Shattering Stigmas is an annual blogging event that lasts two weeks. During this fortnight, we’ll be talking about anything and everything mental health related. The aim of these posts are to take away some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, to invite people to open up about their stories, and to help others learn.
Me and my OCD
I have OCD. Yet when I tell people that I don’t feel like I have to explain myself. Everyone knows what OCD is, don’t they? It’s that thing we all have. If you have to have your TV volume on even numbers, you have OCD, right? Or if you like your cans in the cupboard in straight lines, that’s OCD, right? And not forgetting that work colleague who always uses hand sanitizer before they eat. This is OCD, right?
OCD stands for obsessive compulsive disorder. The obsessions refer to the intrusive thoughts which we all have. Yes, which we all have. Ever walked over a motorway or busy road and suddenly imagined yourself jumping up? Yeah, that’s an intrusive thought. They are completely normal. Most people notice that they are odd but carry on with their day as normal. Individuals with OCD, fixate on these.
Intrusive thoughts cause an overwhelming amount of anxiety and stress. Sufferers want to do whatever they can to reduce this anxiety, so they develop compulsions. These are the behaviours which you may or may not see and are what society in general focus on. OCD can manifest itself in many different ways. It’s not just a fear of contamination which is considered to be stereotypical OCD in the media. Many sufferers worry about harm coming to their loved ones if they don’t count or touch things a certain amount of times. Others may be convinced they are a murderer or paedophile and go to great lengths to make sure this isn’t true even though their rational mind is fully aware that it’s not.
For me, my OCD centred about contamination. So yes, if you like I am that stereotypical OCD person washing my hands obsessively. But my OCD also had a lot more of a serious side. OCD made me pour neat bleach over my hands up to five times a day. OCD made me stop eating three meals a day, surviving on just one 600-900 calorie meal. OCD made me hoard over 50 empty hand sanitizer bottles. OCD made me wash my hands over and over till they were sore, cracked and bleeding.
OCD ruined and ruled my life. As a child, I was always very anxious, nervous and worried about the worst in any given situations. I’ve struggled with social anxiety, generalised anxiety and OCD throughout my childhood but it was only in 2016, after a particularly stressful and challenging period where OCD became all-consuming and very apparent to those around me. I was washing my hands more and more, avoiding touching things or people around me and eventually cutting myself out from the world entirely.
Things have got better though. I’ve undergone a treatment plan including medication, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and EMDR therapy (Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing) At CBT I work through a hierarchy of my compulsions, I started with the thing that caused me the least anxiety and worked my way up, to the things that cause me the most anxiety. I only move on to the next thing when the step before it causes me no anxiety. I’m currently on some of the last steps, with this. EMDR is a lesser known therapy. It focuses on tackling unresolved trauma and lets your mind process and understand these events from a different perspective alongside the help of a professional. I had a turbulent childhood, filled with a lot of illness, being the main reason behind my OCD. This type of therapy helped me see the events which happened to me, no longer from a child’s perspective.
On a day to day basis, I make sure I schedule self-care time. This often consists of reading, an hour before bed, which also has double benefits, as not only does it help relax me, it also means I get a better night’s sleep. When I find myself in a state of panic, I usually use the 5,4,3,2,1… method. Whereby I look for five things I can see, four things I can touch, three things I can hear, two things I can smell and one thing I can taste. This really helps ground me and brings me back into the present moment.
By sharing my story, I aim to educate and spread awareness of what OCD really is. It’s not just about being clean, neat or tidy. It’s a debilitating disorder which tortures its victims and makes life a living nightmare.
If I’ve encouraged you to call someone out if they use OCD in an inappropriate context or if I have made you think about the language you use and the times you’ve called someone OCD because they like their pens in rainbow order, for example, which is not OCD at all. I hope I’ve made you think and now have a much clearer understanding of the reality of living with obsessive compulsive disorder.