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OCD in the time of Coronavirus

One of our Young Champions shares her experience of coping with OCD during Coronavirus.

Since I was around six years old, I’ve displayed signs of obsessive compulsive disorder. At the time, I was unaware that this was unusual. I wasn’t at a ‘clinical’ level and I wasn’t at the point of diagnosis, so it really went unnoticed.

I remember that one of my first obsessions and compulsions was about drowning. Every time we drove through a tunnel, even if it was not under water, I held my breath because I believed that the tunnel would collapse and the cars would be flooded with water.

As I grew up, this continued. And when I was first admitted to hospital for depression at the age of 15, it got a lot more intense. I became fixed on light switches, the first new obsession. I had to perform the ritual of turning them off, then on, then off again. This started due to a general sense of dread. It then grew into believing that, if I didn’t perform the ritual, my Mum would die.

A lot of rituals developed through that hospital stay, and I really became quite ill. I was only formally diagnosed with OCD two years later, despite receiving therapy for it. Since then, I’ve had three more admissions, and my OCD really deteriorated every time. In hindsight, I think that being out of control of my life led to me subconsciously trying to control other things, which then made me believe that I could actually control them. It’s like I believe I have this twisted superpower, able to save people’s lives with a (literal) flick of a switch. Even though I know it’s irrational, I can’t help but believe my obsessions.

So of course, when coronavirus began to interrupt life for everyone, I was worried that my OCD would deteriorate.

My rituals aren’t all about other people’s deaths. I also have contamination obsessions and compulsions, meaning that I think dirt and germs could be more dangerous than they really are. When an illness is going round – anything from a small bug to this fast-spreading and potentially fatal virus – I get very anxious. I’m not just worried about myself, but also about others who do not have these compulsions. After all, to me my compulsions are a safety net, keeping me and sometimes even the rest of the population safe.

When lockdown was announced, and as the weeks passed, I began really feeling the effects. Currently, not only has my busy life gone, which has always kept me distracted from my thoughts, but I’m also surrounded by triggering stimuli.

All the talk about hygiene and hand washing has been particularly hard. For years, I washed my hands so much they bled, and now they are getting very dry again. My Mum has had to hide the bleach as a precaution because, like some others with OCD, I do often get the urge to try to clean my hands with bleach.

My obsessions surrounding keeping others safe are becoming more intense as well. I worry about family and friends catching the virus, especially older or more vulnerable people. Of course, this is a common fear at the moment for everyone – my OCD just adds the extension of rituals on to that.

So, what has helped me? Since my OCD got bad five years ago, I’ve developed a few ways of coping. Cognitive behavioural therapy, a common therapy for OCD, never really sat well with me, but I often find my own strategies helpful.

1. Talking to people is definitely one of them. One of the best things I ever heard for my OCD is to ask. If I’m obsessing over something, I believe it as fact. So asking, for example, if I should be worried that there is a bomb in my bag, gives me a reassurance that my concerns are linked to OCD and therefore incredibly unlikely.

2. I try to keep myself busy as much as I can. Whilst in lockdown, this looks different. I write letters, draw, call friends and try to get work done where I can.

3. A particularly helpful activity for me is creative writing. I write a lot of poetry, which feels like a safe space to let out my feelings, worries or concerns. I can use this to rationalise my obsessions, as I find working through them on paper or out loud is really helpful.

4. I also try to work through therapy worksheets I’ve been given in the past. They give me the chance to use proven techniques that can help with my multiple mental health difficulties. Overall, I find that OCD is (of course) really hard to cope with. But over time, I am becoming more able to adapt to living with the disorder.

Yes, coronavirus has made things harder with OCD. But I know that this time will pass. More importantly, I know that I am more than capable of coping with the challenge this time.

If you are a young person and looking for mental health support at this time you can visit our website for advice and resources.