Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is an illness that I have struggled with for around eight years. Throughout my school days, I began to carry out compulsive hand-washing, checking and routine rituals - this was to manage my anxiety about the strict exam culture, bullying and social pressures. After reading a teen flick novel on holiday, after my exams, the mother character in the novel had an illness – and this is where my intrusive thoughts started.
Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that are generated from your worst fear. I developed these thoughts, which were that I was terrified of making a family member ill through my actions. The thoughts spread to EVERYTHING. I would have thoughts that someone would be ill if I ate something, wore a particular top, went somewhere or any other action.
“It is important to realise that people with OCD are not ‘mad’. It's not a ‘quirk’, but rather a destructive mental health disorder.”
I finished school with all 'A' grades, but I wasn't eating, was avoiding certain clothes and places and was caught up in rituals in order to relieve my anxiety. However, these actions are only a short term relief - in the grand scheme of things, these behaviours are extremely destructive.
But that's the power of OCD: a distressing thought comes, so to neutralise that, one feels compelled to an action (a compulsion), to try and get a sense of relief and order.
“Yet, every time this happens - like trying to push a beach ball under water, which will only pop up again and again - and the thought is constantly repeating, the person gets caught in a vicious cycle.”
Until you have proper treatment and understanding, it's difficult to control these urges and not blame yourself. I knew it wasn't voices but my thoughts and this made me feel like a terrible person. Yet, what I didn't understand was that this was all coming from my OCD.
Despite rationally knowing there was no real connection with my daily actions to my family's health, I couldn't help thinking; “If someone becomes ill I'm going to think it was my fault and feel guilty because I've had thoughts about it.” So I began to say mantras and prayers to correct the thoughts, saying "never this" "never that" to try and keep my family safe from illness. Last summer I would be 'stuck' doing these things for 12 hours plus. As a result, my weight plummeted from not eating and I became housebound.
In January, I was admitted to hospital. Due to my general health, self harm and weight, I was told that had I not been admitted, I would not still be here today.
I am now recovering and have returned home. This whole experience has made me determined to advocate for better awareness of mental illnesses. My hope is to write a book about my OCD, in order to share my extreme and often unbelievable lengths I would go to because of the disorder.
Yes, the stigma of mental health is getting better; however there is still a lack of regard about the damage any kind of condition causes to sufferers, families and friends. Unfortunately, we are still caught up in a bubble of stereotypes and misrepresentations of mental health issues in television and film. People are generally uncomfortable about the topic, but it’s important to talk about as mental illness can be detrimental to our wellbeing and can impact on our functioning, relationships and physical health.
The more open and frank we can be about these mental health disorders, the more proactive we can be. There's a need to educate people about the truth - whether it's about OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder (BPD), depression, phobias and the like.
Common responses about my condition, from the media and from experience, include:
"Oh yeah I'm really OCD about that"
"Everyone has anxiety, just deal with it"
"Right, okay, you have OCD. So you just clean a lot?"
"Just don't do the compulsion, just stop it now."
"Why can't you just eat?"
These disorders are not adjectives, not trivial and can affect anyone. So it hurts when others don't understand your struggle to survive.
So, stand up and open up the conversation - it's time we headed upwards and onwards.