I have OCD.
I can hide it really well though, so you probably wouldn’t be able to tell unless I’ve told you, or you’ve seen me at my worst.
I’m lucky in that way. Some people have symptoms that are so severe they cannot hide it, or don’t have the coping skills I’ve worked hard on to help them.
When I tell my mother that I have OCD she laughs. She thinks OCD means being obsessively neat, because that’s the way TV and film has made it out to be. I’ve never been tidy, most days my room resembles something off an episode of hoarders, something I blame on my depression, but laziness is also probably a cause. (Hoarding is actually a type of OCD.)
What is OCD?
OCD stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and while obsessing about things being clean can be a way in which it presents itself, it is definitely not the only way.
Basically, OCD is when you get obsessive,unwanted thoughts that may lead to compulsive, often repetitive behaviours. These thoughts could be about germs, but they could also present as violent or sexual thoughts that you don’t want to have, or involve repeated behaviours, like checking you’ve locked the door 5 times.
Essentially, OCD comes in three parts:
So you have an obsessive thought, the thought gives you anxiety, and that anxiety makes you feel compelled to perform a specific behaviour as a result of that anxiety.
With cleanliness OCD as an example, the obsession would be with germs, the anxiety would be that the germs will make you ill and you may die as a result, and the compulsion would be to overly clean yourself to make sure the germs don’t ‘harm’ you.
Please look at the OCD advice on the NHS website for more information.
How Does My OCD Present?
My OCD is largely around intrusive thoughts and checking. My obsessive thoughts and compulsions are typically based around the concept that if I don’t do a particular thing by a particular time, then something bad will happen to someone I love.
There are some recurring themes around this, where I will have this OCD behaviour about the same situation each day, but my brain also likes to throw in the occasional wildcard moment.
I am walking along a pavement next to a road where cars are passing. There are paving stones. My brain suddenly goes: “If you don’t make it to that brown paving stone by the time the red car passes, someone you love will die”.
I then have to run to get to the place my brain has decided I should be to make sure people I love are safe. Sometimes my brain will up the stakes, and make the situation near impossible to achieve without me hurting myself in some way. All in all, not a great way to live.
This is a generic example of the kind of thing I deal with. I don’t think I want to share my most common OCD anxiety trigger yet, as I don’t want that kind of information to be used against me. I could just be paranoid, but I don’t want to risk that.
Checking and Repetition
I also deal with checking and repetitive behaviours, and for me the number three is really important. This means that I have to repeat certain behaviours three times, and if I don’t do that I feel wrong. I also feel a strong need to have symmetrical experiences; by this I mean that, if, for example, I touch something with one hand, the other hand also has to touch it to get the same sensory experience.
I remember being very young, and every time we got in the car I would have to do my seatbelt up with one hand, then unclip it and do it again with the other, and then repeat a third time with the first hand. My parents used to get very frustrated with this and shout at me to stop a lot. Obviously as a child I was unable to explain or even comprehend why I felt I had to do that.
Because of the response from my parents, I think a lot of these OCD behaviours got forcibly stopped and instead developed into other mental health conditions as a way of (badly) coping. It’s not necessarily something I blame them for, I think there’s just a massive amount of ignorance about most mental health conditions and that is damaging.
How I Cope
I’ve seen counselors on and off since I was 16, and OCD was first properly discussed when I was about 19, although I did already have an inkling that I was experiencing those symptoms.
I was on anti-anxiety medication for a bit, but it messed up my body in other ways, and so now, I mostly use the contraceptive pill to regulate my hormones rather than anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication. I have a huge hormone irregularity that massively affects my mood and mental health, and getting that under control really helps me to manage my mental health symptoms better.
While undertaking counseling, I have also tried both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT).
My OCD symptoms get way worse at times of stress, so I try to practice things that help to calm me, like breathing exercises and yoga.
Coronavirus is Affecting my OCD
At time of writing, it is the COVID-19 lockdown and so things are a little worse for me at the moment and I have been really struggling with my obsessive thoughts and correlating compulsions. Weirdly, my obsessions don’t relate to the virus or compulsive cleaning, instead it just enhances my typical OCD behaviours and makes the need to complete a compulsive behaviour all the more strong.
If you have OCD too, I would love to hear the coping strategies you use besides medication to help ease your symptoms. Please leave me a comment below with any advice you have!