Air Crash - Adam shares his experience of OCD

Adam Shaw

This week is OCD Awareness Week, and each day we will be publishing a different account of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Extract taken from the book Pulling the Trigger: OCD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Related Depression written by Adam Shaw of The Shaw Mind Foundatuion.

I had battled severe OCD all my life, OCD plays a big role in all of my earliest childhood memories. Like most OCD sufferers I had learnt to hide it, avoid it, invent rituals to try and negotiate with it so it would leave me alone. I craved a normal mind and a normal life, and I thought I had just about achieved that in my early twenties when my OCD seemed to have calmed down and had therefore enrolled at Oxford Air Training school to train as a commercial airline pilot. Life was beginning to seem normal and as we headed off to Arizona, USA for part of our flight training, I was finally beginning to feel content for the first time in my life.  

In a life dominated by OCD and anxiety I’ve noticed that when things are really going my way and I feel there is nothing getting in my way of reaching my goals, suddenly something kicks in and my mental health issues begin to really knock me back. And so it did in Arizona. One day I passed through reception at the airport, and as I did so I noticed the young receptionist at the desk, a girl I’d seen occasionally before.

I’m going to strangle her,’ I thought.

It came right out of the blue, and no sooner had it done so than it lodged in my brain, gripped tight and wouldn’t let go. The thought horrified me and my anxiety went sky high.

I’m going to strangle her. It must mean I’m likely to do this, therefore I’m dangerous, they will arrest me and put me in a mental hospital or prison here in Arizona. I will never see my family or friends again in the UK. I’m going to strangle her. I’m £60,000 in debt through paying for my flight training and my career is over. My parents are the guarantors of my loan, they will lose the family home and everything they have ever worked for because their son is an evil murderer.

I’m going to strangle her. I can’t get that thought out of my head and it will drive me mad.

I’m going to strangle her. It’s such an awful thought that it must mean that I really want to do this; there is no getting away from this.

I didn’t fly that day, or any day after that. I just turned around, went back to my room, and lay in bed for two days. I begged my brain to remove the thought, but it wouldn’t go. My classmates rallied round and wondered what was wrong. I told them my dad was ill and I was feeling a bit down. In my heart, I knew I’d messed up big time. This thought was not going away, and there was no chance of me getting into a cockpit. I was a danger to myself and others. At least that’s what I thought.

I was terribly anxious about ringing my parents. They had to know I wasn’t well, and that I needed to come home. All sorts of thoughts swirled around my brain: ‘How can I explain to them that I might be a psychopath?’ ‘Will they disown me because something is mentally wrong with me?’ ‘How will I repay the money they’ve lent me?’ ‘What will I do next?’

"I tried again, this time telling her that ‘something wasn’t right with my head’."

The thought of speaking to them filled me with fear and horror, but I had to do it. I rang home and mum answered.  Hi Adam!’ she said brightly, ‘How are you doing?’‘Mum, I’m not very well ...’ I began. Her tone changed immediately. ‘Why?’ she said, sounding serious. ‘What’s wrong?’ I tried to pretend, tried to say I was getting bad headaches and couldn’t concentrate. She replied that they’d be gone in a day or so, and not to worry. I tried again, this time telling her that ‘something wasn’t right with my head’. I’m not sure she really understood that, but she became very quiet. I could hear my dad in the background asking, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Does he need to come home?’‘I think you do need to come home, don’t you Adam?’ she said. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll sort it out.’

I just sobbed and sobbed. Telling them was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. Instinctively they knew something was seriously wrong, and they booked a ight for me the following day.

My friends took me to the airport. They hugged me and put comforting arms round my shoulders. ‘See you when your dad’s better!’ they said. I smiled and returned the hugs, knowing I’d never see them again and that my life was over. Some of them kept in touch, but even now they think my dad had a heart attack and I couldn’t continue the course for that reason.

I don’t know how I managed to get on that plane. I was wracked with anxiety and guilt, and my brain and body felt totally separate. Somehow I managed it, curling up into my seat in the hope that no one would think that I looked strange. The thoughts of strangling people kept coming and coming, a powerful feeling that forced me to sit on my hands for the entire eleven-hour flight. ‘Don’t have an urge,’ I whispered to myself. ‘Don’t have an urge, don’t have an urge, don’t have an urge ...’ As we touched down back in the UK, I released my hands from underneath me, they were completely numb and felt lifeless. I struggled to even grab my bag from the overhead baggage compartment as the sensations of pins and needles began to kick in. As I exited the aircraft I felt drained of all my energy and appetite simply from trying to prevent any urges during the long flight.

"My life was over, it felt like I had no say in the matter, OCD was in control."

Mum picked me up at the airport. I was white as a sheet. I hardly spoke on the journey home up the motorway. All I could think about was how ‘this’ had finally got me, ruined my career, left me £60,000 in debt. Back then, you could buy a nice house in Sheffield for that kind of money. It was the first time I seriously considered throwing myself under a train so I could relieve myself of the anguish and the perceived mess I had created. I felt I wasn’t safe to be around other people, never mind fly a planeload of them around the world.

In the past I’d kept my thoughts at bay with distractions,avoidance and rituals, but this time it had completely bypassed everything. My life was over, it felt like I had no say in the matter, OCD was in control.

- Adam Shaw.


About Adam and The Shaw Mind Foundation

Adam Shaw is founder of the mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundatuion and co author of new book Pulling The Trigger with friend of OCD-UK, Dr Lauren Callaghan, the psychologist who helped him reach recovery. Together they founded Trigger Press, a publishing company dedicated to creating a range of books to help recovery from mental illness. Adam lives with his family in Lincolnshire.

Shaw Mind Foundation logo

The Shaw Mind Foundatuion aims to ensure that treatment and recovery from mental health problems is made available to all, regardless of location, financial situation or the nature of their illness.


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