What Is OCD?
The 'Official' Answer
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects a range of people—from children right through to the elderly. The disorder occurs when an intrusive thought (obsession) is experienced, which can be extremely distressing and cause great anxiety. These intrusive thoughts are usually then combated by a series of compulsions or rituals to relieve the anxiety from the intrusive thought (obsession).
My Experience With OCD
Now, I do understand that some of you reading this may have fallen into the trap of what I call the stereotypical OCD perception. This perception is based on the assumption that people who suffer from OCD must constantly wash their hands, bleach their house, and alphabetise their DVD collection. Whilst there is some truth in this, it is so far removed from what people with the disorder actually experience that causes that certain behaviour.
As you continue reading this article, some of the obsessions and compulsions may seem very strange, and in some cases, dark and concerning to you. However, they are completely natural and unwanted thoughts that I myself, along with many other OCD sufferers, experience. This article is not about me saying I am 'a little OCD'—as those of you who know me will know that gets my goat! It is also not me saying that what you have always thought about OCD is wrong and, therefore, you must be daft! It is about raising awareness of this disorder and helping those who do not suffer from it understand it a teeny-weeny bit better. In fact, it may help some of those who suffer from it unknowingly understand that they can get help via their doctors once they recognise their symptoms, if you will, of OCD.
OCD is not quite the stereotype of disorder you have been led to believe!
Where It All Began
I still, to this day, remember my first experience of an intrusive thought, and although I did not know it at the time, that is all it was.
I was in bed with my partner at the time—all cosy and comfy and without a care in the world—quite enjoying the box set of Criminal Minds that she had bought me the Christmas before when a thought popped in my head—almost like a little voice warning me that I was secretly taking notes on how these serial killers acted and got away with it and that I would end up harming my partner and my Nan and Granddad, who we lived with at the time. Immediately, I turned off the television, making an excuse to my partner that I was tired and wanted to sleep. However, as I lay there, this thought that I was going to hurt one of them was creeping up in volume—to the point that I burst into to tears and climbed in my Nan and Granddads' bed. Now I wasn't 6 or 7 at the time—I was 20 years of age, and whilst I know some of you reading this will have a little chuckle at this (go ahead, I do to this day!), to me, it was the safest option as my Granddad was a grown man who could stop me far quicker than my partner could if I were to attempt to harm one of them.
I still did not explain these thoughts I was having, I just told them that it was a bad dream that had upset me. After all, how can you tell the people you love that you are thinking of killing them right? They would throw you out, surely? Make you an outcast from your friends and family? Or worse, have you sectioned forever?!
Do You Suffer From OCD?
Well How Wrong Was I?
It was only five years later that I found out my family and friends would do none of those things. In fact, they would do the complete opposite and show such an attempt at understanding along with unwavering compassion.
Now don't get the above misguided—I did not directly, one afternoon, whilst eating Sunday dinner surrounded by family say, "Can you pass the mint sauce, and oh, by the way, I have been thinking about how I am going to be a serial killer. This is a lovely mint sauce, by the way, my mind will not stop thinking about how I am going to harm all of you." No, I didn't. I mean, don't get me wrong, the mint sauce was delicious, but the idea of doing that was terrifying.
Instead, I spent those five years battling in my mind, trying to stop these thoughts, and in some cases planning to do harm to myself to ensure that I did not become what I believed. I pushed family and friends away, attempted to push my partner away (emotionally never physically!), I stopped going out, I stopped visiting friends, I stopped using knives, and kettles so and on and so forth. In essence, I stopped living and became trapped in this continuous dialogue on loop in my mind of I will do it, no I won't do it. I became trapped but still managed to function in society to a very basic degree.
Then after five years, I was in a good job (Supervisor) which paid me good money, I had a beautiful partner and everything was moving forward except me. I remember one day at work I had received several emails from management about my lack of care, and how I was in some sort of self-destruct mood. I remember telling my direct manager that I had to go take a call, and in that moment I got up walked out of the office, sat in my car and rang the doctors. I broke down on the phone to the receptionist, who very kindly gave me the number to the recovery team, I stayed outside and rang them.
My God, I was spilling everything to her on the phone, in fact so much so that she could barely get a word in, all this time I was thinking I am going to get put in prison, who in their sane mind has these thoughts. The kind women on the other end of the phone did a risk assessment and advised me to take some time off work whilst they organised treatment for OCD.
I questioned this with her as I did not wash my hands constantly, my DVDs are in whatever order they get shoved in the cupboard, and the flat was well clean but not to a clinical standpoint. This was when she explained to me that obsessive-compulsive disorder has many forms, some of which are intrusive thoughts, or unwanted thoughts, such as harming others, killing people etc etc.
I hung up and calmed myself down, and went and spoke to my managers, who could not understand why I would request lowered working hours or time off for OCD, this was no fault of my managers, as they believed in the 'stereotypical OCD', just like I had right up until 5 minutes ago.
The Imp of The Mind
This book has helped and continues to help me with my recovery. It dives deep into what obsessional thoughts are, and how they come about. The book has numerous results from medical studies, which show that people from all walks of life experience intrusive thoughts and just let them pass through their mind like they are nothing, where as OCD sufferers catch them in their net and fixate on them.
The book really goes a long way to helping you understand that you are not alone, and nor are you an evil person if you suffer from OCD, it shows how people from all corners of the world can suffer from OCD. New mums having intrusive thoughts on throwing their baby off a bridge, to a nice gentle man believing that he wants to have intercourse with animals, to doctors that believe they are paedophiles.
It is all in there and a great read if you suffer from intrusive thoughts, or if you are in a support network for someone suffering from OCD.
What Is OCD?
Back to the original question after babbling on for the 15 paragraphs about me! Well OCD to me is unwanted thoughts of harming my loved ones, it is staying indoors away from sharps, it is being caught up in mental rituals whilst everyone else is enjoying the meal out.
OCD is laying awake at night on my side, remaining completely rigid but moving my right leg when I tell it to, to show that I am still in control, and that thought of smothering my partner whilst I sleep is just that, a thought. It is still fighting to stay awake just so I can keep proving to myself that I am in control. It is about flaking out at 4 in the morning from exhaustion but waking up at 8 to check that my partner is not laying dead next to me and has made it to work, meaning I didn't lose control in my sleep.
OCD is having your partner cook tea because you are too scared to use a knife to chopped vegetables.
OCD is a continual battle, where the trenches are dug in your mind, and there is never peace, only a brief pause to reload.
OCD is something that I will learn to manage and have been learning how to for the past two years with a great group of family, friends and mental health professionals behind me.
That you are not a 'Little OCD' just because you organise your highlighters in colour order or because a Facebook quiz said so, just the same as you would not be a 'Little Bit Disabled' because you stubbed your toe on the coffee table!