For all the turbulence OCD brings, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully describe its impact, you never get a better opportunity to learn about the mind and indeed yourself.
Crouching down in the corner of the pub, my back to my group of friends in a bid to conceal my strange behaviour, I focused my eyes intently on the cigarette-end lying on the wooden floor. Squashed flat, it couldn’t have been further extinguished, but still I reached down and picked it up, holding the cigarette-end at eye level and slowly rotating a full 360 degrees, pausing to check at every angle for any signs it was still alight.
Satisfied it was dead and posed no danger I hauled myself to my feet, pausing to mentally replay the sequence of events to ensure all bases were covered and any possible dangers averted. The situation is dealt with, I told myself, repeating it over and over again in the hope the mantra would eventually stick. My increasingly lively mind had other ideas, urging me to just run through the inspection one more time, just to be absolutely sure.
As I stood frozen to the spot, I tried desperately to ignore the urges, pleading with myself to head back to the bar and forget about it. The obsessive and catastrophic trail of thought grew in intensity, quickly overwhelming me and attacking my ability to think rationally – years of obsessive thinking had gnawed away at the line between rational and irrational thinking anyway. Just check the situation one more time, the mind urged me, put the matter to bed and get on with my night, and my life! Powerless to resist, I bent down, resting on my haunches and once again placed the cigarette-end carefully between my thumb and index finger, rotating it 360 degrees, pausing again at each turn to ensure every angle was covered – this time longer pauses with more intense scrutiny. A couple of minutes later, I finally placed it back down in exactly the same spot I found it and turned away.
All I can say to anyone who has OCD is you can overcome it no matter what it tells you
I was diagnosed with OCD threes ago when I was 19. I was receiving Cognitive Behavior Therapy for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I wasn’t shocked that I had it because I had known to myself for years that I had it from my own research.
It all started when I was five years old. I started school and due to issues at home. I felt scared about being away from my mum. I was standing in the playground worrying about back at home and a thought came into my head saying, “If I fill my pockets up with lots of leaves mum will be okay” So I did. I felt a relief from the anxiety and carried on. I would also have to run into the class room every morning and draw my mum a picture of anything and give it to her. I thought if she walked home with this photo she would be okay. I was asked why there were leaves in my pockets and why I had to draw and I just told them I liked them. I didn’t understand to say that I was doing it to save someone’s life.
Growing older it got a lot worse. I would have to perform rituals to make the thoughts not happen. I would have to keep the back door locked at all times. I had to make sure my bed sheets didn’t get un-tucked and would wake up non-stop all night and some nights I wouldn’t sleep I would just lie there still so they wouldn’t move. I grew slightly out of these obsessions but new and stronger ones formed.
I try to share my story at every possible opportunity through my writing or through talks, such as my TED talk
What do I write?
This should be an easy question, because as a writer, I should be bursting with so many ideas that I would never be able to complete all of them. But when someone asks me about my OCD, or I have to write a piece on it, I wonder…what part am I supposed to talk about? How am I supposed to convey the enormousness of my experience into whatever little space or time I’m provided? How do I talk about something that has been with me for as long as I can remember, that is as natural as breathing yet as unnatural as that choking, stifling loss of breath that occurred every time the obsessions became too much.
I was a very emotional kid, and being emotional and constantly absorbed in forms of escape that didn’t involve hitting any kind of ball was looked down upon when you were a boy. The OCD started out then, and grew with me. I was terrified of everything, constantly on the watch; filled with thoughts I had no control over, having to suppress urges and desires that were repulsive and destructive.
I always knew I was different. I was a sensitive child. Some of my first memories consist of coming home from school and thinking about my day and all of the things I had done badly, incorrectly, or the ways in which I had failed to be the daughter my parents would love. As a result, every day without fail I would get a huge knot in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. The only way I figured out to make it stop was to accost my father as he came in the door from work and to blurt out to him all the things I had done during the day that were wrong, and then to ask for his forgiveness. I was 5. The pattern lasted for years.
I remember being a pre-teen. My mind was full of thoughts, most of which I was sure would damn me to hell. I prayed. I repeated my prayer each night, in the same order, the same number of times. My prayer saved me. My prayer protected my family from imminent harm.
My mother got sick. She went to the hospital and I was a mess. All I could think of was to write down all the things that happened each day and to recite them back to my mother when I was allowed to talk to her in the evenings. I remember with clarity writing “my brother threw a dirty sock at me.” I knew my lists were trivial and that my mother didn’t know what to do with my confessions but the pattern continued.
I didn’t like my parents. My father was a strict disciplinarian. Each second of my life was controlled. I was a puppet in my parent’s puppet show. I longed for control and eventually found it by cutting. By my teen years the battle in my head was raging on. I could not voice the things in my head for fear of rejection or condemnation, so to make my mental pain subside I would find razor blades or anything sharp and would cut to make the pain physical. Physical pain was much more feasible to me.
There are so many benefits of having OCD
Haley, has bravely shared her story in video format. We found it very inspiring and educational, we hope you do too.
In Haley’s story such topics and advice that come up:
- Haley struggled with OCD since she was 5 years old
- OCD affects Haley’s ability to write
- Counting compulsions to stop harm obsessions
- Religious OCD – compulsive and structured prayers
- OCD has been dynamic for Haley. It changes guises.
- Having a mother who suffered from OCD
- The helpfulness of living in a household free of mental health stigma
- The importance of getting help sooner
- Through therapy and medication, Haley is considerably better and on the road to recovery
- Haley is focused on breaking the patterns of OCD
- Not relying on medication solely. To use medication if needed but still putting forth the necessary work in therapy.
- There are silver linings to having suffered from OCD. Look for them.
There is nothing good in one’s life for which OCD can take credit. That is, successful people with OCD succeed despite it; not because of it.
I’d be 26 years of age before even knowing the medical name of this internal hell that had plagued me for so long; or that it was even a medical disorder as opposed to a personal one. Until then, I simply thought; one, I was crazy. And, two, that I’m the only person in the world going through this nuttiness (one psychiatrist I’d visited had in fact referred to me as being “nuts.” At least he had a diagnosis, incorrect as it was. The others couldn’t even offer an opinion).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a very strange and insidious phenomenon. In the first place, it’s nearly impossible to explain it in such a way that anyone who doesn’t have it can actually understand. What’s worse is, when you do try and explain, most people truly do think they understand.
Put, simply, OCD is a chemical imbalance in the brain which manifests itself in two ways, often combined.
Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again and feel out of your control. The person does not want to have these ideas, finds them disturbing and intrusive, and typically recognizes that they don’t really make sense. Obsessions are accompanied by sickly, horrifying feelings of fear, disgust, doubt, and intense guilt.
OCD has been such a big player in my life. It has taken much. As I recover, I realise it has also given me much. This is my story!
Ah man, where do I start. I’ve had OCD since I was 7 years old (or at least, in hindsight that is my earliest memory). I remember being on holiday in Florida. There were two key instances on this trip that stuck out to me. The first was the night we landed my Dad wasn’t well. So he stayed in the hotel, while my brother, Mother and I went out to get some food. I remember being at the restaurant and feeling anxious about my Dad being bitten by a tarantula. My visions would go in all weird directions, like him dying from the bite or us coming back to the room to find him in that state. I just remember going over and over these scenarios in my head – involuntarily. These visions stayed in my mind, and I remained anxious until I saw my Dad. Of course, my dad did not get bitten by a tarantula. The second instance I can remember is being by the swimming pool. I was petrified to go in. Why? Because I was certain there were ‘sharks’ in the pool. And as soon as I went in I would be attacked. Deep down, I knew this was rubbish. But something in the back of my mind told me ‘what if’. I would jump in and swim across a corner going diagonally. I was swimming about 2 metres, I would then propel myself out of the water and away from the edge, making sure no sharks could reach me. My family and everyone around me found this hilarious. For me however, being in that water shot my anxiety levels up. In hindsight, I see the funny side.