I always tried to control my OCD by fighting it tooth and nail but never sharing my struggles with others. People would think me insane if I attempted to explain the crazy, illogical thoughts thundering around my brain. I never considered that I had a recognised mental illness but instead thought I was a very strange person. I thought I was a bad man who didn’t deserve an ounce of understanding or compassion. I’d condemned myself to a life sentence.
I also sought to manage it by drinking. I found that getting drunk dulled the repetitive voice in my head whispering disturbing thoughts and urging me to indulge in tortuous mental routines in order to temporally resolve them. This usually meant reciting lengthy, complex responses to the thoughts in an effort to dispel them. I would need to do this three or five times and often retreated into myself for hours in order to do so. It was exhausting and soul destroying.
When I drank I could escape this hellish mental fairground ride for a few blessed hours. But no more. The next day I had to combat an awful hangover, often feeling anxious and depressed. Such a sensation is sometimes referred to as ‘the fear.’ As well as feeling physically ill I would wonder about my behaviour the previous night. I wouldn’t be able to recall large chunks of the evening. What had I said or done? Had I offended anyone or in any way embarrassed myself?
The older I got, the worse my hangovers became. I thought drinking allowed me control over the OCD but, in reality, I was surrendering even greater control of myself to the illness. I was a binge drinker and it led to problems when it impacted upon the ones I loved. At weekends all I wanted to do was sit in front of the television with a case of beer. I retreated into myself, building walls that cut me off from my loved ones, the people who truly mattered.
One day I decided to stop drinking. Three day hangovers just weren’t worth it anymore for three hours relief from the enemy within. As us Northern Irish folk would say, I wised up. A week, became a month, became a year, became eight years. Even the thought of alcohol now fills me with dread. I never regarded myself as an alcoholic but it was becoming more and more of a crutch which I was using to hide from reality and my responsibilities.
I began to talk and write about OCD, I read everything I could find about it and realised I was not alone. Many others had been through what I was going through and emerged intact to tell the tale. I wasn’t a warped deviant, rather a normal person dealing with a fairly common and perfectly treatable mental illness. I was prescribed medication which made a massive difference. I talked to my wife about the thoughts I was having. Doing so literally saved my life.
This week is OCD Action Week and I’m going to use it to answer some frequently asked questions about the disorder. I hope that by sharing my experiences I can maybe help someone who is going through what I was going through all those years ago. It’s a cheesy cliche, I know, but you can and will get through this if you only reach out and ask for help. How do I know? Well, I know because I’ve been there myself and I know rock bottom is a position you can recover from.
OCD never goes away. It’s not like a head cold or a broken leg. You are never fully healed or cured of it. Like I’ve often said, it’s always lurking and prowling near the edges of my conscious mind, looking for an opportunity to flood back into my mind. You never truly defeat it, but you create defences and coping mechanisms that allow you to live with it. Life with OCD isn’t all sunshine and unicorns but it’s still a life worth living. And that’s good enough for me.