October is a big month mental health wise. Not only was last week World Mental Health Day, this week is OCD Awareness Week. Spoiler alert: I have OCD. To put it politely, it’s a complete and utter fucking ballache. I’ve written quite a few times now about how my brain works with contamination based OCD, and today I want to share a little more about what OCD is to me. I’ll warn you up front – I swear quite a bit in this post.
OCD is a merger of every single one of those horrible bitches that used to shout “catch the ball you fucking speccy midget” at me during P.E, along with all those kids in my class that used to call me a “boff” whenever I was given a higher than average mark at anything (admittedly, I still have some scars – can you tell?). But that’s how I see OCD. If it were a person, it would be a collective term for every single asshole that made me feel like shit about myself during my school years. It’s a bully. It hits you hardest when you’re at your weakest – when you’re stressed, angry, nervous or sad. It pushes you into stupid shit you don’t want or need to do. It caused me to destroy valuable possessions because of a fear they were contaminated. In the months before my wedding, it caused me to severely fuck up my cycle by taking the morning after pill on three different occasion because I was convinced I missed my pill by an hour and I didn’t want to be walking down the aisle carrying more than a bouquet (it also cost me a fuckton of money). Worst of all though – it caused me to destroy a friendship.
Not Just About Being Clean and Tidy
This is a tricky one. OCD is often portrayed in the media as an obsession with being clean and tidy – Monica from Friends, Emma Pilsbury in Glee. I’ve always struggled with this aspect of OCD, because I unfortunately fit the stereotype, and by saying that, I feel as though I’m invalidating my diagnosis in a way. I get anxious when things are messy, I see a green mist appear over everything that’s touched by someone else, and I have an uncontrollable urge to stab anyone who doesn’t wash their hands when they go to the toilet. My OCD is hugely related to contamination, so unfortunately, it fits in with that stereotype about being clean. Yes, OCD is not just about being clean and tidy – it’s a hell of a lot more than that. However, the fact that I have destroyed numerous possessions and friendships because of the potential of being exposed to germs indicates that this particular OCD stereotype is not something that should be brushed over. You could even argue in my case, it wasn’t necessarily about being clean and tidy, it was about contamination – when I lived in my old house, there were areas that I didn’t actually clean because they were so vile that I felt I would be contaminating myself by cleaning them, so they just remained disgusting.
I’ll be honest – sometimes I feel a bit of shame when people say that it’s not just about being clean, almost as though I don’t have “proper” OCD. I completely acknowledge that it’s not just about being clean – there’s so many sufferers out there who experience intrusive and unpleasant thoughts around religion, sex, physical symptoms, violence and even the urge to hoard things. The fact that I spend a great deal of time worrying about whether or not I’ve ran a child over in my car or whether I’ll get cancer unless I “touch wood” every time I mention it also demonstrates that too. I made myself late for work on numerous occasions through constantly checking whether my front door was locked, whether my car was locked, whether my handbrake was on etc. I guess my point is this – OCD is NOT just about contamination, but it’s certainly important to acknowledge that it’s still a factor.
Not a Personality Trait
I hate those people who use OCD as an adjective. I hate Khloe Kardashian using it as a hashtag when she advertises cleaning products on Instagram. I hate those tacky AF sweatshirts with various phrases like “Obsessive Christmas Disorder” and “Obsessive Cat Disorder” on them. Spoiler alert – it’s not an adjective. OCD is not a quirk, it’s not cute, and it’s not a personality trait. It’s an illness that tortures, humiliates and ruins. If I hear one more person say “I have that too, I can’t stand things being untidy,” I will cut them. Personality traits don’t lead to you washing your hands such much that they bleed and they don’t cause you to check your front door so much that you end up with blisters on the inside of your fingers.
Difficult to Live With in a Global Pandemic
In the weeks where things with coronavirus kicked off, my OCD was not in a good way. I struggled with the news that there was a shortage on hand sanitizers and soap, and the sheer lack of control over the whole thing meant that I genuinely wanted to die just so I didn’t have to deal with it. In a way, lockdown was a relief because it meant for that time, I was free from the risk of getting covid, and I could avoid the news and stick my head in the sand. In another way though, it was painful and sad – having to only speak to my mum via video calls, drinking heavily and not knowing when this nightmare would be over. The rules around handwashing virtually blurred the lines of what was considered normal and what would be classed as a compulsion – similarly with things like disinfecting groceries and wiping down your phone. Contamination OCD meant that once the rules started to be lifted, I still didn’t leave my house properly for another two months. I feel as though I’ve taken a huge step back in my recovery because of this bastard pandemic and it’s certainly not over yet. I hate that the pandemic has undone a lot of the hard work I’ve done towards my recovery, and I hate that with mental health services struggling as much as they are right now, it’ll take me a very long time to get back to where I was.
Despite everything I’ve said, OCD is treatable. Through six months of high intensity CBT and 100mg of Sertraline, I got to stages I never thought I’d get to again. I was able to clean my bathroom without having to have a shower afterwards, I was able to use my phone when I was out without soaking it in Dettol afterwards, and I could stop washing my hands after I’d done it three times. In the two years after my discharge from the mental health service, I was happier than I’d ever been – I felt successful, accomplished, and as though I had my life back. While I’m currently frustrated with where I’m at and worried about the future of my recovery, I’m grateful that I got to the point I did. Had I not gotten to where I did in my recovery, I dread to think how I would have coped over the last few months.
I hope this post has given you a little insight into living with OCD. I guess if I wanted you to take anything away from this post, it would be this: please stop using OCD as an adjective. Educate yourself more in the disorder and stop using it to describe yourself just because you need to have everything neat and tidy at home. Kay?
Take care everyone x
For More Information About OCD:
The UK’s largest OCD charity focusing on support and advice for anyone affected by the condition.
The UK’s national charity run by and for people with lived experience of OCD.
Useful information on OCD, types, causes, symptoms and treatments by UK mental health charity, Mind.
Information on symptoms and treatment for OCD.