I’ve been wanting to write a post about OCD for a while now. I always talk about anxiety but OCD deserves a post all of it’s own it’s such a nightmare.
OCD is so hard to explain to someone that doesn’t have it and to be honest I struggle to get my head around it too. I really want to emphasise that I can’t talk about other people’s experiences of OCD as even from looking at other people’s blogs I can see that it affects people in such different ways, although all just as horrendous the next.
The first thing I want to say is that OCD is a b**ch. There’s no other way to describe it except to say that it’s a clever, conniving trickster that plays with people’s minds.
OK now we have that introduction out of the way, here’s a little bit about my own experience with OCD.
I have had it since I was young (hindsight is a beautiful thing I obviously didn’t realise this is what it was at the time). I am lucky, (if I can use that word in relation to this) in that my OCD has come and gone over the years. It appears that in my case it’s related to stress so I fall headlong into it when other things in my life are stressing me out which is why since the beginning of the year it’s been particularly bad.
I have gone through a range of the classic OCD worries including worrying as a teenager about losing control of myself around knives. Then I moved onto a fear of contamination particularly in relation to dirty needles and HIV. Walks in the park were anxiety provoking as was walking barefoot on a beach, in fact what am I talking about? I didn’t do that for the longest time.
I remember going on a school trip abroad and someone asking me before we went if I was looking forward to it. My response? “No not really, I’m worried there will be needles there”. Not every child’s average answer in relation to a holiday.
For the most part, I have a type of OCD also known as ‘Pure O’, there are no obvious compulsions although I do actually have checking behaviours which I will talk about more in a minute but they can’t be seen so anyone looking at me would probably not really know anything was wrong (except maybe for a look of frozen panic on my face). Pure O tends to be having really awful, intrusive thoughts often driven by a fear of being a bad person or being responsible for something.
It’s described on the OCD UK website as: “Pure-O is a form of OCD in which sufferers are plagued by unwanted, troublesome thoughts that they despise beyond measure”.
I would like to be able to describe to you some of my own current ‘Pure O’ thoughts but unfortunately because the nature of them is so awful – so shame inducing my OCD tells me that it wouldn’t be a good idea to put it on the internet because other people might believe it of me and then what would happen (never mind that I write under a pseudonym, OCD doesn’t work with that kind of logic).
See people with OCD are often aware that the thinking is skewed – that the things they worry about are highly improbable but it’s the element of doubt that it feeds on. OCD LOVES doubt and uncertainty, they’re best friends in it’s little game.
I’ll give you one example of a Pure-O thought, it’s not one of my own – I know this lets OCD have the power but I don’t feel able to just yet. However, this is one I can relate to and can imagine how it goes. I know that some people worry incessantly about whether or not they may have killed someone and just don’t remember doing it or didn’t realise they did it. This is exactly how OCD works – it’s the “What if?” part of it.
I’m sure other people who don’t have OCD are wondering how you can worry about something that quite clearly isn’t true. Well believe me you can, I know that I can ruminate for hours just searching for that elusive certainty, to eradicate all doubt.
And that my friends is my compulsion. With a lot of my OCD fears I will sit and rake through my memory, sift through all happenings in my life. For others the compulsion might be physically checking something, so they might repeat the car journey a hundred times over just to be absolutely sure they didn’t hit anybody. Most of my compulsions are mind based although not all. I can be having a conversation with a friend but all the while mentally searching, searching for something, anything.
People might think that doesn’t sound so bad just searching through a few memories but I cannot emphasise how anxiety provoking and tiring it is. This is not just me having a tea break at work and thinking maybe I’ll just scan my memory now – this is all the time, all the hours of the day, sorting through all my memories even from when I was a small child – and if I can’t remember things from when I was a small child well I’ll be damned if that will let that stop me. I have spent days at a time just focusing on one of my obsessive worries and trying to work out if it could be true.
OCD can also often lead to a lot of avoidant behaviours so for example someone might avoid their car or they might avoid being around knives. See how it escalates until it’s strangling your existence within an inch of it’s own life?
So here is my example of a Pure O obsession. I’m going to use the example of whether or not I killed somebody, just because it’s not a worry I’ve had so I feel more comfortable putting it out there but you can pretty much insert any awful, abhorrent thought into this dialogue.
OCD: Hey here’s a thought, what if you killed someone and you didn’t realise you’d done it.
Me: Well that’s crazy I would remember how could I not?
OCD: Well you know it’s possible that you just blanked it out and you’re in denial.
Me: Well that’s insane, I’m sure I would remember…… wouldn’t I? And anyway there would be evidence and there’s not (ha take that OCD!).
OCD: No, no you’re mistaken, it would be perfectly easy for you to kill someone and not even know about it.
Me: Weeeeellll I guess you have a point, but what can I do, if I don’t remember, I don’t remember (yeah OCD I’m hanging on).
OCD: Oh you sweet innocent thing, of course it’s not OK to just not be sure. You need to know ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ that you didn’t do anything. Imagine if you did, you would have a responsibility to tell somebody.
Me: (Slightly shrilly) But who am I supposed to have killed? Wouldn’t I have heard about this by now?
OCD: Forget the details! You just haven’t heard the news yet or no one’s found the body, I really think you should try hard to remember what you did.
Me: (By now feeling sick and panicky) God you’re right, this is terrible, thank you OCD I really should try to remember what I did, how shit would that make me if I didn’t try to remember and then I didn’t own up to my crime. But how can I remember if I don’t remember?
OCD: (with a sly smile) Well it’s just a suggestion but why don’t you have a look back through your memories, see if there’s anything there.
Me: Great idea! I’m going to sit and pore through all my memories, one by one and see if anything comes up.
Me: (Momentarily triumphant) Nope I definitely don’t have any memories so it can’t be true can it?
OCD: Are you sure? Did you really look back through all your memories? Maybe there’s something you missed? Are you sure you can account for every moment?
Me: (Feeling sicker and sweatier) Well there were some blanks and of course the times when I’m sleeping so I suppose I didn’t remember EVERYTHING.
OCD: (Now getting impatient) Well that’s no good, go back and try again, you need to be sure, absolutely sure, anything less isn’t good enough. Maybe as well as scanning your memories keep double checking too with family and friends (no I’m sure they won’t mind, why would they find it irritating?) Maybe also then whilst you’re at it just avoid things that you could use to kill somebody and as a last resort you could scan/check your body see if you have any signs of having killed anybody (such as blood on your hands).
Me: (Panic stricken) Sure thing OCD, anything you say, I’ll get on it now.
OCD: You’re making me so proud, just keep looking, remember you need to be absolutely sure.
And on and on and on and on it goes until you feel like you’re losing your mind (and then in my case that becomes another obsessive worry).
I hope this has given a bit of an insight into the nightmare that is OCD and hopefully challenged some of those thoughts that it’s just someone who “likes things a bit tidy or a bit clean”. Chances are if you like any aspect of it then it’s not OCD.
PS. I’m receiving CBT for my OCD and I’m working on challenging my own Pure O thoughts.
Some days when I’m having a particularly difficult day and my brain feels like it doesn’t fit my skull anymore, I feel detached from myself because I don’t recognise this person and I can’t stop obsessing over the same old thoughts and then I start to wonder when things will ever change.
Every day in my lunch break I go for a big long walk. I think it’s good to get some time out of the office, partly to get away from the lady who chews so loudly its enough to give anyone a nervous breakdown but also because my job is really stressful and so I value that measly 1 hour to myself. I have been trying to use it as an opportunity to be mindful so I do mindful walking. Sounds a little out there but to be honest at the moment I’m willing to give anything a go!
So today whilst I was walking and focusing on the sensations in my feet and saying to myself “I am walking” (I appreciate that may look a little unusual so if you see someone that looks like they’re concentrating suspiciously hard on their feet give me a smile!) I had a bit of a realisation….things will change because that is the nature of the world, everything continues to move on, putting one foot in front of the other. Nothing ever really remains the same. Tides change, seasons change, change is at the centre of everything.
Even if things seem awful for days/months on end if you truly think about it even the landscape of ‘awful’ has shifted and changed. It might not be any better but it won’t be exactly the same either.
For example, I have felt like everything has been the same for the last couple of months and in panicky moments I question how it’s been possible to have been in the same place emotionally since the New Year. I say to my sisters “why isn’t anything changing, why do I still feel the same?!” but yet actually if I look at that picture a little closer I can see that things are different – they might be subtle things but they are changes none the less. I realised that I hadn’t even really noticed that these days I don’t wake up trembling or that I don’t wake up with a tense jaw and wisdom teeth that are ground down with stress – granted it may not seem like much to some but actually these little things can all make us feel like there is hope. I have realised that sometimes I am so busy contemplating just how awful it all feels that I forget to look for what is not so bad. I’m quick to judge when I have a bad day or when things are a little worse but the little achievements often pass me by.
It could be something like just not dreading going into work as much as you normally would or falling asleep a little quicker than you sometimes do but they’re all changes.
Someone said to me that things can’t sustain themselves for ever, there has to be peaks and troughs, highs and lows, dips in the ferocity and maybe that’s all we can hope for for now. Not an instant cure or a miracle but just a day when we wake up and it’s not accompanied by nausea, or being able to partake in a conversation that maybe two weeks ago would have passed us by entirely being so distracted by our thoughts.
So all I can say is keep on putting one foot in front of another, some days it might feel like a steep climb, you may rest for days on end and not move at all, some days it may feel like the sun is never going to shine from behind that cloud but I am trying to remind myself that I’m not staying in one place even if it sometimes feels like I am.
So my mantra for yesterday which was a particularly difficult day with lots of obsessive thoughts is : #Look for the changes no matter how small, you will see that you are moving forward.