My Relationship With… OCD

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When someone says OCD, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? You probably think of someone quite eccentric, who’s very tidy and more than a little bit highly strung. Someone who washes their hands too often and likes to arrange all of their pencils in a straight line. Someone like Monica Geller from Friends or Emma Pillsbury from Glee. But, as funny as these strange characters may be, the reality can be very different. OCD is far from being a quirky personality trait.

OCD is being unable to sleep at night until you’ve locked and unlocked the front door 5 times. OCD is suffering from severe panic attacks after leaving the house and remembering you forgot to turn off a light. OCD is constantly being late to events or not going at all until you’ve showered 5 times. It’s painful and difficult and frustrating. OCD is missing class, being exhausted, not eating, isolating yourself, crying and feeling like you’re going insane, because you know the things you’re doing are irrational but you just can’t stop your intrusive thoughts.

The type of OCD I suffer from doesn’t have an official medical name like nosophobia (obsessive cleanliness) or echolalia (obsessive repetition of words or phrases), but I call it obsessive checking. Before leaving the house or going to bed, I need to check everything. I need to make sure doors are locked, taps are turned off, plugs are turned off, wires aren’t touching each other, shoes are arranged neatly at the bottom of the stairs, the oven is turned off, the central heating is turned off, everything on my desk is positioned in a way that it won’t fall off etc… Most of my compulsions stem from a rational thought or fear which spiralled into an obsession. The original rationality is what makes it hard to unlearn these behaviours.

To make things clearer, I’ll explain the thought process behind one of my compulsions. I need to remember to turn the straighteners off before I leave the house so that they don’t overheat and cause damage to my possessions. This is a fairly rational thought, however my mind quickly fixates on this negative potential outcome and begins to obsess and spiral. Did I definitely turn them off? Did I turn them off at the socket too? Did I unplug them? What if they were still warm when I set them down – they could start a fire! What if I accidentally set them down near my phone charger and they were still hot – the heat could melt my charger! The whole house could go up in flames! These obsessions then lead to compulsions, e.g. I need to tap my straighteners 5 times to make sure they’re cool enough to set down, and then check they’ve been unplugged 5 times. These compulsions turn into rituals that need to be completed before I go to bed, before I leave the house and sometimes even before I leave a room. Failure to do this usually results in severe anxiety and distress.

My OCD seems to come in waves. Most of the time it’s manageable but sometimes it can become unbearable. It becomes difficult to sleep at night and difficult to leave the house. I often suffer from OCD-induced panic attacks. I am repeatedly late to class. Travelling, one of my passions, becomes excruciatingly difficult, as I have to repeatedly check everything in the house before I leave, repeatedly check that I have everything I need with me and repeatedly take out and touch my passport and boarding pass to make sure they haven’t fallen out of my bag. On one occasion I couldn’t get out of my car for 45 minutes because, despite the fact that it was parked in a safe location, I was convinced that someone was going to crash into it. OCD operates alongside and is based on paranoia. Rational thought processes often become irrational and sufferers believe that harm will come upon themselves or their family members if they don’t follow their compulsions.

OCD isn’t something I talk about very often. I find that people don’t take it seriously and aren’t aware of the pain and suffering it causes. With the exception of the recently successful Spanish film adaptation of the play Toc Toc (which I highly recommend), OCD is not talked about in mainstream media, except to poke fun at sufferers’ “funny quirks”. Despite the fact that according to OCD UK three quarters of a million people in the UK suffer from OCD, it continues to be treated like a joke, especially in comparison with more “serious” mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. OCD is usually treated using CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), however, with the current overburdened post-Brexit NHS, mental health waiting lists can last over a year. The strained NHS, combined with the negative stigmas attached to OCD, often mean that OCD sufferers cannot receive the treatment they need in due time.

I may not arrange everything in straight lines or wash my hands 52 times a day, but I still struggle with the effects of OCD every day. It’s an ugly beast that looks completely different for each person. Living with OCD is a daily struggle and definitely feels like an uphill battle sometimes. It’s not fun, it’s not cute and it’s not quirky. But it’s my reality and it’s something I’m working on every day.

 

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WS Sub-Editor 2019/20. Final year languages and linguistics student from Northern Ireland. Lover of books, classical music and coffee.

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