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My life with OCD

This week is OCD Awareness Week, and one of our Young Champions has written about her life with OCD. 

You often hear people make little comments about how they’re ‘so OCD’. They may seem harmless to anyone with no experience of the illness, and sometimes people tend to think of it as the same as tidiness.

For me, however, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is far more than being neat.

Looking back, I have had obsessive compulsive traits for a very long time. As young as six, I recall holding my breath when driving through tunnels. I was afraid that the water above it would collapse and drown me and my family if I didn’t – even if the tunnel was not underwater. 

It was not until I was first admitted to a psychiatric hospital that I became embedded in my disorder.

My OCD is intricately linked with a desire for control. So I suppose that, in a twisted way, it makes sense for it to have taken over at a time when I was totally out of control of my life, from day-to-day activities like when to wake up, to big things like I was suddenly not living at home.

It began with small things. Flicking the lights ‘off, on, off’ instead of just ‘off’. Washing my hands, a little more than usual.

It came and went in waves, but two years down the line, my OCD had become so chronic that I could not walk without making sure that I’d taken ten steps, setting off with my left foot, on each surface. I used 300 pumps of soap to wash my hands, getting through a bottle in a single day. This was the point at which I was given a formal diagnosis for a disorder which I’d had for a long time. OCD.

For me, this disorder manifests via many ‘compulsions’ but only two main ‘obsessions’: that my mother will die, either murdered or in a car accident; and that I am intrinsically unclean.

This occurs in this way: recurring thought (my hands have e-coli on them), compulsion (I must wash them immediately and in a precise way, or I will die).

The key thing to note here is not only how irrational OCD is – after all, my mother is statistically unlikely to be murdered, and if she was, there is no correlation between this event and me walking a certain way – but also, again, how much it is about control.

I have been suicidal for years. OCD has, at times, made me more suicidal. I certainly do not consider myself afraid of death, although I have no imminent need to attempt to attain it these days. My disorder does not make me fear death, it makes me fear having no control over the way I die.

But this is all rather doom and gloom. 

It’s important for me to share the reality of my OCD. And that does include progress.

I am not recovered from my disorder. To say that would invalidate me, and be a total lie. However, I am constantly learning new ways to manage it.

Sadly, when I was offered therapeutic help with this illness, I was too unwell to be able to accept. 

But, whilst I still perform rituals and have compulsive thoughts, I am learning how I can live with OCD in a way that is not as deeply traumatising to me.

I suppose you could say I pick my battles. By this I mean that I do not fight every single ritual. Far from it. When I do fight them, I do it in an accepting way (‘I am having this thought and do believe it right now, but I also know that there is no evidence that this thought is factual’), and with distraction techniques in place. Sometimes I need support to do this. Often I do it alone.

When a new obsession begins to rear its head, for me, it is one of the fighting times. I refuse to let my OCD grow without me at least trying to stop it. 

Sometimes I win, sometimes it does. After all, I have cut down from 300 to just five pumps of soap, but now I can’t do other things. 

And the best thing I can do is not to beat myself up over it. If OCD ‘wins’, I do my best not to get angry over this. After all, I know I am at risk of OCD itself being an obsessive thing, something I think about constantly. At times, my illness has told me that if I do one thing for it, it’ll leave me alone for the day, and the last thing I want is compulsions about compulsions!

So, this is how one person with OCD experiences it. Everyone is different, but I hope you can see that OCD is not something you can be ‘a bit’ of, nor is it being tidy.

You cannot cure my OCD by no longer saying this. And I do not want anybody feeling guilty for having previously said these things. But please, try to be considerate. I’m trying to make my life as enjoyable as possible. 

This is my life with OCD.

On My Mind is a free website co-producded by young people to help others with their mental health. It includes a Youth Wellbeing Directory, where you can find free local support. Our Urgent Help page features organisations that offer help and support for young people.