I hadn’t washed in 2 weeks, I couldn’t flick the switch back to ‘Off’ because I was too consumed trying to figure out when it switched ‘On’. Did it ever? Am I psychotic? Am I ill? What if I was always like this? Or am I just a horrible, disgusting person who’s a harm to others? I’ll lose my career. My friends and my family. I’ll be in the papers and I’ll never have a normal life.
What is normal? I don’t know but I’d rather be anything than this. I contemplated suicide because without a doubt, I would rather have taken my life than be anything that my mind was telling me I was. My stomach was churning, I was vomiting involuntarily over and over. I punished myself, I deserved it. I didn’t eat. I scratched compulsively at my skin.
This was the time in my life that OCD got the better of me. However – I feel it’s important to note that at this time, I was nearing qualification as a mental health nurse and I didn’t have a clue that this was anything to do with OCD. “I’m not arranging tins or counting numbers, I’m not washing my hands repeatedly?” The words I told myself as I sought answers for my state. Lack of education.
That time was May 16th 2017. I remember the date, the weather, the news on tv, what my partner was wearing, what I was wearing and what I had for dinner that day. It’s imprinted on my mind and I’ll never forget. When I lapse – I am overwhelmed with fear that I’ll end up back there.
In the months leading up to this, I was fighting intrusive thoughts day and night. I read an article where a man committed vile acts towards a baby. The journalist went into vulgar detail – I cried. I sobbed endlessly. I was repulsed at the imagery the words invoked in my mind. “Why are you thinking that? Why are you letting that play out in your head? STOP. STOP IT”. “He was a boyfriend and a father, he had a normal life and he did that, how could he be capable of that, that means you’re capable of that too” “no wait, stop, there’s no way I’d ever be capable of that, I’m a good person”. And so the inner monologue commenced it’s never ending debate. The beginning of OCD taking hold.
I was in a nursing placement and met someone who’s auditory hallucinations told them they were a paedophile. I sat and thought to myself “oh god. What if I’m psychotic? Is this my voice or a hallucination?” Nothing made sense. Reality was warped and I was losing myself.
I remember joining the gym. I was going to take care of myself, I knew physical health and mental health mattered. My sleep and eating were a mess because of my obsessions and ruminations – exercise had to be the answer! I sat as the lady spoke me through my gym induction and thanked me for joining. OCD must have felt left out because they had to intervene in the moment “does she know she’s talking to a peadophile?”. From that point, I couldn’t look her in the eye, I felt like everyone in the room was examining me as a potential threat. I left. I got to my car and I cried. I was shaking, uncontrollably, sobbing and contemplating crashing my car on the way home.
And so it spiralled to the stage I was in a chronic, heightened state. I was shaking, restless, fidgeting, I couldn’t hear anything anyone was saying to me because in my mind there was a W A R. An actual war. Between irrational me/ocd and rational me. Everything OCD threw at me, the logical, moral and rational me argued back. It thrived on it, OCD had an answer for everything and I was running out of ammo to fire back.
I was so unwell I refused to leave my mums living room, I made a little prison for myself, slept on the floor (when I could sleep). I couldn’t watch tv – anything with celebrities or children. At the time, there were frequent reports of celebrities being exposed for sexual assaults and child abuse. I couldn’t watch anything with a child in it or even hear a song with a child in it, OCD immediately said “don’t watch that you’re a peadophile”. I wouldn’t go outside out of fear of being a risk to others and I was again, contemplating and planning my suicide.
My mum looked at me and told me she didn’t recognise me. We called the GP who prescribed diazepam and fluoxetine, and told me I was just being silly and too sensitive towards the article. That didn’t help. It got worse. We called NHS 24 where I spoke to a mental health nurse who didn’t know what to say to me, she sounded annoyed “so you’re upset about an article?”. My mum took over the call and they rushed me to out of hours. There, a lady took my blood pressure, it was incredibly high. She took it two more times and rushed a doctor in. They told me the fluoxetine had only worsened my presentation, changed me to citalopram and doubled my diazepam dose.
No one knew what was wrong with me, no one. I felt like it confirmed I was all of the terrible things that OCD was telling me I was.
My journey towards a diagnosis changed when I googled constantly. I discovered intrusive thoughts and OCD.
*Explosion* in my mind. Oh dear god. Oh thank god. This is me. THIS IS ME. I was so relieved. THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE LIKE ME.
This was a long journey of discovery and the more I looked into it I realised OCD had always been there. It was always within me, manifesting in various obsessions and compulsions.
I recalled being a child and frequently at the doctors with stomach problems. This was caused by compulsive spitting. I spat on the floor for every time I inhaled! EVERY SINGLE TIME. If I couldn’t spit on a floor I spat into my sleeves, drinks, food, hair, toilets, sinks. You name it – I had to do it. My mind told me it was a matter of life and death because the air was dirty and toxic. If I inhaled – I’d get sick, or die, or make my mum sick and she would die. Air had a texture I could feel in my mouth and I had to spit out. I was bullied a lot because of this.
I recalled a time as a child where I had to sleep with my fingers in my ears and my nose blocked. My ritual was checking every single inch of my bed and bedding at night. My mind told me that if I didn’t, insects would crawl inside me and kill me. This was every. Single. Night. I remember a spider being found on the stairs and because of this, I slept on an office chair that I heightened allllll the way up so I was high off the ground and in the centre of the room where nothing could get me. What was irrational about this is that I was the type of child who loved holding bugs and getting muddy in the garden. I didn’t have a phobia of insects.
I was always disturbed by intrusive thoughts of losing my mum. I would frequently come to her crying and pray repeatedly that I wouldn’t lose her, that if it came to the day, god had better take me before he took her. I would frequently apologise to god if I had been dishonest, done something terrible or thought about the devil.
My anxiety was so intense as a child, a little girl incredibly introverted as a result and wet the bed until I was around 9 years old.
Throughout childhood and adulthood I have been consumed with metaphysical obsessions. I don’t allow people into my home out of fear of them contaminating it with ‘bad energy’. I can’t wear certain items to work because my mind tells me it will become contaminated and bad things will happen to me – I have shoes I wear for a Sunday food shop, if for any reason I wore them to work, I’d bin them.. I end relationships out of fear that associating with certain people will mean something bad will happen to my mum. I won’t share news, plans or photos of relatives on social media because my mind tells me something bad will happen to them all. In supermarkets, I won’t buy items that I believe other people may have touched, I have to go straight to the back or shop online because I feel people have contaminated them with bad energy. That one person touching is enough – multiple is a TONNE of bad energy. These are obsessions and compulsions I still have to implement to my every day life. I make a lot of my own things, recycle clothing and essentially focus my entire life around making sure items haven’t come into contact with too much bad energy.
Up until 2 years ago, I was living on smoothies, soups and soggy cereal. One day, following the dentist, I went for a meal with my partner. Everything felt off. I felt that the girls sat behind me were bad news. I wanted to cry when the waitress sat me next to them. I didn’t even look at them, I could just hear them. Everything was going wrong. Our order was wrong. We were seated outside and it was getting windy. The waitress came again and she dropped all of the food on the floor. The girls behind me laughed at her. Third order came. I was so on edge “this is bad, this is all bad, something terrible is going to happen”. We got our food, a starter of chicken wings. I choked. THATS IT. THAT WAS IT. I KNEW IT WAS COMING AND THERE IT IS. NEVER AGAIN. NEVER WILL I RISK THIS AGAIN. I panicked, cried and we got the bill instantaneously.
OCD took this as “you’re going to choke and die. And people will laugh, just like those girls did”. It reminded me of this day over and over and over. Every time I went to eat, I automatically regurgitated. I had to nibble in small amounts. Chew 147 times either side until food was mush. Food was always cold by the time I neared the end and it took me around 90 minutes to manage a plate. I cried every time I ate and I couldn’t tell anyone around me why. I went from being a social foodie to never eating out with friends or family for 3 years. I worked 14hr shifts without eating. I couldn’t do it. I had to start exposure – soft foods, read up about the anatomy/physiology of the throat just to be sure. I worked on solids in my home, then soft foods in my car, and so on. Today – I consider myself recovered from that manifestation of my illness. I still avoid certain foods and I can’t tolerate very crowded restaurants but I can enjoy food with my partner, friends, family and colleagues again. I’m still a slow eater but my loved ones have a wicked sense of humour to get me through it.
Diagnosis – what a journey. I was self diagnosed and recovering with the support of OCD books, CBT books, self help, self care and a change of medication. I have presented to my GP on various occasions with symptoms of depression and anxiety which all went amiss. I’ve seen 4 GP’s following my very unwell episode – the 3rd diagnosed OCD traits. The 4th knew that in order to get the right treatment, a psychiatrist would be best to offer an official diagnosis. And so it happened.
Living with OCD throughout my life did mean that I acquired other diagnosis – social anxiety, chronic stress and anxiety disorder, PTSD. I was in psychological therapy twice and counselling once. They all failed. When I reflect, I know that this was because of my thoughts and my unwillingness at the time to share them with anyone. I couldn’t. I believed my world would crash and burn around me, I’d lose everything, I’d get admitted and locked away. Even as a mental health professional these fears remained with me. I knew my thoughts were irrational but I couldn’t voice them – voicing them made them real and made them become associated with me, my identity, my values and morals. Everything that I truly am OCD will contrast and try to do its worst. Psychological therapy taught challenging negative automatic thoughts. Big mistake. They didn’t know I was challenging with every rational belief I had on a daily basis, OCD loved it and fed on it.
With my diagnosis – my medication has been reviewed and oh boy, life is wonderful. I am well medicated and the thoughts and symptoms acquired from them are so much more manageable. I am looking to progress into psychological therapy tailored to this diagnosis and the obsessions / compulsions I have today. When I’m exposed to stressors and triggers, or significant life events, I can lapse. And my OCD will creep in and try take the wheel. Sometimes it wins and the obsessions get louder in my head.. I still live with intrusive thoughts and I still struggle with various themes of obsessions. My ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable can be limited. But I cannot stress enough how much medication, treatment and a dialogue with my family around this has helped. I draw, bake, hike and focus a lot on crafting to keep myself distracted and stimulated. It’s good for me. (I must note that there was a time my art became a compulsion when I had the idea of drawing my obsessions in some way to then ridicule them but all it did was amplify them as I had something to look at). Humour is effective. An example is that is stole the last cake that was meant for my partner and his response was “you’ll choke”… we laughed. Humour helped me significantly with the fear of choking my OCD latched on to. I started to sing “I’m going to choke and die, and everyone will laugh, I don’t mind too much, at least it tastes nice” along to the ‘happy birthday’ tune and it helped a great deal to challenge my emotional response to the fear I had.
I’m at a difficult stage as I type this and recently had my medication changed. However, I have good outlets and coping strategies as well as a good support in place. These are all important. I do live in fear of what else my OCD with manifest as, I’m realistic in knowing this is going to be a life long journey.
But I’m ready.