For too long, a vast majority of people in society have considered obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) to be all about hand-washing. It’s time we talked more about OCD and spoke about the debilitating torment this illness can have and how hand-washing is in fact just one part of it all.
I’ve had OCD since the age of seven, but it was left undiagnosed and untreated until I turned 22. For years prior I had lived a secret life of ritualised hand-washing, hair pulling, counting syllables and trying to maintain a balance between good and bad.
I can only describe the ‘OCD part of my brain’ as noisy, and it is this noise that us who suffer with OCD can be scared to talk about. This might be through fear of what someone may say to us or through not wanting to admit there’s even a problem. That was the case for me – the noise I had in my head, which I know better now as intrusive thoughts, was unbearable, yet admitting that they were a problem was something I was afraid to do for years of my adolescent life. I would lay in bed, night after night, going over each and every situation that I had encountered throughout the past day, frustrated at where I hadn’t followed my rituals of handwashing, moving a certain way, or punishing myself for things that had gone wrong. The torment was awful. If things hadn’t gone how I’d planned for them to, I’d punish myself in any way I could, just to ‘get the balance right.’
As I grew older, my OCD symptoms were exacerbated by general life experiences, and I found my fear of contamination became stronger by the day. I wash my hands so vigorously and so frequently that they are now dry, cracked and very sore some days. I rely heavily on hand sanitisers which dry my hands out even more. I now also pull the hair from my eyebrows and eyelashes, and I’m left with noticeable gaps (thank goodness for make up!). Furthermore, I count syllables during conversations with my fingers – as you can imagine, this can be incredible annoying and I often don’t seem as though I’m listening or that I’ve ‘zoned out’ when in fact I am repeating the sentences that have been said to me over and over in order to count the syllables correctly.
In terms of intrusive thoughts, these have changed and adapted also as I have become older. Some thoughts I still can’t bear to share with anyone, but they make me feel like the most awful person in the world. Sometimes they are strong images, so vivid in my mind that I fear they will truly happen at any moment. On many occasions I have had to sit on the floor, shutting my eyes and turning my music up loud, in the hope I can drown them out. I suffer from severe panic attacks because of these thoughts, or if I haven’t followed out my rituals as I need to. They leave my exhausted and drained.
There is still so much stigma around OCD. A lot of individuals consider it to only be about germs and being untidy, yet this is so far from the truth. In fact, I can be a very untidy person, just ask my partner! And these misconceptions anger me, for they do not represent what it is truly like living day-in, day-out with this illness. Yes, my hands look as though they belong to someone three times my age at times, but this is only one segment of the chaos in my mind that is OCD.
Now that I have come to terms with my diagnosis and have learnt more about this illness, I have decided I want to talk about it more. I want to work towards breaking down the myths surrounding OCD in the hope that individuals who speak out about having OCD are treated with the same respect as they would a physical illness. Treatment for OCD can be difficult enough without adding stigma into the mix. Thankfully, I am now about to start some intensive therapy that will work out where my OCD originated and start to change my thought processes in the hope of easing symptoms.
If you suffer with OCD, I urge you to speak out and seek treatment. There are options out there including medication and talking therapies. Some things will work for you, and others won’t. But I still have hope that one day I will be able to live alongside my OCD rather than it live my life for me. The stigma in society is a big enough issue in itself, but by not talking about the true reality of OCD, we are adding to the stigma too. So speak out, be proud, and believe that things will one day be better.