I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder more commonly known as OCD. It is a recognised mental illness often diagnosed alongside anxiety and depression. I call them the Unholy Trinity. Looking back I have had it, in some form or another, for most of my life although it was at its worst in my mid to late twenties. I am largely on top of it now thanks to medication, self-education and family support but I can never let my guard down as it can flare up again at any time.
What is OCD? It is incredibly difficult to explain and is intensely personal and unique to anyone who suffers from it. If you want the textbook definition then google it. As for me it is unwanted, intrusive thoughts that enter my head and then remain there on a constant loop. No matter how hard I try to ignore or dispel them, thet fester and grow to the point where they occupy every waking second of your day. Imagine a broken record playing full volume in your head over and over again. 24/7. That is OCD. It will not stop until it has broken you. It is a demon of the mind.
The thought can be anything. When I was younger it was more physical. Household items had to be positioned in a certain way, daily routines had to be performed a certain number of times and so on. I developed various physical ticks and movements that had to be performed even to the point where they caused me embarrassment, discomfort or actual physical pain. They had to be carried out ‘just right’ to ease the rising tide of anxiety building up inside of me.
In later life the obsessions became more mental as opposed to physical. This is known as Pure OCD. Dark, disturbing images would explode uninvited into my head. You are a paedophile. You don’t love your family. You are a homosexual. And unless I performed certain complicated mental routines a certain number of times (usually three or five) the thought would rage unabatee through my increasingly fragile mind. To the extent where I could not perform any other activity. Could not work, could not hold a conversation, could not think. I was held captive in a prison without walls. Everywhere I went the thoughts went with me.
The obsession (be it physical or mental) and accompanying anxiety could only be eased it I performed a pre-determined routine a set number of times. This was the compulsive response to the obsessive thought. In my case this usually involved a tortuous series of mental gymnastics that would leave me exhausted and questioning my own sanity.
For example if the unwanted voice in my head told me that I was, say, a terrible father I would have to state five ‘facts’ to disprove this statement. No I am not a bad father because….And unless I said these facts in exactly the right order, using exactly the right words I would have to start all over again. Until it felt just right.
This would take up huge amounts of my time. The concentration and focus required were enormous. At work I would have to hide in the toilets for lengthy periods of time in order to perform routines. At home I would drift off in the middle of conversations in order to deal with routines. This made me come across as rude and disinterested. I wasn’t. I was just battling the obsession in the only way I knew.
And all the while the voice in my head was there. Telling me I had slipped up. That I had missed a word. Start again. That, yes, I had performed the routine accurately but it didn’t feel quite right. Start again. For every time I performed a routine the voice would have a million and one reasons why I had to start again. It had a total grip of me. I was powerless. It broke me day after day. The only respites I had were sleep or alcohol. But they were only temporary. And every time I woke up or the hangover cleared the voice would be waiting for me, ready to pick up again from where we had left off. Start again. Start again. Start again.
The reason I am writing this today is to educate others who have been misinformed about the illness and to offer hope to those currently battling this demon of the mind. I still have bad days and I still struggle. I doubt that you can ever be ‘cured’ but there are ways to fight back. For it is a battle. But a battle you can win. If you enter it with the proper weapons, armour and tactics. In my next blog I’m going to talk about how I did just that and how you can too.
Until next time. Don’t be a victim. Slay the demon.
Have you OCD or know somebody with it? If so please talk to me. I want to help.