If I asked you to imagine someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) you might imagine someone getting annoyed at things when they’re not straight. However in a lot of sufferers, OCD comes in the form of extreme intrusive thoughts which cause anxiety and fear. In an attempt to control these intrusive thoughts, ritualistic behaviors develop which give a short term feeling of comfort and safety only for the thoughts sometimes in the next few minutes to return. This leads to the development of a cycle of intrusive thoughts followed by ritual behavior as a means to control the fears.
For most 7 year olds, a boring assembly about ‘stranger danger’ would be forgotten about the moment they get back to their play dough. However, in my case it marked the beginning of my OCD. From this day onwards I was plagued with intrusive thoughts that either myself or my sisters were in constant danger of being kidnapped. This fear was present on an almost daily basis, sometimes to the point of tearfulness, and led to my first compulsive behavior developing: the constant checking that my sisters were safe. I was always seeking reassurance from my parents that everything was okay, and this led to praying every night that nothing bad was going to happen to us.
One aspect of OCD is that over time the thoughts increase and fears heighten, leading to even more rituals. This was very true in my case, and by the age of 10 my OCD had developed significantly. I had a complete fear of the number 13 to the extent that if I saw it anywhere I would have to stop what I was doing and wait for it to change, as well as an increased feeling that I was responsible for things beyond my control. As these intrusive thoughts developed, so do the rituals: I started believing the number 8 was lucky and therefore started doing everything in the order of 8, I continued to pray for the safety of myself and my family. I prayed about every conceivable concern I had to the point where it was taking around 30 minutes a night, starting again each time I missed something out. I also began to feel huge amounts of guilt for things which I had no control over, and whenever things did go wrong, I feared some higher power was punishing me for not completing my rituals properly.
I know that right now I must be sounding mad, but even when I was 10 I understood how irrational I was being. I knew that praying repeatedly was not going to prevent something bad from happening, and I knew that standing completely still whenever I saw the number 13 was not going to save me from anything. But no matter how irrational you are being, OCD convinces you that if you stop these rituals the intrusive thoughts will never go away, or worse, you believe that if you do stop there is a chance that the thing you fear will actually happen and you will be to blame. Although I had been suffering from OCD from a relatively young age, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I first realised things were getting out of control. Although I did not know I had OCD, I began to think that there was something very wrong. I was doing okay at school and I maintained my friendships, but over the years the amount of intrusive thoughts I was having increased, and as things became difficult I developed more and more rituals to cope. I also began to develop unhealthy habits as a means to block out the thoughts.
One of the things I regret the most is not telling my family sooner about what was happening, but because OCD is irrational you fear not being properly understood. The day I finally told my parents, I discovered that this was not the case at all and they were very supportive. After being taken to the doctors I was asked to write a list of all the intrusive thoughts and rituals I have to do to get through the day. It was here I discovered that over the years my OCD had developed to the point that I was now doing 25 ritual behaviors a day, and it had become the main part of my day to day life. Although it was not easy, over the last four years through a variety of techniques including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medication I was slowly able to get better. It led me to realise just how little OCD is understood and got me thinking how many people may be suffering as a result of only knowing about it through its stereotypical connotations.
OCD is like having a bully stuck inside your head and nobody else can see it.
To deal with this bully, I tried many things including simply obeying the intrusive thoughts for 10 years in the hope that eventually they would stop on their own. I also tried short term methods of simply blocking the thoughts out, but this never helped as they would just come back even stronger the more they were ignored. OCD is best confronted with the help and support of others and if you believe you are suffering from it or any other form of anxiety, you should tell someone you trust when you’re comfortable to do so. I know the idea of telling people is scary, but seeking help means that you can begin to develop strategies to confront the thought patterns and deep-rooted fears which lead to it developing further. Over time, you will be able to recognize the thoughts as they occur and develop better methods to control them. OCD and intrusive thoughts, like most bullies, seem scarier than they really are and once you confront them you have taken the first step for things to get better.