A neighbour, who is currently reading the book, stopped to chat to me as I headed out to work this morning. I asked her how she was getting on with it, an entirely inappropriate question given she has a young daughter and another on the way. The poor woman has enough on her plate without wading through a 350 page tome about Napoleonic ghost soldiers with supernatural powers rampaging around modern day Belfast laying waste to anyone who happens to look at them the wrong way.
Thankfully rather than telling me where to go forth and multiply, she kindly responded that she was enjoying it, whenever she got a chance to sit down and pick it up. What pleased me most, though, was when she said it was educating her about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the mental illness which has plagued Kirkwood Scott, the hero of our tale, since his childhood. Educating people about OCD was one of the reasons I started to write.
Despite being recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the most common and debilitating mental illnesses, OCD is still viewed by many as a bit of a joke. I involuntarily grind my teeth any time I hear someone come out with the classic ‘I’m a little bit OCD’ phrase whenever describing they’re a bit of a ‘clean freak’ or washed their hands twice, as opposed to once after weeding the garden over the weekend.
You can’t be a ‘little bit OCD.’ It’s like saying ‘I’ve got a bit of cancer’. In the cheese laden words of Samuel L. Jackson, or was it Colin Farrell, you’re either SWAT or you’re not. OCD is the same. It’s not a weekend sniffle that you shrug off with a hot drink and a couple of paracetamol. OCD is a horrific, relentless, debilitating disorder. OCD kills. People take their own lives rather than endure another second of the endless intrusive thoughts and tortuous compulsions which accompany them.
It’s not ‘did I forget to turn the oven off’ or ‘that towel is the wrong colour, it doesn’t match the bath mat.’ It’s waking up thinking you’re a paedophile and you’re going to harm your own kids unless you perform mental gymnastics for the remainder of the day which preoccupy your every waking thought. Even though OCD sufferers are the least likely people to harm anyone because we care that much about our loved ones.
It’s straight people waking up convinced they’re gay and being bombarded with unwanted, extreme sexual images about their family, friends and that stranger they pass in the street on the way to work. Oh, and don’t worry gay people, you’re as likely to wake up feeling just the same about straight people. OCD doesn’t discriminate, I’ll give it that. Nobody is safe from it, yet we still know so little about its origins and how to treat it.
Some say it’s a chemical imbalance in our brains. Cognitive Behavioural Theraphy (CBT) and certain forms of medication can alleviate its symptoms. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. It can lie dormant for months, years and then flare up announced as a result of the most inconspicuous comment or event. It’s always there, lurking, watching for its opportunity to bounce back into your life and turn all your best laid plans upside down.
My neighbour hasn’t been the first person to thank me for raising their awareness of the disorder. I’ve had similar comments from many quarters, from fellow sufferers and from those with zero knowledge of the illness. The message is getting through. Slowly, but surely. And if I never sell another copy of the book I can rest assured that I’m doing my bit to promote awareness and educate others about this most misunderstood mental health issue.
It’s not the best book ever penned about OCD. I could name half a dozen off the top of my head which are infinitely better researched and written. But this is my effort, my very best effort, and this is why I will keep writing and blogging about this difficult and emotive topic. I’m no longer embarrassed by it or willing to hide in the shadows. It’s time to shout it from the rooftops. This is me, this is who I am.