Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is something very close to me, and I would argue, one of my most challenging aspects of myself – not just for me, but those that live with me. A few years ago I processed my feelings around my diagnosis with OCD, alongside the many misconceptions and stigma’s that came with it. I’ve tweaked it slightly, and you can read it below.
There are those with OCD who are incredibly neat and tidy. According to OCD-UK (http://www.ocduk.org/types-ocd) these people are generally looking for symmetry/orderliness. They may obsessively need to clean things or keep things in a certain place. However, this is just one type of OCD.
The other day I became really upset when a family member mentioned that I couldn’t have OCD as I’m too messy. My defences went up and I became very upset. I walked away and decided I couldn’t talk about it as I hadn’t properly processed my feelings around it. I have now had time to come to terms with it.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is not just being neat and tidy. It takes over your life and impacts on everything.
My OCD is very different to keeping things clean – it often prevents me from finishing tasks as I require perfection, and I know it won’t be perfect, so I avoid it to protect myself from panic attacks.
My symptoms present in a variety of ways. First is checking, second is concerns about contamination, third is hoarding, fourth intrusive thoughts, fifth symmetry and finally avoidance. I’ll talk about the kinds of things I do. It’s not an exhaustive list, and most importantly, this is my own individual experience of OCD. Whilst it may affect me this way, it will affect others differently, and so if you are working with someone who states that they have OCD, please ask them to define what it means to them.
The most noticeable compulsion that I have is to check things. This includes my memory, ensuring the oven/hob/taps are off, locks are secure, car is locked, my purse is still there (with everything in it), my loved ones are safe/don’t hate me, checking my route to/from somewhere, and reading/re-reading things repeatedly leading to it taking me 10x as long to read anything.
All of these things affect me everyday. I have patterns to ensure that the front door is locked. If I don’t do that, I’ve been known to drive all the way home to check the door. In my previous home I even used to turn the boiler and oven off at the wall if I wasn’t using it. This (in my mind) prevented bills sky rocketing and ensured that there wasn’t a fire hazard. One of the key things is messaging my loved ones repeatedly – if I don’t hear back I fear the worst! Nothing calms me until I hear from them.
I used to read all the time as a child/teenager. As I grew older I used to begin to worry that I missed something important, so I started re-reading things. This became more and more frequent, resulting in me reading things even slower than before. Studying became really difficult – I couldn’t keep up in class (although I never told anyone about it) and it affects me even now. It’s why it takes me so long to do any task that requires me to read or write. It’s not just reading a textbook that’s a problem. If I write something, I have to read it and re-read it. What if I wrote something wrong? What if I offend someone? What if I missed something important. It can really take over my life.
Cleanliness is one of the main symptoms of OCD that people recognise – people washing their hands more often than normal is a common example. In my case, I really struggle with things such as public toilets. I have to ‘hover’ or cover the seat with toilet roll. In my spare time, I often go camping, and this is a challenge for me as it involves using shared bathrooms, portaloos and public showers. I carry wet wipes and hand cleaning gel at all times for this reason.
Touching something made dirty by food, getting mud under my nails or touching raw food is a massive no-no for me. I start to feel violently sick, to the point where I can be sick, and have to wash vigorously and repeatedly to ‘feel’ clean again. It means that when I prepare food I like to ensure that I have latex gloves on, if not, I will use tongs to hold the food. It can make things really challenging.
I’m not as ‘extreme’ as the people you may see on the TV, but I really struggle to throw things away. It causes severe anxiety – what happens if I need that receipt from 5 years ago? It can lead to me just shoving things in a cupboard. I feel such shame about this. When I feel more secure I am able to throw things away or donate to a charity shop. But there are other times where I panic at the idea of getting rid of things like my childhood books!
My intrusive thoughts take over a huge part of my life. It manifests in my anxiety and can cause my depression to spike. I become focussed on my relationship with loved ones, constantly needing reassurance as I always think that everyone hates me! I can doubt that people are faithful to me in relationships, or feel that everyone is talking behind my back. It can really affect my day to day live.
Furthermore, I become heavily focussed on my breathing/pulse/chewing. Can people hear it? Is it really noticeable? What will people think of me? I’m really self-conscious about it and can end up really focussing on how much I’m breathing, how deeply or loudly. It takes over my life in that moment.
I have a specific order that I have to do something in. If that order is affected, it can (and will) ruin my day. This includes how I get up and ready in a morning, down to the minute! It means that I have to put my shoes on right shoe first. If I start with the left (for some unknown reason), I can’t go out. If I touch my thumb and forefinger together on one hand, I have to do the same with the other. This aspect takes over all the time, and means that I can really lose focus on what I should actually be doing if I am not careful.
Knowing that things will affect me, I can become obsessive about avoiding them! If I don’t avoid something, then something bad can happen. It means that I put my head in the sand, avoid going out, avoid tidying up – the list goes on. It is hard to explain to non-OCD sufferers why I do this. I strive for perfection, so if I think it’s not going to be perfect, I won’t do it.
Some Final Thoughts
Life with OCD is a challenge. It is hard. Sometimes scary. Often impossible to explain. It might be part of me, but it isn’t all of me, and it certainly isn’t something that I am ashamed of. It often gives me a unique insight into obsessive emotions, thoughts and patterns. Understanding my own triggers is integral to feeling more secure in myself and safely managing my behaviours means that I have grown to understand myself so much more. I value my experiences with OCD and wouldn’t change them.