“I’ve always known Chloe was a bit ‘different’. Even when she was a toddler I could see she was different to other kids her age.”
I will never forget hearing those words from my mum. Not for any negative reasons, but because it affirms OCD is something I was born with, it is a part of me as much as my blonde hair, blue eyes, my laugh.
We were sitting with my first therapist, 2nd ever cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) session and at 15, I had only just been diagnosed with OCD. Mum was right, I always knew there was something different about me, but I had no idea what. No idea that the 45 minute bedtime routine, obsession with counting, inability to open my curtains due to the paralysing urges that gripped me whenever I looked out of my window. To me then, and still to most it seems, OCD wass just ‘liking things clean and orderly’.
After a lot of denial, online research and trying to define my symptoms, I finally concluded OCD was the reason behind my obsession of food being 100% cooked. All had to be prepared with regularly washed hands on regularly cleaned surfaces, with any and all hint of contamination throw in the bin instantly. OCD was why when walking past all sorts of everyday objects, I’d have a visual urges so strong it made my curl up on the floor with fear of actually hurting myself.
My parents took some convincing, echoing my own phase of denial that I’d already come out the other side of. They are the most supportive and loving family a kid could hope for, but like any parent, hearing your child has a mental disorder is tough. It is something they can’t control, put a bandage on and kiss better. Seeing your daughter screaming on the floor mid-panic attack, trying to rip the clothes off of her body because she couldn’t get her hands clean enough to make food would be tough for anyone to see. Feeling helpless to your child when in pain, is probably one of the worst, gut-gripping feelings out there.
However, they took me to my GP, who diagnosed me and referred me to a children’s mental health clinic. Though, as I was almost 16, I wouldn’t have many sessions with them and move to an ‘adult’ waiting list. As you can expect, with no steady therapy and long waitlists, the next 5 years were spent moving from therapist to counsellor in and around college, university, then dropping out of university and a few jobs.
My turning point therapy was discovered completely by accident. CBT didn’t have an impact, ‘talking therapy’ helped short term but gave no long-term coping mechanism and doctors just prescribed pills. However, a passing comment somewhere along the way about my love of riding motocross bikes changed my whole perception; “...but you ride your bike in the mud and aren’t phased by the dirt?” I didn’t have an answer at the time. Then, one day when dad was driving me home after a hockey game it clicked; any time I was playing sport, running around outside or riding bikes, OCD was miles away – a dull ache of habits that passed by.
You see, it’s not just the endorphins; it’s the one time I’m in control. The one time I own my body, movements, thoughts – my mind. When you run, ride, lift, swim, sail, jump; they require a lot of attention to do, your thoughts are taken away from OCD and dedicated to the task at hand.
But it is even more than that, you realise how strong you truly are; not just physically, but mentally. That moment you run past someone you thought unreachable, you lift a weight that felt impossibly heavy or you ride faster and higher than you thought your legs could ever take you. These moments of physical achievement require mental strength more than anything else. To put yourself in a position of unknown, move out of your comfort zone and the safety net of what you know you can do – that is strength you cannot measure.
Being able to talk openly talking to my family about OCD, using it in every day conversation, sharing the good and the bad of it, are all direct results of the confidence I have gained through exercise. Feeling physically and mentally stronger and more in control, allows you to let your guard down in the faith you can get through the anxiety that comes with facing OCD.