As OCD awareness week fast approaches (8th-14th October), it’s got me thinking that if I actually want to make a difference and start-breaking the stigma, then I need to use whatever platform I might have for some good. Yeah, I might not have thousands of readers- but if this helped even one person who suffers, or gives you a slightly new perspective on what it’s like to combat such an all-consuming illness- then I’ll have done something right.
I can only talk about OCD from my own perspective as I’ve never really known anyone else closely who suffers from it. I didn’t even realise that I had it as a child and although it took a long time to be officially diagnosed by a Dr- I’m still not massively open about it.
If someone asks me, then 100% I’ll tell them the truth, but it’s not one of those things that I bring up to anyone but Luke, my closest friends and my family. I occasionally mention it on social media, but this is the first time i’ve written a post about it (so for those of you that know me personally, some things might start to add up)
So, you think you know what OCD is? I can guarantee that the majority of people actually don’t really understand it.
And I mean I can’t really blame you, because even I don’t understand it myself at times.
With people and the media constantly reinforcing that “oh gosh I like things clean and neat- I’m so damn OCD” it’s a great way to give a horrible illness a very undramatic persona.
My hands aren’t dry or cracked, because GUESS WHAT- I’m not an obsessive hand-washer anymore. (Although i have been through this phase as a teenager)
Yes, this is a symptom of some OCD suffers, but the thing to understand is that we’re all unique in our own compulsions and anxieties. And ALL OF THEM feel as overwhelming as one another.
OCD is a monster that lives inside your head and feeds on your anxiety. It’s the bastard who plays on insecurity and doubt and tells you that you’re a horrible person who doesn’t deserve anything.
I’m pretty sure mine started around age 11… I can only guess at this but I think it was in year 8- when I was separated from all my friends as our classes at school shifted around.
I was so lonely, so sad that I was left out of the jokes and the lessons that they got to have together. (I can only say thank you to Fran, Izzy and Aileen who took me into their group and gave me someone to sit with in lessons. You guys were life-savers)
But I finally had a taste of anxiety and I needed a way to cope. My way to cope, was to tap things 8-times. Yep, I feel mad even typing this- but it’s the god honest truth.
If I felt anxious at school, tapping on wood (it had to be wood, nothing else) would calm the bubble of anxiety that was popping inside me.
It was the perfect solution. I could hold a pencil in a lesson and nobody had to know. I didn’t obviously know that this was OCD at the time, as it was just a way to calm myself down. Plus, I was 12?! I had no clue about the horrors of mental illness.
Soon, this stretched to thinking bad things would happen to my family if I didn’t bring the tapping ritual home. Before bed every night I would picture them and give them all 8-taps to keep them safe. This one went on for a long-time but it’s one of the ones I remember most vividly.
It’s so sad to think that as a kid I had to deal with these thoughts. I knew that they were weird and I was too embarrassed to tell. I know that my mum suspected, but OCD is secret and it turned me into a good liar. I’m good at hiding what I don’t want to share. I knew what I was doing was weird- but there never seemed to be a point where I felt like I could tell someone about it.
There was a girl in my year who I knew had it too, because we both had the same red-raw hands. But we made a silent pact that it wasn’t something we were going to acknowledge. So I stayed silent.
As a teenager, my obsession moved away from these rituals and instead turned to food. I’m not a doctor by any means, but I reckon the beginning of my eating disorder thoughts stemmed from compulsions around being “too fat” and not being allowed to eat certain things. The OCD lapsed for a while when I was dealing with this, but I think a lot of my mental illness is twisted into one big ball of perfectionism, insecurity, paranoia and anxiety. (God no wonder i’m so tired all the time, my head is a mess hah!)
In my university years I was ok… I had a good time. I drank with my friends, I went to uni, I was moving away from my negative thoughts about food and I for the first time felt free. But the thing is, I never really dealt with it at the time. I had no coping mechanisms for nearly a decade of my illness, so it came back with a bang when I turned 20.
Third year was a turning point backwards for me. I started to become obsessively panicked about stupidly impossible things- what I now realise was the turn of my ‘common’ OCD to a lesser known and less talked about form called ‘Pure O’
Pure O is scary and terrifying. It’s intrusive thoughts that sounds so silly to most people when you ask for reassurance – but makes you believe that you must be a murderer, a cheat- all kinds of horrible things. It feeds off my anxiety, my insecurity and leads me to believe that I must have committed horrible crimes and then blanked them out.
Alcohol is my biggest trigger and even though I know this, I still drink and then i’m back at square one. It’s tricky, because I know if I gave up drinking I probably wouldn’t have to deal with this much. But, I’m 23! I want to be able to drink and have fun with my friends. I want to go clubbing and wake up in the morning thinking that I just had a good night. It’s exhausting battling with the brain and the thoughts you have, and the unbelievable desire to be and appear normal.
To be honest, this has been a bit of a doom and gloom post. But there are a lot of things about OCD that I’ve gained.
Firstly, I’m a hugely empathetic person. Because i’ve probably played out, overthought or worried about situations, I can guarantee if you share something with me I CAN COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND.
I might seem like a confident, sure of myself person to your average joe- but really i’m just as mixed up as you might be.
I have hope that I have been in this situation countless times. I have hope that even when I thought my world was imploding and ending, ya know what? It didn’t.
I’ve combatted these thoughts for so long that I know that life moves on, whether I act on these thoughts or not.
The fact that my family and Luke are so relentlessly understanding. Honestly, I don’t know how I’d cope without them.
If you suffer with OCD and need support there are some great links here:
If you want a more relaxed and humorous look at OCD then I recommend reading or listening to some Bryony Gordon. She makes me feel not so alone in my madness and is just pure brilliance. She calls her OCD, Jareth the Goblin King. I call mine nargles.
They’re a creature that most people don’t believe exist, except Luna and her dad. And it’s kinda like that for me. Nobody can see it but it’s there. (Need to invest in a cork necklace to keep em’ away)
You’re also more than welcome to drop me a message if you’d like a support network. I’m a good listener and I can almost promise you that if you’ve had weird compulsions or thoughts, I’ve had them too- or thought of even stranger things!