Children walked past the classroom where I was messing around, smiling and laughing with friends. I awwed about how cute they were. “You’re such a paedophile” joked my friend and it was like someone sucked the air out of the room and I couldn’t breathe. Could she be right? Was I attracted to children rather than just finding them cute and funny? And so my world caved around me. I was 15 years old. Of course it wasn’t her fault. We were living in a society where the media was obsessed with stories of it, the word was being bandied around all over the place and rules were getting stricter and stricter about how far you could come within a child that wasn’t your own. I volunteered at a children’s summer holiday camp and was told off for soothing a child, who was injured, with a hug. The telling off rang in my ears and I felt ashamed that I had even thought that was appropriate. I questioned my intentions and convinced myself that perhaps I’d had a motive that I wasn’t even aware of. How sad that I should even have had to think about it as an innocent well-meaning teenager but think about it I did. And obsess. And ruminate.
Then the Millenium struck and there was the terrible case of Sarah Payne. The tabloids went crazy, ramping up their witch hunt for ‘paedo’s’. It felt like everywhere I turned the word PAEDOPHILE loomed large. I sat and smiled my way through meal times on a family holiday, forcing down food that felt like rocks in my stomach whilst Radio 4 discussed paedophilia quietly in the background. I excused myself from the table as the feeling that I was being swallowed whole by the word PAEDOPHILE became stifling and the horrible conviction that any minute now someone would guess that I too was probably one of them. I became convinced that I had probably done something to a child and just didn’t remember it and so the compulsive checking began. I would sit for hours replaying what had been happier times looking after children searching for any evidence that I had done something inappropriate. I refused to babysit unless I had someone with me in case one of these images that haunted my waking hours and ran amok through my dreams acted itself out. I was supposed to be revising for my GSCE’s and all the while I was tormented by the thought that perhaps I had better ‘confess’ to the police and volunteer to be put on the sex offenders register just so children would be protected from me – never mind that I was only really merely a child myself. Better yet I didn’t actually know what it was that I should be confessing to but that’s OCD, – never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
I veered wildly between avoiding any news story of child abuse and forcing myself to read inches of newspaper columns devoted to it to check my reactions and scan my body for any sign of arousal. Ever heard the expression “if you look for something enough you’ll find it”? Well I can confirm it’s true. If you think about arousal for long enough you will find it somewhere in the body. Yet another nail in my paedophile coffin.
It was unbearable. I confided in my sister but then wished I hadn’t done so as I became convinced that she would never allow me near any children she may have in the future. I told myself that I would just stay away from all children if that was what was necessary and so I made the decision then and there that I would never have children of my own. I was desperate to have some respite from the tyranny of the thoughts and I thought about injecting myself with heroin just to have a moment’s relief from the crushing anxiety and the endless onslaught of thoughts and images that were screeching for my attention. But then I remembered that I also had contamination fears about needles and that put paid to that. Thanks OCD.
I felt shame by the bucket load, I felt guilty that I wasn’t ‘confessing’ as I was sure that these thoughts must have their roots in something but equally I was frozen with the fear that I couldn’t possibly articulate it because it was the one thing that society vilified the most. I thanked people for Christmas presents that I felt I surely didn’t deserve because if anyone possibly knew what was going on in my mind they wouldn’t want to reward me for it. I have never felt so lonely as I did at Christmas. New Year came and went in a haze of vomiting from the sheer horror of it all. It cast a long and dark shadow.
This was roughly 15 years ago and whilst my OCD worries shifted and changed this is the one that has remained constant – my darkest shadow, my unwanted companion. Even when my OCD has been at it’s most well- behaved it has been there gnawing away at me.
This has been the hardest blog post for me to write – not only because I’ve had to write the word paedophile over and over again (My CBT therapist would be delighted!) but because even now the whispering voice of OCD is softly saying that I will be getting a call from the police tonight.
I have to write this blog post though. I googled “paeodphile OCD blogs” before I wrote this (you can only imagine the anxiety that caused!) and hardly anything came up. This isn’t because it’s an uncommon obsession it’s because people can’t bear to say the words out loud – to admit to the darkest thoughts a mind could have. My sister asked me why am I writing it now? And the answer to that is simple. Because I am getting better. I have been taught that these thoughts are just intrusive thoughts that have no substance and that the reason that I have suffered with it so much is because the idea is so abhorrent to me. I have learnt that people with OCD definitely do not act on these thoughts, in fact as my examples show we usually go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that everyone is safe. I cannot bear for a 15 year old to google their worries and find nothing and thus seal their fate for the next 15 years. I didn’t have google back then or anyone that I could ask and so simply put this post is for my 15 year old self.
I am also writing this post for OCD awareness week to raise awareness of one of the lesser spoken about obsessions that people with OCD have.
Finally I would like to send a message to those who are marketing products as ‘OCD’. You really need some awareness training. Yes Tesco I’m talking about you and your “OCD” chopping board and Obsessive Compulsive cosmetics with their whole range of ‘obsessive’ products. So think about this when you’re all sitting around your board room table patting yourselves on the back for coming up with the OCD tag line. It’s really not that clever, in fact it’s lazy marketing with an inaccurate sentiment at its’ core. And if that doesn’t help you then think about this when you’re considering using it…. a chopping board that worries obsessively that it’s a paedophile – doesn’t seem so hilarious now does it?
More info about Paedophile OCD: http://www.ocduk.org/ice-breaker