Tuesday, 31 December 2013

12 Days of Mental Health : Day 6 - OCD

It's New Year's Eve! Where on earth has 2013 gone (and how many times have you heard that today?)? Anyway, if you're lucky, I might just put up two blog posts tomorrow about my thoughts about 2013/hopes for 2014, and of course, day seven of 12 Days of Mental Health.

I hope everyone has a fantastic New Year's Eve tonight, and please stay safe whatever you do. Ours will be consisting of yummy chilli, pyjamas and Hootenanny whilst snuggled on the sofa with our cats.

Today, Kirsty shares her experiences of living with OCD. Here's a bit more information about this diagnosis first.

Please note this post may be triggering for some - remember it is vital to look after yourself first and foremost. 

What is OCD?

OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) has been ranked in the top ten of most disabling illnesses of  by the World Health Organisation as one of the most disabling illnesses in terms of lost earnings and diminished quality of life. It comes under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, and consists of two parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repeated unwanted thoughts, urges or images that can be extremely distressing. Some might experience urges to check things, such as if a cooker is off, doors are locked etc. Others might have thoughts about hurting themselves or someone, as an example. A compulsion is a physical activity that someone with OCD feels they have to carry out, so actually checking things are switched off repeatedly, or hand washing excessively in order to relieve the anxiety.

It's important to recognise that everyone will experience anxiety-related thoughts at one point or another. We've all experienced times when we wonder if something has been switched off, for example, but OCD is different to this. For most people, the anxiety after such an event will decrease gradually, but for those living with OCD, this sense of anxiety is maintained for a much longer period of time, often until a particular compulsion is carried out.

It's believed that there are four main areas of OCD:

  • Checking
  • Contamination / Mental Contamination
  • Hoarding
  • Ruminations / Intrusive Thoughts
Underneath each of these are other individual OCD illnesses such as pure-O, pre/postnatal OCD, trichotillomania, dermotillomania, or Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, as examples. 

What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?

There are many different symptoms of OCD, and they can vary depending on the "type." But here are some more general symptoms. 
  • Unwanted repetitive and/or intrusive thoughts 
  • Intense anxiety and/or stress if you don't carry out a compulsion followed by a relief afterwards
  • Compulsive behaviours such as handwashing, checking, asking for reassurance, counting, ordering, arranging. 
  • Excessive magical thinking, religious and/or moral thinking
  • Hair pulling and skin picking
  • Fear of making a mistake, behaving badly, or embarrassing yourself
Remember to visit your GP in the first instance, who will then be able to refer you to the relevant specialist team or service. 

What treatments are available? 

Depending on the severity and type of OCD, a GP will make a referral based on your presenting symptoms. Many people find that CBT helps for mild to moderate symptoms, and in some cases, certain medications can be considered, such as antidepressants or anti anxiety medication. 

You may be referred to your community mental health team, or a more specialist OCD team, once again, depending on your circumstances. 

You may be offered Exposure Response Prevention which works by exposing you to your particular obsession whilst trying to resist the urge to carry out the compulsion. Whilst it sounds scary, it is done in very small steps to avoid as much distress and anxiety as possible. 

There are lots of online resources for CBT and specific help with OCD. Speak to your GP as well who may know of a "books on prescription" scheme which you can get from your library. 

Kirsty's story


I was diagnosed with OCD fairly recently, but have been struggling with it since I was about 8. I remember I never used to sleep well, and would spend hours in bed worrying about what could go wrong - house catching fire, dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. To calm these fears, I used to get up and check things – if the oven was turned off, if the front door was locked. This checking helped to calm me down so that I could get some sleep. I always knew it was irrational, but I did it anyway because it helped.

Fast forward 20 years, and although I no longer check things, the intrusive thoughts plague me constantly. I have recently started CBT, something I can honestly say that I had never heard of before until it was suggested by my GP. In my first session, I was asked to keep a diary of all of the intrusive thoughts over the course of a fortnight. I thought that would be easy- I was very wrong! I no longer have obvious rituals, but I spend hours replaying certain images in my head over and over to find out if I am really capable of such things. At the moment I am struggling with this dilemma. Writing down the thoughts has made them more prominent, but I am hoping that will stop soon.

There is something positive to have come from being diagnosed - I know what I am up against and I know I am not alone in fighting with the thoughts in my head. It might not seem much, but it helps me to remember that when I am in the grips of anxiety in the middle of the night. I have tried many things in the past to block out the thoughts- alcohol and self-harm being the things I have relied on the most. But they are not the solution, they only cause more problems. 

I urge anyone who is having problems to go and get help - talking to someone can be the hardest part, but there is help out there. I dread telling those around me about my intrusive thoughts, I worry that they will find me disgusting and repellent, but I am so glad that I took that first step. Telling someone about the thoughts was tough, but by writing them down I am beginning to see that they are just thoughts. I am hoping that, with help, I may be able to take back the control from OCD one day.

You can follow Kirsty on Twitter - click here

Further Information