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OCD sufferers can make significant progress towards recovery.
The first time I realised something wasn’t right with me was in my first year at University, I was smoking a lot of weed and had been since I was 16. The weed only added to the confusion, I was having problems sexually and the only reasonable explanation at the time seemed to be that I was gay. Perhaps a more rounded conclusion may have been the fact I was smoking weed everyday or that dabbling quite regularly in cocaine and ecstasy wasn’t helping the situation. However, as sufferers know deep down, their irrational doubts are exactly that, irrational.
So there it began, I had just broken up with the girl I was seeing, due in part to my unwillingness to talk about the problems I was having, and out of nowhere came the desperate urge to prove my sexuality one way or another. Every waking moment was spent ruminating about whether I was gay; searching google for answers, watching porn to prove my sexuality, comparing myself to friends who were gay etc. All aspects of my life began to suffer, from sports where I had played to quite a high level to relationships with friends and family. My studies also suffered immensely, I would sit in the library desperate to take in the information that I was reading, unfortunately, the tape I had running in my head would give me no respite. The only logical solution at the time, was to smoke even more weed which as you might imagine, contributed to the disorder snowballing.
I was in a constant state of anxiety throughout that summer, I had failed an exam and was absolutely terrified of the prospect of a resit in August 2012. I knew how difficult it was going to be to even scrape a pass, my family were worried about the extent of my drug use and tried on many occasions to help me. I responded by shutting them out, too scared to talk about what was going on inside my head and perhaps still unaware of the fact I was experiencing a mental health problem. I was still golfing and playing rugby, however, I was starting to lose my love for the sports which I was once so passionate about. I continued to socialise with friends, mainly to take drugs and escape the internal struggle I was experiencing.
September 2012 came, somehow I had managed to pass my resit. I went back to Manchester terrified of the year ahead, . I was struggling to maintain relationships with course friends and had become something of a recluse within the University rugby club. I somehow managed to maintain a level of performance that saw me perform exceptionally well for the 2nd XV, but the truth is, I was only playing to maintain an element of normality to my life. I had no real interest in whether we were winning or losing, although the sport did provide some respite from the obsessions when I was concentrating fully. To this day, having a rugby ball in my hands and running at an opposition defence, is the most therapeutic method I have came across for treating my OCD.
At one point during second year at University I went to see a counsellor, fortunately the service was available for free to students. I remember sweating profusely as I began to open up about the content of my obsessions, terrified that the women in question would come to the conclusion that I was gay. Fortunately, she had a strong understanding of what was going on and actually stated that she had suffered from intrusive thoughts herself. After our consultation, CBT with a male colleague who ‘specialised’ in this area was suggested. Unfortunately, said expert, spent some time discussing my problems before inviting me to take part in an evidence gathering session. We spent some time trawling my life to collect evidence around whether I was gay/straight. As an OCD sufferer who has subsequently undergone ERP, I now know that these sessions only exasperated my condition.
To be honest my second and third years at University are a bit of a blur, I would self medicate by smoking joint after joint. Hoping that I could switch my mind off for 5 minutes. I continued to see a few girls, but my problems persisted and my life had began to spiral out of control. I had decided that I must stop smoking weed if I am going to make any real progress. In the lead up to my third year exams I made the conscious decision to quit and get help, I spoke to my doctor in Dundee about what I was going through. I was prescribed citalopram, which I took for 3/4 months. However, without any effective CBT, the drug was virtually useless and I remained trapped inside my head. At the time there was an 18 month waiting list on the NHS for CBT.
By forcing myself to study despite the OCD I managed to do well in my third year exams, knowing how important they were to my overall degree grade; 50/50s split between third and fourth year. As I would later recognise I was practising Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, striving towards my goals despite my struggles. At the time though, I was just doing it as my course mates and flat mates were. I didn’t really see much of a future.
Summer of third year, a trip to Ibiza and inter railing through Europe. As you might imagine Ibiza was a drug fuelled weekend, which did not help my symptoms one bit. In fact, I actually went to the extremes of sleeping with a prostitute as I thought this might help solve my internal debate about my sexuality. I felt shame for going to these lengths and as an OCD sufferer will know, this is a compulsion which only adds gasoline to a fire which is already burning intensely. And there it was a fresh obsession to accompany my sexual orientation OCD, despite wearing a condom had I contracted aids? So it began, a few trips to STD clinics and countless other checking rituals.
When fourth year began I had virtually stopped smoking weed, on occasion I would partake if my flat mates were doing so, however I knew I had no option but to stop. I decided I had to see a therapist about what I was going through, I felt it was best to see someone privately. I took out an overdraft to see a local counsellor, at the cost of £70 a session. Again, her methods left a lot to be desired and after about 6 sessions I stopped seeing her. By this stage I was getting increasingly desperate for the right help.
One night in November, I made a decision that really would drive my life in the right direction. I made the long journey home to tell my parents I wasn’t right. I broke down as I began to open up, I knew deep down that they would be supportive, yet I was terrified that they wouldn’t understand. Opening up provided vital support in my battle against obsessive compulsive disorder. I began to see another therapist in January 2015 through until April of that year. It was at these sessions I learnt about mindfulness, a vital tool in my ongoing battle with pure O. By this point I had read a great deal about Exposure and Response Prevention and how it was the gold standard for OCD treatment, however my therapist seemed unwilling to go in this direction despite my requests.
I became frustrated with the lack of progress I was making, with my final exams approaching I was terrified of failing. I refused to give up, pushing myself exceptionally hard despite the endless stream of doubts, worries and intrusive thoughts. I had met a girl who I was crazy about in January of that year and by just being there, she helped me knuckle down. Astonishingly, when the final results came out in June, I had received a first class honours degree.
In June 2015 I arranged to go on an intensive 5 day treatment course in London, with India Haylor of OCD first aid. It was during this week that I really began to make tangible progress with my OCD. Using Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, I came to learn the importance of psychological flexibility. Holding onto a belief strongly leads to suffering, instead of saying I absolutely must not be gay I had to accept that it was possible. Shame attacking exercises were an important part of the treatment plan; Albert Ellis the founding father of REBT introduced such methods to invoke anxiety and embarrassment in patients. At the core of a significant amount of our suffering, is a fear of being judged by others. By learning to tolerate discomfort around rejection, ridicule and embarrassment, OCD sufferers can make significant progress towards recovery.
Fast forward a year and I am now ready to move to another part of the UK to begin a graduate job with one of the worlds elite companies. I am still struggling with some common pure O subtypes, mainly peadophile OCD and relationship OCD. However, I am enthusiastic about what the future holds. I am fortunate to have an extremely supportive family and girlfriend around me and am determined to succeed despite my doubts. My OCD is telling me that I will not succeed in my new job and that I am destined to fail. However, that niggling little voice also told me I would fail my exams. I now know the importance of moving on despite these doubts, to strive for a meaningful life that focuses on my values. After all, captain hook as I like to refer to my OCD companion, is only a small part of my life. Certainly not capable of pulling me away from my goals.