Have you ever observed somebody’s behaviour and thought, ‘They’re a little bit OCD,’ or is it something that you have said to yourself? Despite the fact that millions of people suffer from this condition, it remains misunderstood and can easily be misdiagnosed. Many people still think of it as a joke disease and are unable to comprehend the damage it inflicts.
So what is OCD? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a severe mental health condition that has a significant impact on the person affected. Of course, everybody has some traits that may be considered obsessive or compulsive, whether it be the obsessive support of your football team or the compulsion to keep your house spotless. The difference between this common behaviour and OCD is that the obsessions or compulsions start to take over your life and a considerable amount of time as well as interfering to a significant extent with the quality of life.
I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 19. Looking back, I engaged in behaviour that was obsessive or compulsive to a small degree as a child. Nobody realised that even then I was being worn down with worry after worry. If I saw something in the street I had to pick it up because if I didn’t somebody might hurt themselves and it would be my fault. Criticism from a teacher would reinforce that I was a bad person and send me off into a tailspin. I can still remember the frustration I felt spending hours checking that my television was unplugged. I could clearly see the socket, could clearly see that nothing was plugged into it, so why did I have to go over, time and time again to feel the socket in order to feel as though everything would be ok. I don’t think my parents saw all that I was doing but what they did observe was put down to quirky behaviour or the fact that I was a bit of a worrier and so nothing needed to be done to help.
For my part, I couldn’t tell them how I was feeling or what I was worrying about. I felt ashamed. If I was a good person I wouldn’t mind doing the rituals that were slowly taking up more of my day. If they knew that I didn’t want to do them, they would see that I was a bad person and that I wanted something bad to happen to somebody. Things carried on like this until I was 19. I had to undergo a small heart procedure and after a week of rest I returned to my part time job in the local pub. Halfway through my first shift back I started to struggle. I couldn’t give anybody a drink as I was convinced that all the glasses had germs on them and I was causing the germs to be spread everywhere. From there, everything started to unravel so quickly. I became convinced that I had been contaminated with deadly germs and every time I touched anything I was spreading those germs. People were going to get ill and die and it would all be my fault.
To those that didn’t know me, I was desperately trying to make out everything was fine and dandy but inside I was being constantly tormented by the thoughts travelling round my head on a never ending loop. When I was able to rationalise one worry, another would instantly take its place and it felt like there was no peace from it all. The worry of thinking that everything I touched was being contaminated meant that small chores became near insurmountable operations that had to be carefully planned. When I went shopping I could only touch things that I was certain I was going to buy. Before handing money over I had to make sure that coins had been run under the tap and notes had to be wiped with a tissue. If I was going anywhere where I would have to sit down I always had to make sure that I had a coat or cardigan with me that I could place on the seat to act as a barrier between me and the seat.
This had all happened as I was about to start my second year of law school and whilst everybody else was enjoying student life I was quietly planning how I was going to cope if things didn’t get any easier.
I had decided that I wanted to be a solicitor when I was 10 years old. I had been determined that I would get the grades I needed and get into a good university. For me it was heart breaking that I managed to achieve this and after the first year, everything appeared to be falling apart. Even though I would seek professional help, it didn’t take me long to realise that the new me might not be suited to a stressful legal career and so I was forced, for my own quality of life, to say goodbye to the career I had sought for so long and find a new direction for my life. I was a different person now. I had gone from being the girl who was going to conquer the world to somebody who was intimidated by everything from finding a new career to buying vegetables,
When you are first diagnosed with OCD, obviously your first thoughts are about how you are going to cope. It takes time to truly appreciate the impact it can have on those people around you.
For me, my mum was my rock. She supported me all the way and did everything she could to try to take some of the worry away from me. I know that if she could have swapped places with me she wouldn’t have even thought about it. She was so desperate to help me that it wasn’t long before the condition started to take its toll and she started to struggle. This was when she realised that we were out of our depth and got me the professional help that I needed. Other relationships struggled though. Friends appeared supportive but didn’t really understand what I was going through and even thought that I was just seeking attention, whilst others couldn’t appreciate how difficult I found it to leave the house to meet up. As time passed I could feel myself becoming more and more isolated. So I knew I needed help, but I was cynical. Going to somebody you don’t know and telling them how you have been feeling can be so hard. Once you have done it and you start to get help it is also a massive relief.
As soon as I started to tell my GP how I was feeling I saw him start to nod and he smiled at me. He started to talk to me about OCD. He prescribed me antidepressants and told me about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Like most people I was nervous about taking medication. The antidepressants were a type of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and they work by increasing the levels of serotonin which helps to reduce your anxiety levels. There are many different types and it can take time to find the best one and the correct dose for you. My doctor got me under the care of a mental health team. They carried out a full assessment to ensure that I received an accurate diagnosis and then put in place a treatment plan.
One of the first things you may be told if you are diagnosed with OCD is that there is no cure. I personally took this badly and could have given up if I didn’t have excellent support around me. But I didn’t. I fought on. I fought hard. Yes, it’s true that that there is no cure for OCD, it is something that is always going to be there. It is a part of who you are. But you can beat it. I know because I did it. I came out the other side.
I have always treated OCD with the respect it deserves. If I need medication, I take it. If I need cognitive behavioural therapy, I do it. I take it on board. The difference now is that I am the one in control. Yes, I still prefer to drink out of cans and bottles as I think there are less germs but I can live with that. I pick the battles that are worth fighting now. For me, a big key to taking control was acceptance. I had to accept that I had changed and carve out a new life for myself. That is why I can happily tell anybody that yes, I suffer from OCD and yes I take antidepressants. If anybody wants to judge me then I see that as their problem, not mine. I have also developed a good relationship with my GP. If I feel as though I am worrying about things more than usual or feel as though my mood has dropped, I liaise with them and work with them to find a way through crisis periods.
Through reading up on the condition, I have managed to develop coping mechanisms that work for me and find it easier to identify real worries and OCD worries. It has taken time but I have come to terms with the person I am now. I haven’t got the law career I desired but I have a good job that I enjoy, managing 30 staff. I have finally found a man who loves me the way that I am and together we have a beautiful four-year-old daughter who helps me put everything into perspective.
By raising awareness of OCD, hopefully more people will be encouraged to accept they need support and access the help they need. Recently, celebrities have helped with this by talking of their own experiences. David Beckham and Ian Puleston-Davies have opened up about how they have been affected and are examples to everybody of how you can beat it and go on to have happy lives and successful careers.
When you are diagnosed with OCD it can feel like the end of the world, especially when you are being bombarded with worry after worry. By accessing the help you need, and with support you will come out the other side and see that there is life after OCD.
OCD Action and OCD-UK are charities dedicated to helping those suffering from or supporting carers of people suffering from OCD. Help and advice can be obtained from the following websites: