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.
My therapeutic journey has barely begun but I feel more positive than I have in years.
I have wondered many times when my OCD story started and I have to conclude I always had a propensity to over-analyse and fixate on things from a young age, but instead of growing out of it and becoming more confident and learning the crucial art of letting issues go, I let my feelings hang around and fester. I learned to live in fear with the expectation of the worst outcomes.
I don’t ever remember not being afraid. I was always terrified, I felt I never fitted in and I was socially isolated. I stuck to routines in order to preserve a feeling of security; when I was at school it involved arriving at the same time every day, using the same routes to get to lessons etc. As an adolescent my symptoms were the worst, I felt extreme anxiety in doing things my peers did, like going to the cinema. I had a brief period between the ages of sixteen to eighteen, when I felt more optimistic and I felt accepted by new friends at a new school where I took my A-levels.
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 don’t have OCD anymore. It is gone, gone. Of course, that wasn’t simple. Many different factors went into getting rid of it: working with a couple of therapists, practicing Exposure & Response Prevention, learning Acceptance & Commitment Therapy techniques, experiencing so much anxiety it felt like my brain was going to jump out of my skull, etc. But now that I’m much more involved in mental health communities, there’s two factors from my recovery experience that I don’t see discussed very much, so I thought it would be useful to share those.
And the first is very simple: Nobody told me OCD is chronic.
I didn’t know I had OCD. Even when the symptoms were worsening in severity and I would be stuck in front of my stove watching it to make sure it didn’t spontaneously turn itself on, I didn’t think there was anything weird about that. I had totally rational reasons for all of my compulsions. So I never went online to research OCD or join a support group or anything like that. I didn’t know anything about OCD. But that also meant I didn’t hear this myth that often gets mentioned online or in groups that OCD is chronic.
This was the breakthrough moment. For the first time I felt at ease, a man walking out of prison, wondering what was next.
I spent years suffering in silence. How could something so big be so easy to hide? Was it the guilt, the shame or merely not knowing the true extent of what was going on? Was it the fear of being labeled, or was it thinking that this was a natural part of “growing up”? What ever it was, obsessive-compulsive disorder has had a profound impact on my life, muffling my school grades, discontinuing my social life and even forcing me to drop out of university.
One of the ways in which my OCD manifests itself is through the fear of being contaminated by germs, where actions such as touching an item belonging to someone else, would lead to obsessive thoughts of myself coming to harm.
Don’t worry about being different or what people think. Embrace it and you will find you have more good days than bad.
I’m Steph, 27. I never really knew or understood OCD. I admit I was ignorant like many others to it, and saw it only for people needing to order things and be tidy. This however is NOT the case.
I have never officially been diagnosed with OCD although a therapist I was referred to for anxiety issues told me it “sure does sound like it”.
My OCD symptoms?… well they vary really. From needing to check at least 3 times that I have locked windows, doors or my car. I even get a family member or friend to check also ( this is good for when I later start worrying about it again). I wouldn’t say I’m massively hyped on cleaning but I do need to keep my hands clean and again wash them at least 3 times every time. A newer addition to me is when I get nervous or anxious I use a finger to write on my thumb the letters of the alphabet. Always in capitals I might add. If for some reason I forget where I am up to or don’t like the way the letter came out (you can’t see what I write,my finger contains no ink) I rub it clean and start again and I cannot carry on until I get to ‘Z’. I love having things is order too I cannot lie. DVDs, CDs, books have to be alphabetical order. I work in a pre school and this is particularly challenging.
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.