Typically speaking people refer to OCD colloquially, it’s a kind of joke used to describe perfectionism or being overly tidy. Now it’s true most people will have OCD tendencies but the reality is very different for those with severe or diagnosed OCD in that it is certainly no joke.
OCD is recognised by the World Health Organisations as one of the most debilitating illnesses in the world which should give you some idea that it certainly isn’t just making sure your papers line up on your desk. There are roughly 800,000 of us in the UK with OCD making it one of the rarer mental illnesses but is possibly up there with the most misunderstood. This is mostly due to the stereotypes around the illness and it not being a ‘real problem’.
So, I’m here to help clear up some of the stereotypes and go some way to explain the illness.
OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s an anxiety based disorder centred around the interpretation of thoughts.
If I were to ask you, have you ever had an intrusive thought? You’d quizzically look at me no doubt, but if I were to say have you ever been on a train platform and felt the urge to jump? Or push someone off? Or something similar to this? The answer should be, 100% yes, if not, you can’t remember it. Why? It’s been scientifically proven we all have these thoughts, the sudden urge to drop a baby, crash a car or stab someone when holding a knife. The reasoning behind it is that the world is a constant flood of information and your brain processes this by thoughts, throwing random solutions at you it thinks may help. Most people have these thoughts and they rush through the brain often leaving no other impression than, well that was odd.
The OCD brain stops and thinks why? Why did I have this thought? What does it mean? Why is my brain telling me I have the urge to drop a baby? Or push this person in front of a train? What does this mean about me? The thought makes us feel uncomfortable, anxious, worried about what we may do, so we try to stop the thought.
If I told you to not think of a little kitten, with tabby fur and big hazel eyes, don’t think of that kitten lapping milk, don’t think of it rolling with a ball of blue wool. It’s highly likely that is exactly what you will be thinking, we can’t tell our brains not to think of something as all it does is go, why not? Must be important, we must think of this more!
That’s how an OCD brain works, we have a thought, we don’t like it, we try to get rid of it. Why don’t we like it? We worry about what having the thought says about us, there are many types of OCD and can be centred on any thoughts but typically focus on what a person loves and fears the most. There is contamination OCD, relationship OCD, religious OCD, checking OCD and Pure O. The list goes on.
What makes OCD so bad is that it starts out like a security net, we have a thought, it’s a bad thought, we get anxious and stop having this thought, it feels great, we feel safe. However, as shown by the kitten, trying to stop a thought is fruitless and it comes back, you try to get rid of it the same way you did before but you don’t feel as relaxed so you try something new, it might be checking the baby is ok if your thought was about dropping the baby. Baby is ok, feel ok, a few seconds later, how about now? Is the baby still ok, so you check again, looks ok, but how about putting some pillows around them? How about now? Check again, check the pillows, maybe wake the baby? And it keeps going and going. Every time you check, your brain reinforces the thought and reinforces the fear of the baby not being ok so you keep checking, just in case. It’s the only sensible thing to do, right? You become obsessive about it, all you do is check, it becomes a compulsion as you can’t help it and there we have it OCD.
I have Pure O, this simply means I have no physical symptoms of OCD. I don’t check anything, touch anything or clean anything. I was diagnosed nearly 7 years ago after an intrusive thought about being a paedophile entered my head, I was disgusted with myself for having the thought and assumed it meant I was a paedophile because normal people just don’t have thoughts like these. I have no history of violence or sexual violence yet having this thought was proof enough to me. It began merely with trying to think of something else, I then started to argue with the thought, find evidence against it, mentally check my body to see if I was aroused around children to prove the thought wrong, I would play games in my head and repeat phrases to cancel out the thought, essentially I was constantly distracting myself. I would avoid children and intimacy just in case, I had a dependency on sleeping tablets and alcohol to pass out each night instead of falling asleep as I would then have time to think. The thought persisted and mutilated, over the years OCD has had me as a serial killer, thief, psychopath, paedophile, cheat and narcissist. I have spent countless hours trying to prove to myself I am not one of these things and most people close to me would not label me with any of these names. Problem is, we can never be certain, the future is an unknown and we can never be sure something will or won’t happen, OCD clings onto this, something could be 99.999% unlikely, OCD would say yes, but look, still 0.001% left, it could happen, let’s make sure it doesn’t.
Hopefully, this post gives at least an insight into the true nature of OCD, it’s a whistle-stop I appreciate but I’m happy to talk about it in more detail if you want to reach out to www.serenaandocd.com. It’s misunderstood as I said but with people now starting to talk and share, we can hopefully begin to remove the stereotype and work on helping those in need! Talking FreEly is a great place to come and talk in a safe space, so put the next event in your diary, it’s on 27th October. Plus there are a wealth of resources for OCD and all mental health problems available on the internet if you’d like more information.