It’s #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek and if there’s a time to talk about mental health issues, the time is now. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I’ve never really spoken about it because I find it hard to explain to people and I’m a little embarrassed. Do I consider it a disease or an illness no, and I don’t like to say it affects my life, but it does. It’s something I struggle with most moments of the day and I’m so used to it now that it’s like that annoying family member who came to stay at your house but never left.
You probably hear about OCD a lot, with people jokingly proclaiming “oh I’m so OCD” or “oh I’m OCD about so and so”. To be honest I wish OCD worked like that, like it was a feeling that was fleeting or something that is only temporary – but it’s not, it doesn’t work like that. OCD is an anxiety disorder which involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. Obsessions can include unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. I’m not the best at explaining things so read about it in more detail if you’ d like.
The illness affects as many as 12 in every 1000 people (1.2% of the population) from young children to adults, regardless of gender or social or cultural background.
My OCD is to do with contamination. Things that I consider dirty or capable of “contaminating” me will trigger obsessive thoughts and compulsions. My obsessive fears tend to be along the lines that a contaminated thing may cause illness, and ultimately death, to a loved one or myself. Something as little as pushing a “dirty” trolley in a supermarket can trigger these thoughts. A bit extreme. A lot annoying. Read more about the different types here. I used to think I just had weird tendencies or that everyone thought exactly like me when faced with things that could possibly contaminate them. People would laugh at things I would do and the extremes that I would go to in order to avoid contamination. I would laugh to. Of course I was just being silly and my behaviour was illogical. When I came to university – an entire change of scenery and environment, my OCD got more intense and exhausting and I knew that I had to speak to a doctor and check if I was okay. I mean I didn’t have the flu, my brain was just going into overdrive. At times I would be left with crippling anxiety unable to get out of bed for the fear of being contaminated in some way, shape or form. I would feel helpless, depressed and completely stupid. At this point I had no idea what was wrong and once I went to the doctor I was diagnosed with OCD. Initially, I tried individual therapy and then group therapy. However, for me they were ineffective (sadly) and only reinforced more strongly the illogical thought processes I would go through daily. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the most common form of therapy provided and a lot of it is exposure to your issue and learning to deal with it. For me that was a no no. Trying to navigate university, deal with exam stress and deal with exposure to triggers was not an option for me. After, unsuccessfully trying individual and group therapy, I tried medication. This was the closest to dealing with my OCD but after a bad experience with medication, I completely stopped any form of treatment.
At the moment I just deal with the OCD; when it is manageable and when it is not. I’ve become very savvy at working at when things can trigger it and avoiding those situations; and when those situations are unavoidable I have my own ways of trying to deal with it – coping strategies. I’ve come to accept that I probably won’t be “cured” and I can accept that it’s just a part of me and who I am. I may do things a little differently and I may be a bit weird but I am dealing and coping well so I’m proud of myself. High five me! If you know me IRL, chances are you won’t have even known I have OCD, I’ve probably had a panic attack and you won’t have noticed (unless of course you know and you noticed haha).
In my family mental health issues weren’t really a thing and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to talk about my OCD with my mum. The problem is that it is entirely illogical in nature and so trying to make someone else understand is almost an impossible task. How do you explain something that you don’t really understand yourself. But speaking about it and making an effort to explain has helped my friends and family to support me and has definitely lifted a burden off my shoulders. I don’t feel so much like a weirdo and the more I can understand myself the more I can deal with it and navigate life.
I feel like I haven’t really said a lot but yeah OCD is not just a penchant for neat and organized things. It’s not just you liking to be a neat freak. If I had a pound for the amount of times I roll my eyes when OCD is used as a joke or an adjective, I’d be living in the Bahamas haha. It’s actually really exhausting, draining and affects simple day-to-day tasks. It’s definitely not a cute little quirk – it’s bloody annoying lol. But yeah I’m ending the blog here. I will probably write more about OCD because that was very therapeutic.