My OCD began to develop around the age of seven, around the time of my Grandmas death. I have always had a happy and fun family life, my parents have always worshiped me and my younger brother and I have very happy childhood memories. I have been very lucky with my upbringing as I have a very loving mother and father. I have always had a strong relationship with my Mum, she is my best friend and my main support network – she has been and always will be my rock. I can remember at a young age shouting down stairs to my mum and dad every night to make sure they were still there and that they were ok, even from being young I worried about my parents health and wellbeing.
My Grandma passed away before my younger brother was born. Back then it was just me, my mum and my dad, I have very faint memories of this but I am told that once my Grandma passed away I used to order the coats on the stairs every night. My mums would be at the bottom I presume so she was the safest, and then mine in the middle and my dad’s at the top protecting us. I have fond memories of Primary School, although there is one that sticks out. I must have been in the first year of school, I remember it was parents evening that night, so as you do you get your trays out ready for the parents to see your work when they arrive in the afternoon. I remember needing the toilet, I had my hand up as you do at the age asking for permission to leave my seat, the teacher at the time refused and asked me to wait, before I knew it I had an accident. I remember feeling so embarrassed and ashamed of myself, even at 9 years of age I was horrified. To make matters worse, I remember having to change into a P.E kit for the rest of the day. I cannot remember how quickly it developed but for a long time after this, I was obsessed with going to the toilet. Before leaving the house, I would go to the toilet at least 3 times to prevent this from ever happening to me again. It got to the point where I would sit on the toilet to just see if I needed to go, long car journeys with my parents meant frequent stops at service stations, in the end my Mum took me to see somebody about the problem and that is as far as I can remember. Looking back it is clear to me that it caused a lot of anxiety for me at the time, and I was trying to prevent the problem from happening by constantly going to the toilet. There is nothing else poignant for me that happened during this time. I remember being on holiday with my Mum, Dad and younger brother in Spain, and there was people on the streets selling drugs – whether or not this was due to anxiety I hated it – I remember thinking what if my dad took them? I remember shouting that I wanted to go home. I think it was at this point I started to develop fears of harm coming to my family.
In year 6 of Primary School, I came home to my mum one day and told her I didn’t have a clue what I was doing in maths, I was copying the persons work next to me and I didn’t have a clue how I would do my SATS. It just so happened that on parents evening the week later the teacher had told my mum the same thing – I was hopeless at Maths. My mum and Dad paid for a tutor for me, she came once a week for an hour, and she helped me with my maths and most importantly my confidence. From this to year 10 at High School there is nothing really that happened, I had a great life, I had good group of friends, I spent time with my family and carried on as any School child would. I remember getting to year 10 and feeling an immense pressure of the real world – I was coming up to my GCSE exams and it terrified me. I spent hours preparing for my exams; at this time, I still had my tutor to help me out once a week. Despite the pressure I put on myself I came out with 14 GCSES A*-C. Whilst studying for my exams, I had increasing anxiety, about everything. Everything there was to worry about I worried about. I worried about war, death, situations in the press, my family, illness, disease – although everything was great, I felt like I was waiting for something bad to happen. When I left high school, I started my A-Levels at a nearby college. I only managed to complete the first year of AS levels, which in a way I resent myself for, I loved to write and I kick myself that I never made it to University.
As I remember, my intrusive thoughts began properly at the age of 16. At this point in my life, I did not understand what was happening; I thought I was a bad person for thinking what I was thinking. My fears came from the media, newspapers, stories I heard or events I had made up in my head. Little did I know at this point the more I was doing my compulsions the more I was feeding into my illness. I cannot quite pin point when my rituals began, but at one point I could not go into the bathroom without physically licking the taps – as this was the only way I knew they were completely off. As you can imagine this did not to do my physical health any favours. I would go into shops and start restacking shelves ensuring everything was facing the same way. If one side of my body was touching something, I had to ensure the other side touched it too. I tapped window locks, door locks. Light switches had to be symmetrical. Plugs had to be out of the wall. My hands and feet were constantly tapping and moving always in a number of four. I had constant thoughts running through my mind ‘What would happen if my mum died in a car crash’ – ‘it would be my fault because I’ve thought about it’ one single thought would spiral my mind out of control. I was left exhausted. I felt trapped within myself. My feelings were like crashing waves in my head. My thoughts were like a river cascading through my mind distorting my reality. My rituals and compulsions were short-term relief, until another whisper came into my mind – what if I have not done it properly. I need to do it again. My mind was flooded with worry. I could not function properly. I had no energy to fight the urges. At any point, my OCD would suddenly come up with a new fear or a new compulsion out of nowhere. Throughout this, my Mum was by my side through every bad day, every bad thought, every compulsion, every panic attack and every tear. She took me to the GP and from there I was taken to CAMHS which is the under 18 Mental Health Service. I was diagnosed with OCD; I was put on medication and started CBT Therapy. My Mum came into every appointment with me – despite the effect it must have had on her, she sat with me listened to me and supported me. I worked through CBT until I was 18 and was discharged. I was now full aware I was going to be living with this monster for the rest of my life. Nobody understood what I was going through; I felt so alone. I had been abandoned by my friends – at 17/18 girls just want to go out and have fun. The girls I had called my best friends for years were nowhere to be seen. I cannot quite remember how the next phase came into play – I just remember getting to the point where I could not stop. I began making myself sick, this was from cutting down my compulsions, and it was a release of anxiety. Every time I ate I would make myself sick, sometimes I would just eat so I could be sick. Looking back I think it was another element of control. I had bad breath, I felt weak all of the time, all I wanted to do was sleep, I had a constant sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away. Just like with the compulsions the more you do it the worse it gets until you completely spiral out of control.
The years that followed, my OCD was up and down. Some days would be better than others would. I was holding down a job and relationships. I was still getting on with every day, but OCD was always in my mind, always picking at me, always having the upper hand. I was a victim to a bully in my own head. I constantly doubted myself – always seeking reassurance. I did not trust my own thoughts. I was constantly scared of what was coming next. I slept a lot of the time and even now, I find sleeping a quick cure because it takes the pain away. My head was a sky full of dark and dirty clouds. I was compelled to count in numbers. I counted my hands, my fingers. I had to make sure everything was right. I could not cope with the uncertainty – but everything about life is uncertain. That is what I had to overcome. Over the years I have had my medications changed and dosages upped, I have taken beta-blockers, I have tried ACT and CBT. I have bad days and good days. OCD is still there, like it will always be. My greatest tool is my support. Without the love and support of my family and friends, I do not know where I would be. In a way, I see myself as lucky to have a family with such a wide experience in mental illness, we stick together now and we always will do. We support each other, we are proud of each other and we love each no matter what. We can tell each other things that you would not dream of saying aloud. We find a way to laugh through the bad days; we do not cry we smile. I understand I have a debilitating mental illness but I will not let it define me. I am not lazy, I am a warrior and I wake up every day to fight my thoughts.