As it’s OCD Awareness Week, I wanted to share a few OCD related posts to mark the occasion. Today, I’m talking about the things I’ve learned since getting diagnosed with OCD. Of course, I realise now that I’ve suffered with OCD for way longer than I realised, but these are things that I’ve learned over the years since getting my diagnosis in 2016, and more importantly, since the start of the pandemic.
I Know Who My Real Friends Are
OCD has put me through some incredibly dark shit over the years, and it’s taught me a lot about who my real friends are. They’re the ones who laugh with me (not AT me) over the stupid shit I’ve done because OCD has told me to, and the ones who proudly tell me they’ve disinfected the door handles when I visit them. The ones who message me in advance if they’re not feeling well before I’m due to see them, and the ones who wash their hands as soon as they come into my house. The ones who sent me little gifts at the start of the pandemic because they knew I was not in a good place, and the ones who would regularly send me messages just to check I was okay.
Some may argue that things like washing their hands as soon as they enter my house and disinfecting their door handles for me is pandering to my OCD and making it worse. I can see how that might come across, but for me, personally, it shows that they get it. They get what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not comfortable with, and that means a hell of a lot to me. I know for a fact that if I were to tell these particular friends that I’m trying to push myself or if I felt what they were doing was unhelpful, they would stop.
Having friends that get what you’re going through and that respect you and the boundaries of illness makes such a huge difference. I feel confident and safe whenever I see them because I know that they wouldn’t put me in a situation that causes me any anxiety, and that means the world.
People Will Continue to Try and Relate to Me Because They Like Cleaning/Symmetry/Organising
I really hate this one, but sadly, it’s something that comes with the territory. No matter how much you tell people about the time you threw away a brand new coat because you thought it was contaminated, or the time you were late for work because you were convinced you’d run over a child with your car and had to turn around to check, people still think they can relate to you because they can’t stand a messy house or because they like to have their bookcase in order.
Along with using OCD as an adjective (or any other mental illness for that matter), this is something that still boils my piss to this day. I get that most of the time, people don’t say it to be malicious or cruel, but it just seems that no matter how much you try and educate people, they just don’t get it. While it makes me angry, I don’t want to be that person who calls people out every time OCD is used in the wrong context. I don’t want to be an asshole about it, but at the same time, I don’t want to just sit there and smile politely. All I can say is: think before you speak and educate yourself on how damaging OCD can be before you tell someone that you have it too.
I’ve Got Through a Pandemic With OCD, Not Because Of It
In the very early stages of the pandemic, I read an article by the Wall Street Journal written by a Harvard professor who claimed that “we all need OCD” right now. It made me feel physically sick, and it made me ridiculously angry. However, over the last 18 months, I’ve heard similar comments on multiple occasions.
I get what they’ve meant, and I get that no one’s meant it to be cruel, but fuck me, THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK.
OCD has made me wash my hands so many times that they’ve bled, and that was before Covid. At what point is that considered “lucky?” The pandemic slowly unpicked the work I’d done for my recovery, and I’m still trying to claw a lot of that back. For people to tell me that I’m “lucky” is an insult.
However, I can sort of see where they get that impression from. While I try my best to push the idea that OCD isn’t solely all about cleaning and contamination, it’s unfortunately the stereotype that I fit in with. My form of OCD means that I was my hands more often than most people would, wipe down surfaces that don’t always need to be wiped down, and throw away things that don’t need to be thrown away, all because I fear they’re contaminated. I always have hand sanitiser in my bag, and I will always use it after touching things like parking machines, lift buttons, door handles etc, and even then, I still won’t feel comfortable until I’ve washed my hands. Because of all that, I can 100% see why people are labelling me as “lucky” – I’m clearly taking all those precautions. However, what those people don’t realise, is that part of my recovery was to relax those behaviours. As I’m sure you can imagine, throughout the entire pandemic, I did not relax any of them.
While I can see why people thought me having OCD was lucky, it still makes me incredibly angry. A vast proportion of my recovery was unpicked during the early days of coronavirus hitting the UK, and I’m still feeling the effects of it now. Yes, here in the UK (at the time of writing anyway), restrictions have been eased for a few months now – mask wearing is no longer compulsory, and people who have been double vaxxed don’t have to self isolate if they’ve been in contact with someone with Covid – but for someone like me, that means nothing. For example, I’m terrified of going into any public space without a mask now, and I genuinely have no idea when I’ll be comfortable not wearing one again. I feel even now that hand sanitiser doesn’t do the job it used to anymore, and I’m more terrified of the common cold than I’ve ever been, largely because all of those selfish bastards at the very start of the pandemic saying “MEH IT’S JUST A COLD” when it was actually the ‘rona.
I felt a bit peaky earlier this week, and my anxiety instantly soared thinking I had Covid. I’m doing daily lateral flow tests and weekly PCR’s for work, so I can be assured that it’s not, but every single time I feel a bit of a sniffle coming on, I feel completely consumed with panic. As a typical germaphobe, I used to get immensely pissed off every time someone around me came down with a cold. But now, I just feel terrified. For a vast portion of the population, life is (hopefully) going back to normal. For me, I’ve fallen down a massive flight of stairs when it comes to my recovery.
My point is this, babes.
AT WHAT POINT AM I “LUCKY” TO HAVE OCD AMONG ALL THIS?
Anyway, I got slightly sidetracked by that rant, I apologise. Yes, I can see why people think me having OCD is a lucky thing among all this, but fuck me, look at the bigger picture. Whatever benefits the “practical” side of my OCD has had doesn’t even slightly compensate the mental torture I’ve dealt with over the last 18 months. To be honest, I’d maybe even go as far as to say that I’ve made things worse through all of the extra hygiene practices I’ve been doing. The behaviours I was taught to be “irrational” (such as wiping down your groceries and quarantining your post) became things that people without OCD were doing, and it very much blurred the lines, making things even more difficult for me, and, I’m sure, everyone else who suffers with contamination OCD. Ultimately, my point is this – I don’t believe that having OCD has made me any better off during the pandemic. In fact, it’s been the opposite.
The mental torture I experienced during the first few months of the pandemic is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and I’ll be completely honest, there were times when I was ready to pack it all in. At one point when things first started kicking off, I remember saying that I wanted to die because I wasn’t sure how I would be able to cope.
Of course, I know there are people who have gone through far worse than I have during the last 18 months, and my heart goes out to them – the people at the frontline of the NHS, the people who have lost loved ones, and the people who were never able to say goodbye to those loved ones. I’m in no way saying that I’ve gone through worse. However, there’s no denying that having OCD has made the whole experience of the pandemic ten times worse than it should have been, and it’s made one hell of an impact on my recovery.
Anyway, despite all of this – I’m okay. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been many times during the last 18 months where I most definitely haven’t been okay, but overall, I didn’t break in the way I thought I probably would. We’re obviously not at the end of this pandemic, and no doubt as we enter the winter months, I’ll have a fair few more struggles to deal with. Ultimately, my point is this – I’ve survived the last 18 months as a person with OCD, not because of it.