Though at points I paint a negative picture I believe in the absolute core of my being that OCD is something anyone can recover from and is ultimately not something I’d trade for the world.
Here is my account of what it’s like to live with OCD. I hope to express myself as honestly as I can. Over the years of recovery, I’ve had to open up about the nature of my OCD through productive discussions with cognitive behavioural therapists and reassurance seeking questions directed towards friends and my long suffering parents. As a result, I now feel able to discuss some of my intrusions on The OCD Stories. I’ll begin by briefly describing my childhood experiences with OCD, my thoughts on CBT, and finally where I am now. Though at points I paint a negative picture I believe in the absolute core of my being that OCD is something anyone can recover from and is ultimately not something I’d trade for the world.
When I was nine my parents moved to Bristol and I was placed in a large school named Clifton College. Moving from a 100-person village school to Bristol was an overwhelming experience. I was picked on endlessly and attempted to isolate myself as best as I could. In my experience children are capable of immense cruelty towards each other, acting as a group to pick on the weakest or the perceived weakest. I can only speculate but I believe this experience acted as a trigger for my OCD and has shaped me significantly. OCD is about control. We attempt to control our thoughts, actions and environment all in a hopeless attempt to reduce the uncertainty. OCD takes over your life, by telling you what to do, promising to make things better but ultimately reneges on every deal it makes. Despite promising you that this is the last piece of reassurance it needs, it always demands more, growing each time you entertain it.
From the age of 13 I experienced paedophile and rape orientated intrusive thoughts. I would spend hours each day acting out physical compulsions like getting dressed and undressed many times each morning. Checking, tapping, staring at the sun, making myself gag and counting in multiples of four were also some of my physical compulsions. Mental reassurance involved replaying events countless times, sometimes the same event for several years and questioning my memories all in a bid to convince myself I was not a paedophile or rapist, aged 13! Looking back now it seems ridiculous, but like many suffers I knew it was irrational or highly implausible at the time, but that knowledge is not nearly enough for someone with OCD, we want certainty when in reality nothing is. Throughout my teen years I would avoid situations that would trigger my OCD. This meant I had little contact with girls. As my attention was nearly fully preoccupied with OCD, other areas of life become neglected. My performance in school and social skills suffered as a consequence. I didn’t care how other people treated me and consequentially often ended up at the ‘bottom of the pack’ or would allow people to mistreat me, but I had little concern, I had scarier things to ruminate about. Looking back maybe I felt like I didn’t deserve basic levels of respect, would you if you thought your claim to fame was being the worlds youngest child rapist?
I discovered I had OCD around the age of 15 and received CBT soon after. I had a fantastic therapist who introduced me to the concept of mindfulness and postponing thoughts. Over a course of a year I took part in imaginary and actual exposure. Not blocking my thoughts or feelings and instead leaning into them has dramatically changed my life. It took about 4 years before I properly got a handle on my first bout of OCD. A reduction in the ferociousness of my condition meant I could turn my attention to work and hobbies. I believe the over activity in my mind actually served to propel me forwards to work extremely hard and develop a wide array of interests. I’ve now recently finished my degree in London and faced my fear of being bullied through kick boxing. Non of this would have been possible, in fact it would have been impossible, if I hadn’t received help from Paula (CBT) and my long suffering parents. People with OCD are problem solvers, we don’t give up, this can serve us extremely well in some instances and act as our achilles heel in others. Effective CBT gives you insight into OCD, to see when such over activity is useful and when it is counter productive. Ploughing excess energy into a hobby will make you highly proficient but directing the same amount of enthusiasm towards your own mind will paralyze you and is destructive to those around you. I don’t think we are ill, I think we need something that fully engages our attention (and CBT!).
For my final year of school I was OCD free. However, I made the mistake of believing that my OCD or what I call now obsessive over thinking as a useful reminder was restricted to sexual intrusive thoughts. The space I gave myself from these thoughts opened up a continent of old memories concerning being bullied in school. I began to ruminate obsessively about what these experiences meant amount me. I didn’t identify these thoughts as OCD as I thought they were normal worries. I failed to understand that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, including sexual intrusions. What differentiates someone with OCD from a ‘normal person’ if such a being exists, is that we are liable to obsess about the thought and change our behaviour in response to it to a highly bothersome degree. During my first two years of university I become hyper aware of social dangers and sought help through self help gurus. However, these attempts to reduce my anxiety around being bullied or rejected by becoming the ‘ultimate man’ as ultimate dudes don’t get bullied (what a load of bollocks) only served to bolster my anxiety and the weight I gave these thoughts.
The same process to reassurance and compulsion through protective behaviours developed in recent years to an intolerable degree. Admitting defeat, and feeling very confused I sought CBT again. I had limited success. If there’s any advice I can give it is to trust your gut, if you think your CBT therapist isn’t right for you, change them. I’m now beginning CBT for a third time, which is something I’m not too proud of. However, brief spells of relief have shown me that recovery is possible and I refuse to give up. Since coming to London I’ve made some great friends and have had a girlfriend, a quantum leap for someone who used to think holding hands constituted sexual assault. I didn’t experience much if any OCD surrounding the relationship. Though overthinking, the need for certainty and changing my mind at the drop of a hat ultimately ended the relationship, I learnt a huge amount other people, how interesting they are, and how not to treat them.
Despite relapses I’m refusing to give up. I’m now looking forward to the next chapter. OCD has clouded a significant proportion of my life. However, I’m choosing to go after what I want in spite of it. I’m going to do what I want, it can scream as much as it likes, I am going to achieve my dreams.
Thanks Stuart and everyone who makes the OCD podcast possible, its been a huge support.
Good luck to anyone else suffering out there and don’t let the bastard thoughts get you down!