Being a young person with OCD is far different to just organising your desk

I live in constant fear of terminal illness, car crashes and heart attacks

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and my bedroom’s a mess. My desk isn’t organised by colour and my work isn’t arranged in alphabetical order. My head is noisy. Until very recently I wasn’t very fond of myself at all.

What kind of person am I to take both hands off the steering wheel on a main road with my family in the car, just so I could tap my head exactly 58 times to prevent an accident that I’d just made up in my own mind? That makes perfect sense to me. At my worst I’d have risked anything if it meant I could combat the thoughts that flashed through my brain.

OCD is misunderstood and perceived wrong. I’ve lost count of the times The Lad Bible or some other shitty Facebook page has made reference to it – always in regards to being tidy or liking something neat and organised. That’s not wrong, but scratch beneath the surface and you have a real mental illness that you wouldn’t take the piss out of anymore than you would with anxiety or depression.

image3

I’ve felt the effects of the disorder for pretty much as long as I can remember. It hasn’t always been the same, different aspects of it have impacted my daily life in different ways, even when I was younger and I had no idea what the fuck was wrong with me. I was blind and unaware to what was happening, either too scared or naïve to accept what I had and what I needed to deal with. It was only until a couple of years ago that I actually searched online for my symptoms and how to get help; and even then I didn’t want to believe what I had.

The most prolific stage has been the past three years. One of the main symptoms of OCD is compulsive thoughts. Simply put it’s pretty much like leaving the back door open and letting anyone inside. You can’t control what thoughts rush in. For me these revolve around bad things happening to the people I love. It can happen when I’m thinking of my family or talking to my friends. I’ve shaken hands with someone I’ve just met and worried they might collapse as soon as I let go.

I live in constant fear of terminal illness, car crashes and heart attacks

All of these thoughts appear in my mind like an uninvited guest, and there is nothing I can do. This then puts me into a spiral of panic. I’m living everyday life and I don’t know what’s going to come into my mind next. I feel awful for thinking even though I have no control. I feel responsible.

As these thoughts progressed, my body went into auto pilot and turned to compulsion. Many sufferers develop a mental act or repetitive behaviour that we’ll then carry out; to counteract and combat the thoughts every time they come into our minds. A routine. My routine. For me this is to tap my head exactly 58 times every time these thoughts happen. The 58 relates to the mental list I read through as I knock my head, which lists every single thing in my life that I want to keep safe from whatever I’d just thought up.

I know how fucked that sounds, but to me it makes perfect sense. Only after performing that will I feel relatively normal until it happens again. And again. And again.

It usually happens at certain points during the day, at night before I go to bed or when I’m about to do something I’ve convinced myself is totally dangerous (even if it’s walking down the stairs or saying goodbye to someone). My routine isn’t subtle in any way, and I became embarrassed at having to say I was scratching my head every time someone saw what I was doing.

This grew worse as time went on. As I became more anxious and stressed I soon started to panic that my routine wasn’t good enough to prevent these bad things from happening. I told myself that I just needed to focus more and not make any mistakes; as to me this would mean the thoughts had more chance of becoming real.

This meant ignoring absolutely everything else and focusing solely on my routine. I would be mid conversation with someone and have to look down, so they wouldn’t see I was completely zoned out, counting in my head. This happened once when I was playing PlayStation with a friend. I stopped moving my character and went blank for 10 seconds, causing him to stop and check if I was okay. I laughed it off and pretended I had no clue what had happened. I did that four times that evening.

It hasn’t always been like this

Even though the head tapping and compulsive thoughts is a large part of my life currently and has been for the past three years, my disorder has affected me in so many different ways all the way through growing up; including before I became fully aware of what I was suffering from.

image1

I was ten years old and too scared to sleep. I’d lie in bed for hours absolutely terrified that I would wake up feeling sick, or that I’d become ill the next day and have no one around to help me. I started to avoid going to certain places in case I caught germs, and shunned eating any kind of meat in fear that it wasn’t cooked properly.

I was fifteen years old and I wasted half my day walking to and from the bathroom. I was obsessed with keeping clean. I’d wash my hands and accidentally brush against the door as I was leaving, meaning I’d have to spend another ten minutes furiously scrubbing myself clean from the germs I’d just apparently obtained.  My friends started to comment on my dry and peeling skin, as my hands were cracked and bloody from fingers to wrist. Humiliation however was nothing compared to my fear of becoming afflicted with the unknown.

I’ve never spoken publicly about this before

I felt so guilty about my thoughts and actions that I never wanted anyone to know how I was feeling and what went on in my head. Up until March this year only a single person knew; an online friend that I’d never met before in real life.

I’m unsure what changed this and led me to becoming less closed and guarded. I started to tell close friends what I was dealing with and how I was suffering. Yesterday I told someone in passing conversation.

As soon as you gain an understanding of what you’re dealing with it becomes easier to accept yourself. That sounds really fucking wet but it’s true. I hated myself for having these bad thoughts. I was ashamed and disgusted, but after reading about hundreds of other sufferers all coping with the same symptoms it puts it into perspective. You cannot let a shitty mental illness define who you are or how you feel.

I feel better now because I know what I have, I know what I’m dealing with, I know what to expect. I’m no longer scared.

Thanks to @Natasha_robinson for the illustrations.

More
Falmouth