can fixate on almost anything, and people with OCD worry about things non-sufferers do too. Have you ever watched a train pass and you suddenly think about what would happen if you jumped in front of it? The difference is, a ‘normal’ individual can brush off those thoughts within seconds, however someone with the disorder would be hypersensitive to the worries.
I must touch objects an even number of times; typically 2 or 10 times, such as every light switch I pass, or the base of an object I’m holding before I put it down. This is just to name a few. The number usually rises depending on my anxiety levels. I’ve taught myself how to do this subtly though, so my disorder is not obvious and I don’t get teased.
It makes the world seem so quiet yet my head is full of endless noise. Do you know how exhausting it is when every time I walk into a room, my mind starts speedily processing all the compulsions I must carry out in that room, as well as imagining the horrible scenarios that might happen if I resist. That, and doing what I went into the room in the first place for of course. Sometimes, I have to continuously touch something until I get that ‘just right’ feeling. This can consume a lot of time, and increases with my anxiety levels. When I went to college this was one of the reason behind my grades falling and my punctuality problem, although most of the time I’m embarrassed to admit it, and let people think I’m just being lazy.
I dislike odd numbers – they make me uncomfortable, and in a sense, scared. I cannot eat an odd numbered amount of certain food or take an uneven amount of sips of a drink. If I look at the clock, and it is an uneven time, I cannot do anything until the time changes – and when it does I must blink twice at the time to confirm this so I can carry on with whatever I was doing. These are just a few examples. It’s not uncommon for people to avoid certain numbers. Many people dislike the volume being on certain numbers. However, they don’t avoid them out of the fear a loved one will die or disaster will strike. They do not have an ulterior motive. That is the difference.
It’s not just horrible situations that I think of that I feel the responsibility of preventing by carrying out my compulsions. Sometimes, awful, unspeakable thoughts penetrate my mind; random scenes that play on a loop, unstoppable so there is no need to carry out a compulsion this time. This is called Pure-O. Killing a person with a thought or causing harm is a big one. My OCD can convince me that I’ve killed someone or I’m a paedophile as easily as I can believe the sky is blue. I have no desire to act on these thoughts, nor am I concerned I would. That’s not the point. It’s like I’m watching a scene of a drama on television, and it’s stuck in my head.
‘It just feels right’ is a big phrase in my life and one I don’t think many people fully understand. If I am unable to carry out compulsions, this results in panic attacks and huge levels of psychological stress.
The types can overlap too. For example, I have to check that all unoccupied plug switches in my home are turned off otherwise images of a ferocious fire killing my family plague my mind.
The Doubting Disease
Doubt is a huge characteristic in a OCD sufferer. It feeds the anxiety and forces the vicious cycle to continue. Its knowledge of my inability to live with the doubt and uncertainty drives the OCD. The French once called OCD ‘la folie de doute’ which translates to the ‘doubting disease’.
Understanding what forces a person to continue to perform the seemingly nonsensical behaviours that OCD creates is difficult, especially for my family who understandably feel helpless; a frustrating emotion for any parent. It is partly due to the perceived level of threat that a person with OCD believes may cause harm to loved ones or themselves.
There is an overpowering sense of responsibly to prevent harm and it tricksyou into overestimating the threat the intrusive thoughts bring. Every time something bad happens personally, the OCD voice always convinces me it is my fault. When my nan passed away this year, I was distraught. She died of cancer, so there was nothing anyone could of done to prevent it. However, despite this, there was still this voice taunting me. I felt guilty. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I performed a compulsion wrong or I didn’t do it enough. I know this is not logical, but the OCD has too much power. The relentless battlefield between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and logic, with anxiety cheering the illness on, it is inevitable OCD will victorious. It always is.
I understand OCD is something that will always be a part of me – I will never be cured. However, it can be controlled, my mind can be retrained and thoughts can be disobeyed. That is my goal.