I would urge anyone that has identified with anything I’ve spoken about to seek advice and talk to someone.
MY OCD STORY
I’ll set the scene. I’m sat here in bed, slightly intoxicated, listening to Celine Dion. I’ve just read my best friend Joe’s ‘coming out’ story. Scrolling through – there is a section about his mental health and suffering with OCD. I knew that he’d had OCD when he was younger as we’ve discussed it before – we’ve joked about what our symptoms and triggers were. In his story, Joe describes OCD as a mental health disorder. I have never considered my OCD as a mental health issue because I was so young when I had it and it was never referred to in that way around me. During a time when mental health is being discussed much more openly, I feel like sharing my OCD symptoms and triggers may help other people that have also found themselves involved in it.
DISCLAIMER – WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS COMPLETELY TRUE, HOWEVER UNTRUE IT MAY SOUND. THESE WERE REAL EXPERIENCES AND ACTUAL THOUGHTS THAT HAPPENED IN MY ACTUAL HEAD.
I don’t remember the exact age when my compulsions started but I remember it being at the end of junior school and the beginning of high school (around 10-11 years of age). I have always been terrified of being burgled. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think back to where that fear has come from but it’s a struggle to pin point a particular event that may have triggered it. I remember watching the Danny Boyle film ‘Million’ which features a scene where a burglar comes through an attic hatch into a boys bedroom. This could very well have been the start, but I can’t blame Danny for the whole thing, I’m sure there was more to it. We also had our garage broken into a couple of times, which scared me witless, but never our house. I think the fact that it had never happened made me even more scared that it was still to come.
In my mind, if I stuck to certain routines then I could avoid being burgled. I give all credit to my parents in keeping us safe at night. The doors were always locked and they always reassured me that they were just a few steps away but this seemed like miles away when I was lying in bed. One night I was downstairs on my own getting a glass of water and I decided to check the front door to see if it was definitely locked, this was something that I did nightly as a routine check. That one night my dad had forgotten to lock the door – which brought a whole new wave of anxiety into the mix. It had never occurred to me that my dad may actually forget to lock the door, leaving us vulnerable to a break in. To me that front door was what was keeping me from my biggest fear. After this, It became imperative that I checked the door every night without fail. I would always check that I couldn’t open it with the handle and then I’d check the latch, this then lead to me checking the back door. After the front and back door I began to check windows. All of these checks were always done a certain amount of times. The idea of doing things a certain number of times was comforting to me. Where I didn’t have control over the obsessions and the compulsions, I did have control over the amount of times that I did something. In my head if I did something multiple times then I knew I was safe because I had been thorough.
A lot of the time people use the term OCD to describe someone who likes things clean and tidy and of course a lot of people that have OCD do have compulsions to make sure everything is clean and have things in their place. This didn’t affect me – it was numbers that played a crucial part in my OCD. Everything had to be done by numbers, no matter what it was. Don’t get me wrong I have basic hygiene standards down and I’m fairly tidy but I never felt compelled to dust and polish the door handles, if I had at least there would have been some sort of payoff.
Over time I began to do my checking routine a certain number of times every night, this increased as time went on. In my head different numbers meant different things. Below I’ve tried to explain the best that I can:
1 – Not a chance I’m checking something once, imagine if it’s a fluke or I don’t check properly.
2 – So I’ve checked it twice but I should probably check it again just to be sure.
3 – This should be it but it’s not. 3 is an odd number which I don’t like. For some reason odd numbers are bad. We don’t know why. (It also applies to the midnight theory below)
4 – Now 4 is a good amount however when multiplied by 3 it becomes 12 which means midnight. Midnight is very bad because this is when burglars are around. (This same idea of multiples also applies to 6)
5 – Another odd, not a chance
6 – See Point 4
7 – I actually got quite fond of 7 when I was at my worst. 7 was always a struggle for me with my timetables so I think it was probably too exhausting for my brain to try and work out why 7 was bad.
8 – I liked 8. 8 was safe.
9 – 9 is odd. Once again, nope.
10 – Although this might seem like a comfortable number to end on, if I had miscounted (which I usually convinced myself that I had) then I may not be safe after all.
The fear of miscounting only ever made me count more until a point that I knew I was at a safe number. Usually a multiple of 8 was safe as long as it had no association to 12. So 48 was an absolute NO GO.
As you can imagine, checking a door handle 32 times can do two things, knacker the handle itself but also my bedtime routine was beginning to get out of hand.
I feel like everyone will reach a point with OCD where you realise how ridiculous the things that you are doing actually are. There’s no denying that OCD is a mental health issue but as a child it didn’t feel like anything was particularly wrong, I just felt like I was trying to protect myself when on reflection I was only looking for trouble. I was actively seeking out reasons to be scared. God knows what I would’ve done if I’d actually found a burglar in my sock drawer.
I’ve tried to outline my routine as best as I can remember it. It changed overtime but here are the points I can remember that remained a constant throughout my OCD. It’s important to note that I did have a shower and brush my teeth but I just haven’t included them, I was raised well I promise.
- Check the downstairs doors and windows
- Close my bedroom door but not fully, making sure that I could see the lock mechanism
- Turn my cupboard light on and off until I settled on a number and it was left on (I had a cupboard under the stairs in my room which had a light in it, this was always on and is probably the reason my parents have never had an extension as It would have cost a bomb in electricity)
- Check the cupboard for any burglars hiding in there
- Line up the crack of light from the cupboard to the right handle on my wardrobe.
- Say goodnight to any people that were featured in any photos on the walls and also to any characters around the room ie. Teddys, action figures. (I don’t know where this came from, but I had a compulsion to do it so I ran with it)
- Check my wardrobes for any burglars, feeling with my arm right to the back on the left side to the right.
- Check the drawers for any burglars
- Close my curtains, making sure there were absolutely no gaps for anyone to watch me while I was asleep (In my eyes burglars would stop at nothing to have a peer in)
- Then came the looking into the garden. This was the longest part of the routine and the scariest. The idea was to peer out of the window and scan the garden for any intruders. I would do this multiple times and was probably the thing that I really had to restrain myself from repeating all night.
- Realign the curtains to make sure that there are no gaps and probably have another 18 ‘peaks’ into the garden.
- Make sure that my pillow cases have the open ends facing the wall. This was because if the open ends faced my room that would mean that something was open and allowing for an intruder to enter, whereas if I pointed it to the wall, then the danger was next door. Thinking about it now – that is incredibly selfish and I’d like to make a public apology to Nigel and Jackie next door.
- Ironically at unlucky point 13 I would lie in bed at this point and stare at the door, making sure that It didn’t move. A lot of the time my eyes would play tricks on me and I’d see shadows or the door handle move which would set me off and I’d have to do the routine again.
As you can imagine that would be pretty tiring and would often get me very emotional if I couldn’t settle myself. There had to be an end at some point, when I could stop the routine, but in my eyes the end would be a burglary so I had to keep going with it.
OCD ON THE GO
As time went by my compulsions began to come into play whilst I was out the house. I was now finding myself doing things a certain way because in my head if I didn’t there would be consequences, just like the routine in my bedroom. One particular thing that I had to do was blink at people a certain number of times. A blink of an eye takes around 350 milliseconds, so you can imagine it’s quite easy to conceal so I don’t think I was ever spotted. In my mind if I didn’t blink at someone that amount of times then that person would be in danger and that was my fault. There was one condition with the blinking however, (like I was going to make it easy for myself) If I was blinking at someone across the road and a car drove past ‘crossing the blinking path’ then I would have to start again. You can imagine on busy roads this would take a while. If that person then left my sight, then that would bring on anxiety and It would stay with me all day.
MY WORST AND THE END
Back indoors, I remember one particular night. I had been going through all of my old toys in my bedroom and the floor was cluttered, you could hardly see carpet. It got late so I decided to go to bed (after my routine of course), leaving everything all over the floor. When I was laid in bed my compulsions kicked in. By this point I knew my routine should have been enough to settle me but I also felt compelled to touch every item on my floor. This would have probably been around 60-70 different objects that I felt compelled to touch multiple times. We’re talking 100’s of times. This started conflicting with my normal routine, throwing off any order that I usually stuck to. I broke down in my room and I knew at that point that I had to do something.
With my mum being a nurse, and me being a VERY open child, she knew that I had OCD and she took me to some counselling sessions with a lady at the hospital. This is where my story has a bit of an anti-climax because in my mind all I did was play with sand and draw pictures. Bear in mind I was around 13 by now but any excuse to build a sand castle instead of going to school wasn’t going to be missed. After a couple of months my routines became a lot more manageable and eventually they stopped. There were still a few things that I was doing. I would still check my wardrobes which I didn’t particularly mind. I think because there was a real possibility of something being in there that’s what lead me to check, which in my head was completely rational. There are still times now when I will touch things a certain amount of times but I don’t feel like there would be a consequence if I didn’t it’s just habit.
There has been a couple of time whilst writing this that I’ve sat back and had a right giggle at how ridiculous it all sounds to me now – but at the time, everything was necessary and if I didn’t follow through with my compulsions then there would be serious consequences. I’m lucky in that I got help early on with my OCD, but If I hadn’t I don’t know what could have happened and how bad it could have got. I would urge anyone that has identified with anything I’ve spoken about to seek advice and talk to someone. It’s easy for me to say as someone that isn’t suffering anymore but I’ve gone through it and it’s a horrible place to be in your head. OCD is something that gets in your head so easily if you can make sense of it somehow, but the key thing to remember if that it’s just thoughts and you have control over those thoughts, don’t let them eat away at you. The irony of this whole thing is that now in my adult life I work as a Production Co-ordinator on a television programme, a job that requires me to be thorough in everything I do. I find that now I have to remind myself to check things rather than feel a constant need to. I think that shows how much the counselling changed and helped me. I hope my story has been beneficial to people with OCD and to those who know people affected.
You can read Joe’s coming out story at http://www.rucomingout.com/joe-f.html