As many of you will be aware, the 10th October is World Mental Health Day. In order to mark the day I have decided to create a blog series to publish in the run up to World Mental Health Day with the help of contributors with lived experience. The series will run over 6 days, covering a variety of mental health problems. The aim of the series is to remove some of the 'clinical' feel behind the descriptions of mental health problems and humanise it by describing how it feels to those experiencing a mental health problem. Check back to see the next part of the series; Schizoaffective Disorder.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over (NIMH).
"OCD is like living with a bully in your head constantly. It ruins and rules your life. Convincing you the worst in all situations even though you know, the rational side of your brain knows that it's all lies. OCD traps you in your mind. You feel like your running around and around a maze with no way out. OCD is not adjective it's a serious mental illness that strips people of their livelihoods." - Nicole Woodward
"Living with OCD is like living with a little troll permanently attached to your shoulder, whispering intrusive things into your ear and making your helpless brain believe them. This troll takes great pleasure in watching you wipe down a surface ten times, then making you forget you’ve done it so you have to do it again. Takes pleasure in making you think the chicken you had for dinner wasn’t cooked properly and enjoys watching you panic for the next 48 hours while it passes through your system. It takes great pleasure in whispering things like “You hate your mum, you wish she was dead” to the point where you begin to think you’re a horrible person who doesn’t deserve to have a mum. It likes watching you crumble as a person and limit your social interaction because it makes you think your home is your only safe place. It enjoys the strange looks you get in restaurants when you analyse every piece of food before you chew it. It enjoys watching you get embarrassed when you have use your sleeves to open doors and turn down meals lovingly made by friends in case they make you sick. This troll never takes holidays, never has annual leave to use up. It’s always there, hanging around to make sure it sucks the joy out of you until all your life amounts to is checking, washing and panicking until the cycle starts again" – Laura Cloughley
"OCD feels like fear and confusion, despair and unease. It’s like an itch you can’t quite scratch. It’s racing thoughts and irrational beliefs. Any small moments of relief from your own mind are quickly replaced by frustration – why am I like this? Why do I have to do these things? OCD masks itself as a means of being in control, but you know deep down the temporary sense of order it gives you is an illusion. Comfort is fleeting and rare. You reason away your actions saying next time you’ll break the cycle, but you know deep down, you won’t. Next time. Imagine being driven by a relentless, nagging voice in your head, then having the shame of not being able to explain why you feel so compelled to listen to it. The voice is clever; it changes its tactics to trick you into thinking you’ve got the upper hand, and bends the rules when it feels like it, so you’re always one step behind. But it’s nothing more than a band-aid, temporarily rationalising the irrational. Each time you give into the voice you tell yourself it’s the last time. But you know it won’t be." - Melissa
"Before I go to bed each night I check that all the doors are locked, I must push the handle down 3 times just to be sure and feel the key between my fingers turn as far as it will go, I need to see that each of the windows are closed properly and press my hand against the handle to feel that they are secure. If something interrupts me from my routine and 0.01% of me is then unsure if I did just check the door then I have to do it all over again. When this happens, I sigh inside and contemplate just stuffing it this time, but OCD places its heavy hand on my shoulder and drags me backwards, as the internal battle begins I feel like the rope in a game of tug of war, being pulled and torn in opposite directions, I want to fight it, to stand up to it, but OCD tells me that if I don't check the door/window/stairgate/switch that my children will die. Yes, I just said that, you see OCD uses the most precious things I have against me because it knows I won’t risk it. It also knows that I will sound absurd saying this out loud, because I know that checking the fridge and freezer doors are shut and perfectly aligned by using specifically my fore finger and middle finger have absolutely no correlation to my family’s health, but it knows that if I say no to its demands, it makes me feel like I’m saying I don’t care about the things it threatens me with, and I just can’t do that, despite however irrational it may be. I would not be able to rest if I walked away without going through with the compulsion, the disturbing intrusive thought (aka obsession) would send my anxiety sky high and so I begrudgingly give in to its control to relieve my anxiety. It’s clutch on my body is lifted, temporarily that is until next time. You see this is just a snippet, OCD creeps up numerous times a day, and it also stops you from telling anyone about it because even you don’t understand how your own mind can generate these distressing thoughts, it makes you think you must be the only one in the world going through it. Some people may read this and think yes, we check the windows and doors at night too, but the difference is that I have to, it doesn’t feel like it is my choice, you do it to keep your house safe, and I do it because OCD tells me I have to in order to keep my family alive." - Katie Lou
"Living with OCD is being in a constant state of fear and uncertainty , with horrific unwanted images/thoughts/urges passing through your mind and the constant need to work out if they are real or not , its exhausting and debilitating, and it rarely switches off , from the minute you wake up to the time you go to bed. You sometimes get woken at night by the thoughts and images creeping into your mind, the anxiety is awful .You withdraw from life and can become and often ashamed of the OCD. You can suffer with low esteem and your confidence can reach rock bottom. Feelings of guilt , shame, sadness all go hand in hand with OCD" - Ash Curry
"For me Obsesseive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is like having a voice in your head telling you all of the things that you might have done wrong. It’s a constant nagging sound every time you turn off the tap or shut the front door, telling you that you haven’t done it properly, that you need to go back and check and that - even though you can see it’s ok - your eyes are just deceiving you. It’s not knowing if you can trust your own thoughts because of all the times they have been wrong before, and it’s having to go along with them anyway because the alternative is just to awful to contemplate. Every time I relapse back into OCD behaviours I feel like I have fallen back down a huge set of stairs. Sometimes it’s just one or two steps and I can pull myself back up, but other times it’s five or six or seven and I feel as if the only direction to go is down. The worst thing is that sometimes you don’t realise you’re falling until its too late because OCD can shape-shift into so many different forms. Then, when it’s happened, you have to pick yourself up and start the process back up the stair-case all over again." - Rebecca Savage
"OCD to me is feeling like my brain is a constant whirring movie of worse case scenarios/obsessions. These obsessions can be about absolutely anything and often switch from one subject to the other. Mine tend to involve memories, mental images, impulsive urges and endless 'what if?' questioning. In order to 'cancel out' these fears/obsessions I feel compelled to carry out compulsions. Compulsions can be anything from checking windows, to scanning memories looking for evidence that I am a nice person/not dangerous, etc and looking for reassurance online. When very low, I often feel tricked by my condition. It alters so often, that unless I'm on my A-game it's difficult to identify what is the condition and what is me. OCD is called the Doubting Disease and that sums it up perfectly. I often feel it makes me doubt who I am as a person and what I stand for. My main OCD focus at the moment is postnatal/postpartum OCD which centres around my son. Very few people even know this is a condition, it's why awareness work is so important. I am so grateful for all the recovery work I have done. A mixture of medication, CBT with ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) and a whole heap of self care strategies makes it far easier for me to live day to day with the condition. I hope one day to be totally free from it's symptoms and if that isn't possible and least to have them incredibly well managed." - Catherine Benfield
"OCD to me feels like having a double sided sellotope as a mind. Then any fly that flies by it it stick to it; that's the way it feels when my thoughts almost get stuck on repeat and only doing a compulsion gives a momentarily relief." - Kay Ska
"The worst thing about OCD is the feeling of guilt. Every single bad thought you have makes you feel like an awful person. It feels like because you have had a bad thought, it is as bad as actually doing the bad thing. And then your brain takes it even further and thinks that it will happen because you’ve thought it might happen. So then you do everything to block out the thoughts but they keep coming back. So if you can’t stop thinking about the bad thoughts, then you have to do something to stop them from happening. So you tap the wall. Then there’s another thought ‘You need to tap the wall six times to stop it happening’. So you tap the wall six times. ‘Did you do it properly?’ So you do it again. Then finally when everything feels ok, you can walk away. Until later on you hear the news that something has happened and your only thought is ‘You didn’t do it properly. It’s your fault’." - What Is Normal
Hopefully reading the personal experiences from these wonderful people has helped to provide a more human understanding of what OCD is, what it means to those who experience it and how it feels to them.
Sending positive vibes,