Vic Sautter: Week 4

This week, VIC turns to serious matters.

column columnist deschanel Doctor Who obsessive compulsive disorder OCD OCD-UK tardis vic sautter week 4

Let’s talk about OCD.

I have it, of a fashion. I was diagnosed with a mild case when I was sixteen. I’ve had it since I was born, I’ll have it until I die. And given that there is very little else interesting about me, aside from the fact that I have life-size cut-outs of the Doctor and a Dalek, I may as well write about this and hopefully put some facts straight about the illness as we go. And perhaps you’ll learn why I get so irritated when I hear people say: “OMG I get really OCD about x…”

My OCD presents itself in many ways, and most of them are pretty adorable. I have to turn plug switches off, do things in groups of 2s, 5s or 7s (well, actually, the numbering is a little more complicated than that but we don’t have all day), and obsess over remembering things. You know that thing you get where you see an actor’s face but you can’t place it? Or you remember a phrase from somewhere but you have no idea where? And how that can drive you crazy? It drives me crazy. Like, lying in bed awake for hours, making me feel physically sick, crazy. However, it does mean I am a fountain of knowledge for all actors and useful quotations. Oh, and when I was 10, I had to say “mongoose” practically every minute. Primary school was hard…

So far, so quirky. This is the safer side of OCD. We are currently at the level of lead female character in an off-beat indie movie. Or, if you want a catchier title, Defcon Deschanel. But OCD, much like ‘the force’ and duct-tape, holds the universe together.

No, sorry, wrong joke. OCD has a dark side.

And here, I’m afraid, the jokes have to stop for a bit.

This bit actually feels quite hard to write. Because this is the part of OCD I’ll only talk about when I’ve had a few drinks, and even then I’ll tone it down. And part of me doesn’t want to write it because once I tell you this, it’s out there, and no matter what happens from now on, you’ll know that there is this side of me. But I pitched myself as wanting to speak about OCD; to censor myself would be fundamentally hypocritical.

So, my dark side (and bear in mind that this is still a mild case): I have aggressive OCD.

This does not refer to severity but to genre, as it were. This particular type, along with many others, is not very well known due to the fact that TV shows and such seem to limit OCD to just cleaning obsessions. My most enduring obsessions concern me hurting myself – well, not hurting myself, but killing myself. Think of it like suicidal tendencies, but without wanting to die. I experience the urge to kill myself at least once a day. The feeling generally arises when I am leaning against a wall and I suddenly feel an overwhelming compulsion to smash my head against it. This compulsion became so strong that I was eventually tested for psychosis.

I’m not psychotic. Really. Everyone knows the government is just hiding the Tardis.

But the fact of the matter is, I get pretty scared by this. Hey, It’s a scary thought that part of your brain wants to kill you. And sometimes it all gets a bit much. I will say, though, that having a hysterical panic attack in the doctor’s waiting room ensures you excellent service for the future.

But I am functional – highly functional. Certainly functional enough that I don’t usually check the box on the form that asks if I have mental health problems. Like I said, this is only a mild case. But if I find it tough, imagine what it must be like for people who are seriously affected. OCD is ranked in the top ten most debilitating diseases (not just mental illnesses) by the World Health Organisation and there are people who fight it every day, and even people who die from it.

The strength required by these people, whether they are medicated or in CBT, at home or in hospital, housebound or otherwise, makes them heroes – real heroes, fighting off a very real monster.

So please, for them – not for me because I have no real entitlement to your consideration – if you are lucky enough not to fight that monster, don’t talk like you are, because the result is that people who actually might be suffering from the illness don’t get the help they need because they become convinced that everyone feels the same way they do. There is a difference between being annoyed because your books are out of order and feeling severely distressed by it.

If you do have to fight that monster, or think you do, there is a whole round table of resources at your disposal. See your doctor; the average time between onset and diagnosis is ten years, because people simply don’t. You are not crazy, you are ill. OCD-UK has support forums and loads of information. There are thousands of people in your position; you are not alone. Reach out.