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We were approached by a parent who wanted to tell their story about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and how it has dominated their life. They wish to remain anonymous but here is that story...
Those that know me see a normally cheerful, happy and enthusiastic person. I have a good life, great family and enjoy my job. I love laughing, chatting and being sociable. Sounds perfect, right?
Well I am not moaning, not at all. However there is a side to me that many people don’t know, even those very close to me, a side that used to make me feel a fraud, like I live a lie. A side that I hide, very well and used to be embarrassed about. Actually if I am honest, I still am slightly.
The fact is, I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
As far back as I can remember, as a toddler, I felt anxiety over certain things. The earliest memories are anxiety about ordering and having objects placed neatly. As a child I went through phases that included rituals, checking and intense intrusive thoughts. For a child, that is confusing and I remember saying to myself, aged probably no older than 10, that other children must have these same 'problems'. In truth, it wasn't a problem. It didn't stop me doing anything. It did make me tired and I can remember feeling exhausted by the walking backwards and forwards, retracing steps because of the intense feeling of pressure that I'd feel if I didn't. That pressure, temporarily relieved by acting out the compulsion just got worse and worse but eventually, moved on to another ritual, like a constant conveyor belt.
When you hear people say that mental illness is a lonely place, well it's true. You are trapped and living in a mist of uncertainty, seeing no way out.
By my teens, I would chant phrases in my head, a fear that bad luck would occur if I didn't, that if I didn't check the light switch was off 35 times, my mother would die, that if I scratched my left leg and then not my right, then I would die, that if I didn't wash my hands for the 50th time that hour, something terrible would happen. To me, these were, and are the worst parts of OCD, the things that you can hide and because of that, they take over and control your life. If no one knows you are performing an OCD ritual because it's easy to hide, then it's easy to keep doing it, until it becomes intolerable. Many people think OCD is only about hand washing and cleanliness. It isn't. It can affect every part of the sufferers day and everything that they do.
I had told no one of my OCD throughout my childhood, through my teens and into early adulthood. Keeping it all bottled up wasn't a choice, it was a necessity. I didn't know what was wrong with me, I thought I probably was slightly mad, a strange, abnormal person who might not be understood or believed. I was highly embarrassed and the thought of telling someone, anyone was incomprehensible. I did eventually tell my partner, after we had been seeing each other for about a year which was a huge relief because I didn't have to hide all of my obsessions and compulsions. That in itself was a breakthrough. Someone else know my deepest secret. Someone else knew the hidden me. I had a new lease of life for a while as someone now understood me better and I could, well just be me.
When you hear people say that mental illness is a lonely place, well it's true. You are trapped and living in a mist of uncertainty, seeing no way out. You might be the most outgoing, sociable person in your group, might be out every night, always the person people ring first if they have a problem, but below the polished shiny surface that is you, lies confusion, sometimes depression, often turmoil.
In my twenties, I had my first child. The minute my child was born, my OCD brain was processing hideous thoughts. Intrusive thoughts of dropping my child, harming or killing my child started entering my head. These were obviously unwelcomed and I had prepared for this, I knew it would happen. I can be strong and ignore these thoughts I said to myself.
But within a week of my baby being born, my OCD had spiralled out of control. Only my partner could see the destruction in my head that the OCD was bringing. This should have been the best few weeks of my life, but instead they were the worst. It sounds awful to say that but it truly was. I have never been that low. In the following 2 weeks I was suffering depression and panic attacks. I would have intrusive thoughts about harming my baby and constantly seek reassurance from my partner that I was ok, that the baby was still ok. I knew I would never hurt my child and that I felt a bond and love like no other. But that's the thing about OCD, it tricks you, makes you believe the incomprehensible untruths.
Drastic action had to be taken as my OCD was now affecting my partner's relationship with our child. So, one of the bravest things I have ever done (and that sounds ridiculous really but it's true) was to tell our health visitor about my OCD and what was happening. It was a huge relief. I think that I was seeking the relief and approval from a health professional, that they understood what I was telling them and that I was a decent normal person and not this monster I thought I was. Great, you might think? Well, no, things just got worse.
Panic attacks followed and the depression I was feeling got worse. I was put on antidepressants, struggled to go out and became a bit of a recluse. The hardest part was knowing I'd gone from a proud parent still beaming about my child being born to, quite frankly, a mess in the space of a few weeks.
Luckily, (probably somewhat unfairly to those other poor people waiting months, even years for help) I was fast-tracked into cognitive behaviour therapy via the NHS and over the next few weeks, was able to take a step back from my situation and feel comfort and support from the therapist. Slowly I was able to realise that simply anxiety was the problem. Fight the anxiety and win and you can then take on OCD with a much stronger hand.
All in all it took me about 3 years after my child was born to get back to 'normal'. By that I mean back to the OCD riddled person I still am. That to me is normal and to be honest, I quite like it. I am who I am and that person has been meticulously crafted through mental illness. In fact, I believe I am more driven and focused because of it. I can confidently say I am the happiest that I have ever been in my life now. Going through that caverness low period in my life has made me reassess what the most important things to me are.
The funny thing is however, a lot of my friends and some of my family still don't know about my OCD, not because I am too embarrassed to tell them.... just because I am now comfortable with myself and my life and OCD, although still always there, is much less of a problem.
I want to say this to anyone suffering in silence or too embarrassed or scared to get help... Take the step and do it. Go to your GP and initiate the process of getting help. Your doctor won't be shocked, they deal with mental illness daily. They will be supportive and compassionate and get you the help you desperately need.