This post includes a personal account of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that may be triggering for some readers.
My OCD started when I was 9 years old. I was sent off to live with a French family for a year, in France obviously! My parents had been through a horribly messy divorce and my father thought it was a good idea to ship me out and ‘toughen me up’. “You’ll learn French!” he told me. I did learn French, I had to. I was dropped into a provincial primary school surrounded by people who didn’t speak any English and nobody would talk to me because I was a ‘roast-beef’, an English girl. I toughened up alright, but with some nasty side effects.
A while after I arrived at my new French home, I started to worry that someone was trying to kill me. It started with checking my curtains were closed properly so the murderer wouldn’t be able to see through a crack. Then I thought I should check he wasn’t hiding in my wardrobe or under my bed. At first, I’d check each thing once then go to sleep. Very quickly, I was checking each thing maybe 50 times. As a result, I wasn’t going to sleep until very late so my anxiety was also being fueled by sleep deprivation. On and on this went and nobody knew.
I continued with this checking ritual (very common symptom of OCD) once I was back in the UK but gradually stopped, mainly because my father cottoned on and threatened me with scary punishments if I didn’t stop. Ah, the parenting skills of the 1980s.
I still have OCD now, aged 45, and it has manifested itself in many ways over the years. Spiking at certain points, such as during and post pregnancy. People think of OCD as people checking things or cleaning obsessively, and these can be part of it. But there is way more to it than that. Those are just ways to reduce the anxiety and, in our warped OCD brains, we see those rituals as a way to avoid the bad things happening.
A few examples of the things my brain does to ‘avoid bad things happening’:
- If the numbers on that digital clock add up to 16, all will be OK. If I glance at a clock and it adds up to a certain number, I actually feel happy momentarily.
- I count the syllables of everything anyone says, especially watching films. Infuriating and tiring!
- I count the number of lights in a room. Better hope they add up to one of my ‘magic’ numbers.
The worst part of OCD for me is the intrusive thoughts. They’re almost visions. They involve horrifically violent things happening to my loved ones, usually my children.
This isn’t an easy thing to write about and I’m only sharing a fraction of it because I can feel my heart rate rising as I type. My Fitbit tells me it’s rising too! But there is hope for people suffering with OCD. Here’s what helps and has helped me in the past:
- CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Don’t bother with counselling or psychotherapy. Finding a way to challenge the brain’s patterns and the so-called ‘thinking errors’ is key.
- Eating well, limiting alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
- Exercise – my current medicine is running.
- Thinking of my OCD brain as ‘radio OCD’, hearing it and acknowledging the noise it makes but dismissing it rather than thinking about it.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Finding ways to challenge my brain. One thing I do to challenge the desire to have rituals is to say to myself that the ritual won’t work, because tomorrow is a different day and therefore the ritual can’t be the same. It’s impossible. People with OCD like to do things the same way, always. This can be the start of a crippling ritual. I find this trick stops these impulses in their tracks.
So, I still have the desire to make sure curtains are closed. I sit and look at them and tell myself “no”. I have intrusive thoughts, but I’m so much better and everyone can get better. Start by challenging your thoughts. They’re just thoughts, they’re not reality.