I have OCD and I’m not in control. There, I’ve said it, that wasn’t so hard was it? Even a few years ago, I would have veered clear of ‘outing’ myself and identifying with the mental illness. It was embarrassing, shameful and humiliating. But the longer I’ve walked this path, I’ve realised I have a responsibility to talk about OCD and share my experiences of this horrific, yet so misunderstood, disorder. It’s a curse but one I can help battle through the gift of writing.
Many people still associate OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) with being a ‘clean freak,’ someone who is fixated with cleanliness and germs. Yes, this is an aspect of the illness which affects some but it’s like saying you can only get cancer in your lungs. It’s a shallow, lazy interpretation of a multi-headed beast which can be as easy to label as herding cats. How can you be expected to explain to others what you can barely explain yourself?
Take my OCD. It doesn’t involve washing hands or scrubbing floors. Fionnuala would probably be delighted if the latter was the case. There is no outward manifestation to it. Instead it lurks within, polluting my mind. Imagine dropping a thimble full of black ink into a swimming pool. Watching it spread throughout the water, colouring and distorting it. That’s an obsessive thought entering the mind. It spreads, occupies and contaminates until it possesses your every waking thought.
That thought can be anything. The more disgusting and outrageous the better. It’s entire purpose is to nibble and niggle at your conscience, tricking you into believing that you are a truly horrible human being. It will grow and breed until you can think about nothing else, you are sidetracked and derailed. On the surface all might appear calm, but beneath the waters you are kicking and screaming, drowning in the obsession. The only escape is to indulge the compulsive act.
With me this usually involved a complicated mental routine that I would perform in my head a pre-determined number of times. If I did not perform it perfectly then I would have to start all over again. I would have to drop everything else and focus all my attention on this draining and distressing act, often hiding from the outside world until I was satisfied I had perfected the routine and therefore rid my mind of the obsessive thought. Until it re-emerged again moments later, bigger and badder than ever.
Now, tell me, where is the control in that? Imagine having your day all planned out when such a thought enters your mind, convincing you that you’re a disgusting, disturbed deviant. The only way to alleviate the anguish is to shut yourself off from the outside world and wage an internal war against the slippiest of foes. A brutal, toe-to-toe conflict against an enemy with limitless time and resources. While your outside existence slips down the drain.
You don’t control the OCD, the OCD controls you. It has you in a chokehold from which there is no escape. The compulsive act offers only temporary release and in fact feeds and facilitates the next wave of obsessive thoughts. It is a false ally, a smiling assassin, promising relief while actually dragging you deeper into its pit of despair. You are tossed about like a paper boat on a storm lashed ocean. There is no control, the life of an OCD sufferer is at the whim and fancy of its demonic master.
So the next time you laugh at an ‘OCD meme’ or make that ‘Oh, I’m so OCD’ comment while playfully rolling your eyes, think on. It is a silent killer, the third most prevalent mental disorder in the world according to the World Health Organisation. It debilitates and destroys lives. Would you say ‘Oh I’ve a bit of cancer?’ No, I thought not. You’re either OCD or you’re not. For your sake, I pray it’s the latter.