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OCD and Me
People say mental illness is a lonely place. They're right. You're trapped, living in a mist of uncertainty and sometimes depression. Below the polished surface that is you, lies confusion and pain. I know that's how I felt when I became hostage to the crippling mental illness that is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
OCD is a disabling anxiety disorder that can severely impact on the functioning of the every day life of its sufferers. Approximately 12 in every 1000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with the illness. It was ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the top 10 of the most disabling illnesses due to the low quality of life it can give you.
I was officially diagnosed with OCD a couple of years ago. I admit I was terrified, and I felt like I was crazy and an embarrassment to my family. I feared no one would take me seriously, and it took a while to be heard. Even today it's still hard. I've endured the disorder for as long as I can remember, however it became more of a problem as I grew up and it began to get out of control, and it was interfering with my everyday life, so I finally found the courage to speak out and ask for help. The earliest memories I have of it was when I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old. When I went on holiday I had to check every couple of minutes that my favourite doll was still in my bag as I became obsessively paranoid that I'd forgotten her even though I had just checked a few minutes before, or that someone had stolen her. Also, If I didn't touch objects a certain number of times or keep my little eyes open and not fall asleep until my mum came home from work or a night out, consequently my OCD brain would process hideous negative thoughts of my mum being stabbed or raped. I still remember those images vividly until this day. At such a young age, that was tough to handle, yet I kept it to myself as I thought it was perfectly normal and every child behaved in such a way. How wrong I was.
Bill Clinton once said 'mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.'
My OCD is constant. Sometimes it has a brief snooze, and its grip on my brain loosens a little. It soon wakes up, and continues to paralyse it with fear, unbeknown to my surrounding loved ones. The horrific and graphic intrusive thoughts thrive once again; temporarily relieved by acting out repetitive behaviours known as compulsions.However, the cycle soon repeats relentlessly, like a conveyor belt. This was also accompanied with my diagnosis of depression. Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by intense sadness, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, withdrawal from others, poor appetite, insomnia and lack of energy.Unbeknown to a lot of people, there are different types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, such as contamination, hoarding and checking. I suffer from touch OCD. No, I don't have to constantly wash my hands or organise everything perfectly neatly, like the stereotypical preconceived image portrays. 'Messy' individuals can suffer from the anxiety disorder too! Obsessions can fixate on almost anything, and people with OCD worry about things non-sufferers do too. Have you ever watched a train pass and you suddenly think about what would happen if you jumped in front of it? The difference is, a 'normal' individual can brush off those thoughts within seconds, however someone with the disorder would be hypersensitive to the worries.I must touch objects an even number of times; typically 2 or 10 times, such as every light switch I pass, or the base of an object I'm holding before I put it down. This is just to name a few. The number usually rises depending on my anxiety levels. I've taught myself how to do this subtly though, so my disorder is not obvious and I don't get teased. I am overly sensitive to it, even light jokes from my family get to me. It makes the world seem so quiet yet my head is full of endless noise. Do you know how exhausting it is when every time I walk into a room, my mind starts speedily processing all the compulsions I must carry out in that room, as well as imagining the horrible scenarios that might happen if I resist. That, and doing what I went into the room in the first place for of course. Sometimes, I have to continuously touch something until I get that 'just right' feeling. This can consume a lot of time, and increases with my anxiety levels. This is the reason behind my college grades falling and my punctuality problem, although most of the time I'm embarrassed to admit it, and let people think I'm just being lazy. 'It just feels right' is a big phrase in my life and one I don't think many people fully understand. If I am unable to carry out compulsions, this results in panic attacks and huge levels of psychological stress.The types can overlap too. For example, I have to check that all unoccupied plug switches in my home are turned off otherwise images of a ferocious fire killing my family plague my mind.
Doubt is a huge characteristic in a OCD sufferer. It feeds the anxiety and forces the vicious cycle to continue. Its knowledge of my inability to live with the doubt and uncertainty drives the OCD. The French once called OCD 'la folie de doute' which translates to the 'doubting disease'.
Understanding what forces a person to continue to perform the seemingly nonsensical behaviours that OCD creates is difficult, especially for my family who understandably feel helpless; a frustrating emotion for any parent. It is partly due to the perceived level of threat that a person with OCD believes may cause harm to loved ones or themselves.There is an overpowering sense of responsibly to prevent harm and it tricks you into overestimating the threat the intrusive thoughts bring. Every time something bad happens personally, the OCD voice always convinces me it is my fault. When my nan passed away this year, I was distraught. She died of cancer, so there was nothing anyone could of done to prevent it. However, despite this, there was still this voice taunting me. I felt guilty. Maybe I didn't try hard enough. Maybe I performed a compulsion wrong. Maybe I didn't do it enough. I know this is not logical, but the OCD had too much power.
It's also put a strain on many close relationships, particularly with a boy I was with for a year and a half, who became somewhat bullying about my problems and refused to attempt to understand. It was heartbreaking. It has also affected my college life greatly, as my attendance dropped significantly due to not wanting to leave the safety of my room, which resulted in my grades dropping.
In my lifetime, it is an important goal of mine to challenge the trivialising misconceptions that currently surround OCD. 'He/she is a bit OCD' or I'm really OCD about this or that' have come to be used with everyday vocabulary, and is usually described by anyone is slightly particular about the way things are done, or have everyday quirks that we all have. When I first spoke out about my OCD, it was ignored by a lot of people, and I was told 'everyone is a bit OCD.' However, OCD is not an illness that bothers, it is an illness that tortures, and fails to convey the disabling anxiety that the disorder entails. Although most mental illness are a victim of this. 'I'm really depressed' when someone is a bit sad for a genuine reason, or 'I'm bipolar' for people who have a hormonal mood swing a couple of times a day. These phrases trivialise and belittle the issues and prevent sufferers from speaking out to avoid being ridiculed and not taken seriously. It may sound dramatic, but it's completely true. Bill Clinton once said 'mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.' It has become socially acceptable to mock OCD and to laugh at people with a mental illness. Although, this doesn't come from a perspective of hate. It comes from ignorance.
An issue that I feel so passionately about is the reaction to mental health in comparison to physical health. Good, accessible mental health care should be with you from birth and the attention to mental health should be as comprehensive as physical care, but it clearly is not. This is proven by the outrageous two year waiting list for mental health patients to receive treatment. The ambulance service for the NHS recently issued a statement for this matter that read: 'An ambulance would be here within eight minutes if you had a heart attack but if you hold a knife to your throat and say you are Jesus Christ, it is quite possible the ambulance won't come and you will be transported in a police car even though you haven't committed a crime, and you may also end up in a cell, which has all sorts of implications.' This is undoubtedly true, and quite frankly, it makes me feel physically sick. Mental health and physical health are inextricably connected, however they seem to be valued on completely different levels. For example, if a patient has cancer, they would be showered with nothing but love and support. If a patient has a mental illness, they are disregarded and ridiculed, and told to 'get over it and cheer up.' You could think how the hell can I compare cancer to mental illness?! Cancer kills people!' I can explain. First of all, they are both illnesses. Cancer is a physical illness, mental disorders are a psychological illness. There would not be a 2 year waiting list for a cancer patient to be treated, so why is it acceptable to cut the mental health funding in the NHS and deprive mental health sufferers? It has recently been reported that suicide is the biggest killer amongst young men in the UK, and to back up my original point, suicide is often the unfortunate result of an uncontrolled psychological conflict. Mental illness, like cancer, can also kill people. So why is mental health still not treated on an equal platform to physical health? A conclusion could be that physical illness can be seen by the naked eye, whereas mental illness cannot so it is dismissed. Unfortunately, It has to be experienced to be understood. However, this is no excuse. I vow to make this known.
Currently, I'm attending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as taking the anti-depressant Sertraline to try and combat my OCD. I admit it's extremely difficult and puts intensive psychological pressure on my mind. It does take immense strength, and it does make me feel pretty crazy and weak. Picking up a glass and putting it back down again is one of the easiest tasks in the world. For me, however, it is not. Now, I know I'm not alone anymore. I have the support of my family; my mum for coping with me in my darkest times, my dad for always listening and my boyfriend, who has been amazing and I am truly grateful to him for standing by me and loving me for who I am. I will always have OCD, the difference is I will hopefully be able to control it. When I was asked where I wanted to be in a year when I first began therapy, I replied 'fight my demons and be happy'. It will take time, I'll struggle and I feel completely helpless most of the time, but I'll sure as hell win the fight. One day.