Mental health takeover: Lifting the lid on living with OCD

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Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hundreds of thousands people tackle it every day and, for many, it is overwhelming - but often misunderstood. One person, from Suffolk, living with obsessive-compulsive disorder shares their experience - and how they overcame it.

Photo: Bill Smith

Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant

Since early childhood I had always felt plagued with anxiety. At primary school, I recall discreetly covering my hands with my own spit as if it were soap and water, thinking it had the magic ability to wash away the notion that something disastrous might happen otherwise.

This same intrusive thought occurred when myself or others touched used items, mainly clothes and furniture, and would result in me carrying out other ridiculous actions, like soaking a saddle with buckets of water to override my feeling of impending doom.

OCD was relatively unheard of at that time and quite often misunderstood.

Loved ones teased and simply labelled me 'nutty', though, I think it's important to never hold that against them. Luckily, by the time my OCD had really escalated into the debilitating illness it can all too often be, my family had realised the severity of it and tried their absolute best to encourage me in seeking support.

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Nearing the usually exciting milestone age of 18, I was so worried for myself and family... My only coping mechanism was to keep things spotless and locked up, there was no room for error.

I spent endless hours checking, securing and wiping down everything imaginable. Buying so many baby wipes, one local shop worker genuinely assumed I had a baby.

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I showered on repeat, watched many whole washing machine cycles on repeat, any spare time was spent on self-doubt and rumination.

Meltdowns were frequent, weekend binge drinking provided temporary relief but soon induced OCD related panic in its aftermath.

General mistrust meant I stopped all human contact where possible, particularly with my family who'd already been heavily impacted by my peculiar behaviour.

Latex and plastic gloves came in handy, and when walking into a garage with my pockets brimming with my shop bought ones I probably looked like I loved freebies or had sticky fingers.

Over time, every aspect of my life had become so ritualised it was a relief to go to sleep, mornings could only be compared to what it must feel like waking up as a world leader in our current climate.

All sense of perspective had left me and everyday life, school attendance, jobs, a social life, became barely manageable, tipping me a little to the other side of the spectrum. At one point I'd pretty much given up on self-hygiene completely, opting to save on toothpaste and don a greasy mop of hair, yet I still continued in my quest to protect everyone, which now included the general public.

Before long I had reached 25, some issues had worsened, others improved, probably due to me trying to salvage my six-year relationship with my kind, patient boyfriend... Towards the end I didn't trust him in doing any activity right by my OCD's standards.

It took my boyfriend splitting up with me in the hope I would see the light to get me where I ought to be, sitting at a Norwich and Norfolk OCD Voluntary Support Group meeting and talking regularly with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy therapist.

Approaching 30, I'm totally unrecognisable in comparison to the person I was a few years ago, my family see the positive difference it continually makes to my wellbeing.

There is no better reward than regaining the ability to easily open a window, leave my four brightly coloured walls for a day out, or to enter a loving embrace, stroke my furry canines and kiss my gorgeous little nephew.

My journey to a full recovery still beckons, but I do need to give myself a pat on the back, a lot of improvement is down to my own hard work and chipping away at it.

This secret illness effects all walks of life and takes many forms, it's worth remembering that OCD isn't unlike a friendship that's turned toxic. You too can break free from it, the lowlife that is OCD.

Where can you go for support?

OCD is an anxiety-related condition which causes people to feel intrusive and obsessive thoughts, often followed by compulsions, impulses or urges.

It affects as many as 12 in every 1,000 people - 1.2pc of the population.

The Norwich and Norfolk OCD voluntary Support Group was set up 14 years ago by Geraldine Scott, a psychotherapist and counsellor.

She said the condition is often 'very complex' and can be misunderstood and its seriousness underestimated.

'It is multi-faceted, multi-layered and I would describe it as an accumulation of numerous phobias of varying sizes,' she said.

But she said it was important to stress that recovery is possible and the disorder can be reversed.

The group, now the largest of its kind in the UK, meets in Norwich city centre on the first Tuesday evening of the month. For information, call 01603 619246 or click here.

• For more from the EDP's special mental health takeover edition, click here.

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