I’m deviating from my usual subject of travel today. I want to talk about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD as it commonly goes by. I want to show you that OCD is more than being clean. More than disliking odd numbered things. More than putting your DVDs in alphabetical order.
People who suffer from OCD do not enjoy doing these things. They don’t feel fully satisfied after completing the activity. People with OCD do these things because they feel they HAVE to and the anxiety associated with the activity is released only temporarily.
Those who suffer from OCD have an obsession that appears in their mind (it may be rational or not) and to cope with the anxiety the thought brings, they carry out a compulsion.
Obsessions are unwanted thoughts. They are intrusive and will completely take over the sufferer’s mind. They range from contamination i.e. that you or someone you know will get sick and/or die, to thinking you will cause an accident when driving. The worst thoughts are usually those of a sexual nature and as they can be so dreadful, sufferers feel incredibly guilty for thinking them (even though they would never act upon them). These unwanted thoughts increase anxiety.
Personally, my obsessions are thoughts that my Mum and Dad will die if I don’t do something or I will cause harm to them. I also have fears of doing a ‘Grand Theft Auto (GTA)’ when I am driving- I have big fears of hitting pedestrians walking near the road. Most of my fears are related to hurting or letting down someone I love.
Compulsions are carried out to neutralise the original thought. This is a temporary solution and may lead to a lot of repetition to reduce the anxiety. Repeating the ritual confirms the obsessional thoughts, which, over time worsens the OCD. Common compulsions are hand washing, excessive cleaning, mental rituals and checking.
When I was a child, I have memories of performing out compulsions using my hands. Sometimes, it was as if I was playing the piano on a car seat, a table, or in mid-air. I never saw this as abnormal – I saw it as part of me. One of my more humorous rituals was writing ‘David Beckham’ with my finger. Throughout my teenage years, hand washing was the ritual that took over. I washed my hands so often that the areas around my knuckles would often bleed. More recently, a lot of my compulsions are completed in secret. I do a lot of counting and rationalising in my head. I do not want people to know I have these rituals and have tailored them to be largely unnoticed. One thing that does not bother me is the television/car radio etc. volume control – I do not mind if it is on an odd or even number.
Avoidance is another compulsion I live with on a daily basis. Anyone who knows me knows I do not touch door handles and struggle to hold things like television remotes without using the sleeve of a dressing gown or hoodie. I understand that this is irrational, but it’s something that probably won’t change anytime soon.
Another side to OCD is seeking reassurance. This is another compulsion, and when reassurance is granted, the anxiety is (temporarily) relieved. I constantly ask whoever is around me to check if something is correct and I don’t think it could be in any way correct until I get the reassurance, even if no changes are made. I’m sure this side of me can be difficult to those around me.
When I travel, my OCD lessens. I find that leaving a daily routine reduces my anxiety and the rituals that come with it. I don’t like to plan ahead – I enjoy spontaneity. I have less time to be anxious and begin rituals.
What I am trying to say is OCD is not a joke – it’s a serious disorder that causes extreme distress to those who suffer from it. It’s not something to make light of or joke about because you put your spices in alphabetical order. OCD-UK say that 1.2% of the UK population suffer from OCD and for these people, daily activities take a lot longer than they do for non-sufferers.
OCD NI has produced a fantastic video entitled, “There’s no such thing as ‘a wee bit OCD’. It’s an accurate and interesting portrayal about life with OCD:
Please get in touch if you have any questions or want to talk about OCD.