In recent years there has been an increased awareness surrounding mental health and some of the real struggles people have to deal with on a daily basis. I love the fact that people are so openly talking about their internal worlds a lot more now and how supportive and empathic we can be as human beings. I have found that listening to other's stories has really helped me to put my own struggles into perspective and to understand that actually we are all struggling in different ways and severity. We all have different experiences and our shaped by these from the moment we start developing in the womb. So actually, it's more of a majority than a minority of us who do/ will struggle with our mental health at some point within our lives. Just like we struggle from physical ailments. We forget that our wee noggins are in fact muscles too and need as much recognition.
So, I've wanted to talk about my personal experience with OCD for a while now. In past blog posts I've touched on my anxiety and feel like it's far easier to talk about then OCD. Buuuut, heres goes.
(Disclaimer- I am talking solely about my own personal experiences and understand that other's experiences may be completely different to mine.)
I only really realised fully that I have a from of OCD whilst studying at uni. I mean it was so easy to open up the DSM 5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and diagnose myself with multiple mental health issues on a daily basis, but from learning about the different parts of OCD over the years I realised that some of my weird and wonderful ways were in fact OCD characteristics.
It's probably a good idea to start with what OCD is, so in short, Mind have defined it here: Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder. It has two main parts: obsession and compulsions:
Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that
repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as 'mental discomfort' rather than anxiety).
Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, repeating a specific phrase in your head or checking how your body feels.
My first remembered experience with OCD was a checking compulsion. When I was about 10 I would say, I became obsessed with checking that doors where locked 'just in case' someone would come in through the door and kill me and my family (mad I know). I would have to check the doors were locked perhaps 50 times before I could leave the house or go to bed at night and I would count each time I checked. I also obsessively worried that my parents had been killed when I was away from them. So for example, if I hung up the phone or if I went up to bed for the night. So would often shout down the stairs to my mum multiple times "night mum" before I could go to sleep and pray to the universe every night that my family would be kept safe. It all sounds bloody loopy when I'm thinking about it now.
The checking compulsion has continued throughout my life in differing severity. Some times its just 'double checking' something is switched off 'just in case'. I've left it on (which I never have). Other times its convincing myself I've left the oven on even though I've already checked its been switched off 5 times and having to walk back up the stairs unlock the door and check 2 more times. Similarly with any electricals I've used/had plugged in. I have to switch off at the mains, unplug and then check multiple times that they are not on/plugged in still before leaving the house. This is really fucking annoying, I'm not going to lie. I've had to start taking photos of things after I've checked each appliance to prove to myself that they are off because it'll take me a good 10-15 minutes before I can leave the house (still doubting whether they are still on/off). I understand that this is completely OTT and irrational but that's the 'beauty' of OCD. My underlying fearful obsession that something would catch on fire and it would be my fault causes these compulsions to check.
Next up is the part of OCD that people don't really talk to much about. I've only really come to terms with it recently and now understand when/why it is happening. Nope its not being a super clean contamination warrior, it's intrusive (unwanted) thoughts. A lot of intrusive thoughts are viewed as shameful or taboo due to generally being violent, sexual, religious/blasphemous and/or to do with hurting loved ones. Everyone has intrusive thoughts. Random thoughts that pop into your head when your just going about your own business. Like 'I wonder what would happen if I threw myself onto the tracks?' or 'what would happen if I hit that child around the face?' or 'if I pushed that women in the road?'. Sounds bonkers, but we've all had them, they're pretty normal as it goes. It's just your brain farting around. It's only a problem when you have an emotional response such as becoming obsessed/ distressed with the thoughts. Usually because you've attended to them. Meaning you've not let them pass by in your mind and instead you've fixated on the thought and now it wont leave and keeps coming back and is all you can think about, fuuuuuuck.
I've had intrusive thoughts from about the age of 10, so around the same time I started with the 'checking' of things. These thoughts used to really distress me. I would get them really badly on occasions. One time specifically when I was by myself in Bali. Despite being one of the most idyllic locations you will ever visit I got myself in to a right state mentally. I think because I had a lot of time alone to fixate. There were often times I felt like the thoughts would never leave and I would always have them there. But when I came back from being away I told my therapist at the time about it all. I felt so shameful and thought she was going to think I was a complete crunchy nuttah. But actually all she said was this...
'you know lots of people have these thoughts, you're not the only one', 'it doesn't mean you're a bad person.. let's just explore why they were happening'. We came to realise they were the strongest in certain situations/times of my life. Generally when my anxiety was high due to one reason or another or my brain was revisiting certain emotions/feeling/ situations from the past. Once we established when/why they happened it meant I didn't pathologise them. They were just reminder thoughts which I would let pass in and out of my head. Instead I would try and understand the core reason(s) for the worrying thoughts and see if I could overcome them.
Don't get me wrong I still struggle with random sometimes horrible thoughts that I become obsessed with. Such as health anxieties, that i'm a bad person, done something wrong, that I've upset someone the list goes on. But I can now generally rationalise my thoughts, talking them through with someone and then they soon fade away. Having GAD I know I am always going to struggle with high stress situations/ my own thoughts and emotions but I've become a lot better at dealing with these things. I know I will always be a hypocondriact , think the worst in a situation and need ongoing reassurance but that's just nature of my anxiety. I can still function, enjoy life and thrive. I use the amazing support networks I have around me to explore these worries and to overcome them until the next lot come along. And actually I believe having an anxious/ obsessive personality is sometimes a bit of a gift (here me out).. I believe it's given me some of my most treasured personalities traits such as being determined, conscientious, empathetic, thoughtful, wary and thorough. I'm not gold coating anxiety disorders in any way because it is so different from individual to individual and can be an absolute ball ache, but personally I wouldn't change it I'm kinda at peace with it now. I know myself inside and out and what I need in my life to control the anxiety when it bubbles up to boiling point. And I actually feel the most connected to people who suffer with anxiety, sounds silly but we just 'get' each other on another level. We need us anxious lot in the world because we are usually the sensitive souls too and the world needs more sensitivity, bloody hell it does.
I could do without all the checking malarky though.Having to factor it into your daily routine so you're not late is a paaain in the arse. (Universe if you're listening..do you mind sorting me out?)
Well, I hope that if you're reading this it has gifted you with a some new understanding and insight. It's often comforting to hear about other's stories so you know you're not the only crazy one at it alone. Because you're really not alone.