I look back on my childhood and see now that as a child I grew up having OCD.
There were certain things as a child that I became very fixated upon, mainly health and being safe. At night I would be the one who would go round making sure all the doors and windows were properly locked and ensure all the plugs were switched off or taken out! It wasn’t just a case of making sure things were safe for the night it was persistent intrusive thoughts of imagining being burgled or maybe a fire starting and feeling the need to do everything I could to prevent that from happening.
You see, that is the thing about OCD, it’s an anxiety related condition where you experience unwelcome intrusive thoughts and engage in rituals to try and get rid of them because you truly believe you have the pivotal power to stop bad things from happening.
Having OCD is like having a bully in your head firing intrusive thoughts at you. One of my struggles is with contamination. I have many intrusive thoughts about germs and the need to keep clean to avoid becoming ill. This results in obsessive handwashing.
There are times when I feel like I am in the scene of Monsters inc. where a 2319 incident is declared! A 2319 is where a member of staff becomes contaminated with a foreign object from a human child. The Child Detection Agency are called into action and quickly remove and destroy the foreign object. The employee is then shaved and cleaned from any contamination!!! I regularly feel like there are foreign objects (germs) around me which I need to clean and get rid of to prevent me from becoming ill.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I was officially diagnosed. I lead a group at my church and a friend would tell me about her son and his struggles with worries and thoughts, he had OCD. When she spoke about him it was as if she was talking about me, it was like a light came on and I suddenly had clarity about why I had been getting all of these intrusive thoughts. I visited a lady in our church who was a GP and she agreed with me and said I should make an appointment with my GP. I made an appointment and after discussions and diagnosis we decided that the best course of treatment for me with my anxiety was medication and cognitive behaviour therapy.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt embarrassed to share my diagnosis. Mental Health wasn’t something widely talked about and it was hard enough dealing with being bombarded with intrusive thoughts without the worry of what anyone else might think. OCD, like many other mental health illnesses, can be hard to open up about because quite often people will say unhelpful things like, “oh yeah, I’m a little bit OCD” and they will try and empathise with you about how they also check the lights are off. It can feel mentally exhausting to try and explain to others what you are going through and how it’s so much more than “doing a Monica” from the famous soap Friends and turning up to your friend’s house with a mop bucket full of cleaning products, wearing marigolds ready to clean their home! I felt like OCD defined me and that felt unpleasant. It took me time to be open, to share. I began by sharing with a few, family and close friends.
Over the years as I have engaged with medical professionals, been to counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy, I have learnt to manage my OCD. Like many people with a mental health condition I have good days and bad days depending on what else is going on in life. One thing I have learnt is to ask for help when I need it, to re-engage with counselling if needed and to be gentle with myself. I used to feel like OCD defined me but as I have grown to understand it I now know that it doesn’t define me but what it does do is give me a empathy and understanding of how it feels for other people to live with a mental health illness and an ability to be able to come alongside others and support them, and a passion to educate others. For this, I am thankful.