“Oh my OCD’s coming out a bit.”
“I’m a little bit OCD”
“I’m so OCD about (insert random thing)
These are all things I hear pretty much on a daily basis from people who have absolutely no idea what OCD really is. For them, saying you’re OCD is just being organised, liking things done a certain way or being clean and tidy. This is completely and utterly not the case. I’ve suffered with OCD in the past and every time I hear a remark like this it just makes me want to a) growl at them and b) Sit down and talk to them about what OCD actually is and how it makes the sufferers feel and make them promise to never do it again… So in a way this post is the equivalent of that talk! I really want to live in a world where mental health conditions are no longer used as punch lines or adjectives and I will do everything within my power to make this happen.
So let’s get the facts. OCD stands for obsessive compulsive disorder. That’s right disorder, the definition of which is ‘an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions’. Does putting your pens in rainbow order disrupt your normal physical or mental functions? I thought not. In the UK it is estimated that only 1.2% of the population suffer with OCD which is equivalent to 1 in every 1000 people. That is a really small percentage compared to the amount of people who say they’re a ‘little bit OCD’. This is because those people have no idea what it actually is, how it can make people feel, how completely demoralizing, humiliating and disruptive it can be. I’m not saying that you are at fault if you have ever used OCD as an adjective etc. but I am saying that we need to raise awareness to help people understand and banish the stigma. Also to stop my chronic eye rolling if not anything else 😀
The NHS list OCD as ‘a long term condition,’ but it shouldn’t have to be. If we keep raising awareness then hopefully people will start to recognise that they need to get help sooner.
I’ve had OCD from the age of 11. It started out quite mildly but it got more severe as time went on. I would be forced to do things that I didn’t really want to do but my mind was telling me I had to or something would happen, usually something horrible to me or someone I loved. Either that or the thoughts would tell me that my OCD would just get worse until I was completely consumed by it. Ironic really. It convinced me that I had to do what it said (hence making it worse) or it would get worse. Either way I was screwed!
OCD comes in the form of compulsions and obsessions. Obsessions are usually unrelenting, unpleasant and intrusive thoughts, fears, images etc. that significantly impact on the sufferers daily life. The website www.ocduk.org has a great list of examples of these as listed below:
- Worrying that you or something/someone/somewhere is contaminated.
- Worrying about catching an illness (usually one that’s been heavily publicized e.g. Ebola, swine flu)
- Worrying that everything needs to be arranged symmetrically or at perpendicular angles so everything is ‘just right’.
- Worrying about causing physical or sexual harm to yourself or others.
- Unwanted or unpleasant sexual thoughts and feelings, including those about sexuality or fear of acting inappropriately towards children.
- Intrusive violent thoughts.
- Worrying that something terrible will happen unless you check repeatedly.
- Worrying that you have caused an accident whilst driving.
- Having the unpleasant feeling that you are about to shout out obscenities in public.
Most people with OCD will be aware that these thoughts are entirely unrealistic and improbable but believe that the only way to stop them and relieve the unpleasant feelings that come with them (anxiety, panic, unease etc.) is to carry out their compulsions. When they have completed their compulsions the thoughts may go away for a while but will always return, usually stronger than before. All of this can leave the sufferer feeling both emotionally and physically drained.
Compulsions come in two forms, overt or covert. Overt compulsions are physical acts that can be observed by others for example, cleaning, washing themselves/others or doing things repeatedly. Covert compulsions are internal ones, that can’t be seen by other people. For example, repeating a certain word or phrase in your head or counting to a certain number. Most OCD sufferers have a specific number/set of numbers that they will try and do everything to. For me it was the number three or certain multiples of seven.
Okay so hopefully by now you’ve learnt more about what obsessive compulsive disorder is but there are still loads of misconceptions some of you probably still think are true. So below I’ve listed some of the most common incorrect beliefs people have and hopefully it’ll make things a bit clearer.
All organised/tidy people have OCD. Nope. Some may do but the vast majority will not. It also works the other way, not all people with OCD are well organised/clean and tidy, in fact many people with severe OCD are incredibly untidy/organised because their obsessions prevent them from doing things.
All people with OCD had a troubled childhood. To be honest this is a common misconception for most mental illnesses but it is a complete myth. There is often no known cause for mental health conditions and it can be caused by a number of different things that can happen in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the elderly –people from any age and from any background can develop OCD.
Only women get OCD. This is a common belief for quite a few mental health conditions (anorexia, bulimia, anxiety) but again it’s completely false. It’s like saying only women can get diabetes.
There is no cure. While there is no definitive cure for OCD, like all mental illnesses there are things that can help and it will get better and eventually go in time. Certain therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and anxiety/anti-depressant medications (particularly SSRI’s) have been proven to help relieve some of the symptoms. However lots of people with the illness don’t reach out for help either because they’re embarrassed about the nature of their intrusive thoughts or they don’t actually realise that something is wrong.
To everyone out there suffering with OCD at the moment I really wish I could give you a magic cure that would make it all go away but I can’t. I recovered from my worst ‘spell’ by fighting, by going against it. It was really hard to start with but as soon as I stopped following my compulsions the thoughts stopped too. I realise that this is a hell of a lot easier said than done but you are strong and you can do this. You don’t deserve to live a life defined by thoughts you wish weren’t there.
Lots of love and hugs,
I realise that I haven’t posted in a while and I’m really sorry. You can blame Henry though because he thought the laptop charger looked like yummy snack No Henry’s were harmed in the making of this blog post.