Friday, 13 October 2017

My little demon called OCD

As this week was mental health day I thought I would post about my experience of  OCD.

It started with the need to say a prayer every night before going to sleep when I was about 10 - if I didn’t say the prayer then something terrible would happen to my friends, my family, my pets or me. I KNEW that it was my responsibility to say this prayer. It started really brief

“please keep everyone safe”

Then developed into:

“ Please make sure nothing bad happens to my family, my friends, my pets or my house, please make sure we don’t have a fire, or a burglar comes, or we get sick or are in a car crash or get hurt in any way, please make sure people don’t die because they are old”

And it had to be said every night without interruption.

Then the rules changed – it had to be said but it had to be said 3 times. If a car went past or if someone made a noise I had to start again.

It sounds stupid right? I didn’t even believe in God (still don't) but I couldn’t risk anything awful happening. When I tried skipping it I couldn’t breathe, it felt like someone was squeezing my chest, I saw flickering black dots, I sweated, my stomach cramped and I felt like I was going to throw up, I couldn’t sleep, all that I could think was I have to say the prayer I have to finish it or something terrible will happen, I’d physically shake.
It was okay though I could manage it. I just had to say the words in my head and the pressure would be off and I could carry  on and get to sleep.

The thoughts though behind it weren’t satisfied. Walking to school one day and I saw 3 red cars in a row and it was like someone had poured itching powder over me. My skin was crawling, I was on high alert because something terrible was going to happen I knew that the only way to stop it from happening was to go back home, go into the house and close the door and start the trip again. 

This started an almost obsession with car colours. Different colours and patterns of colours meant different things:
3 red cars in a row? – Go home, start again
3 black cars in a row? – Go home and stay home do not leave the house DANGER
1 red 2 green cars? – do not drink during the day
2 silver cars 1 red car? – do not use a blue pen

Crazier and crazier but if I didn’t obey the rules then bad things would happen – I knew they would, we would get burned alive in our sleep, or run over by a train or catch a fatal illness. The dread brought out physical symptoms, headaches, pain in my limbs, pain in my jaw, blurry vision, trouble breathing, dizziness.

I also knew it was a secret – no one could know about it – if people knew and knew the rules then the rules would change and the rituals wouldn't  work. As time went on the rituals became much more  embedded and it became harder to hide them. 

As well as having my rituals to perform I also developed a fear of becoming contaminated - school is a great place  to learn things to really mess with your head! Dust is made up of people's dead skin, you breath it in and you have bits of their skin contaminating your body! Flushing the toilet creates a vortex shooting micro-organisms and water droplets containing urine and feces into the air which you then breath in getting contaminated! Someone coughs or breathes near your food it's got to be binned as it's contaminated. The list goes  on.  It pretty much started ruling my life dictating what I could and  couldn't do.  I struggled with high school my weird behaviour and rituals didn't win me any friends, I didn't want to spend time with other people because they could cause me to become contaminated. I spent a lot of time talking to people online who lived in the USA  and Australia - I felt safe there - we could talk but they weren't going to sneeze on me, cough or leave bits of their skin near me. I managed to pass my exams and get into Uni.

 Uni was a turning point. 

A Dr there diagnosed  me with moderate OCD and referred me to a counsellor -  I didn't actually end up seeing the counsellor due to some other issues but when I got back to Cardiff my  Dr here told me I could attend a CBT course or start on SSRI for anxiety. I opted for the CBT course and they put me on an SSRI to help manage the symptoms whilst I waited. There was a fairly long wait to get on the CBT course but luckily a cancellation space opened up,which was really good as I refused to take the anxiety meds because I had a fear of getting poisoned (kinda stupid when you think about it -someone is deathly afraid of weird things going into their body and you give them weird things to put in their body!)

The CBT course was aimed at treating the symptoms I experienced by examining why I needed to do certain things. It helped me a lot and although it didn't address the root cause of the OCD it helped me develop new coping strategies and work arounds so that I didn't need to complete my rituals.

I read a lot on some forums I am on - people say they have been cured of OCD. I really wish I could say that but I haven't - I still have crazy thoughts and I still find myself doing things that make no sense to anyone else but do to me, but OCD no longer controls my life. It's currently a niggle in the back of my head, a little voice,a whisper rather than a screaming roar and that's okay.

In my day to day life I struggle with moving on from a task - if I have something to do then I have to complete it before  I can start something else - at skate practice and the gym I find it difficult if I cant complete an exercise and struggle if the coach or PT wants us to move on to something else - if I am eating a meal I have to eat it by sections each section has to be completed before I can eat the next, I like to eat sweets etc by colour and size, I still dislike people being in my personal space, touching my food or my belongings, I shower at least 2 times a  day.

I find it very difficult to speak to people about any of this. OCD is seen  as a joke  - you get comments like "wow I wish I had OCD then my house would be clean haha" - its almost acceptable to make these comments  yet would they go up to someone who was quadriplegic and say wow I wish I was quadriplegic then people would have to give me a seat on the bus, or to someone with anorexia - wow your so lucky I wish I had an eating disorder so I can lose this last 50lbs! People think it's just about washing your hands a lot or double checking your door is  locked - they dont understand that it is a compulsion and that if you dont do the things your head tells you to do then you cannot function and if you do the things your head tells you to do you still cant function. It can ruin your health, your relationships, your employment and education opportunities. It saps the energy out of you and turns things that should bring you joy and happiness into an endless rotation of doubt and fear.

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