Thursday, 16 October 2014

OCD - 'Cos it ain't all about the hand washing.

In light of it being OCD Awareness Week, I thought it appropriate (and important!) to tell you a bit about my OCD.

I'm gonna be honest - when I finally got my diagnosis earlier this year, I burst in to tears. Part of me was relieved - I had been experiencing symptoms of OCD since the age of 7, but I was also ashamed believe it or not. There's such a stigma and misunderstanding surrounding OCD that I saw it as a bit of a death sentence in terms of what I wanted to achieve in life. I envisaged the turning down of job offers, not making university or never meeting anyone who would be able to accept this diagnosis.

Now for those who know me, you'll know I'm not the tidiest of people. When I get ready in the mornings, make up brushes are everywhere, there will be several items of clothing laying on the floor because I can't decide what to wear and because I work early mornings, you'll probably find that I leave a half full coffee cup next to my hair dryer. But this does not mean that I do not have OCD. One of the most common misconceptions about OCD is that you must be cleaning your hands so many times a day or you like everything done a certain way, etc. Don't get me wrong - for some people this IS their life, this IS their reality, but this ISN'T the case for everyone. In the same way we experience the flu different to one another, people who are living with OCD can show symptoms in many ways.

For me, it's a combination. Hand washing is a big thing. I HATE germs. Actually that's not even correct - I'm frightened of them, the ones that can make me ill, hence the emetophobia. Washing my hands is a ritual and it has to be done a certain way. You might be saying "well... there's nothing wrong with a bit of extra caution," and sure, you might be correct in some ways. But imagine not being able to eat out with friends and family. If you do, you're limited before you even look at the menu. No meat (except beef), no salad, nothing that hasn't been cooked, including bread. Imagine seeing germs on your cutlery, despite them having gone through a goodness-knows-how-hot dishwasher. When you use the toilet in public, opening door handles with your foot. Scolding your hands until they're red raw(and paying the painful consequences the next morning). It might sound like nothing to you but if I can't do these things, I feel unbalanced, wrong, guilty, scared and I count down the hours of the potential window I could get ill in. It engulfs my entire concentration, even if I'm busy it'll completely cloud my focus and sense of judgement.

Another big part are intrusive thoughts that go over and over and over in my head. I'm not prepared to share them on this blog as I'm ashamed of some of them. These thoughts are NOT me, hence why they upset me so much. But there have been nights where I've laid in bed, sweating from head to toe, because my brain is telling me to carry something out or act a certain way or do "something" and it doesn't shut up. It's constant, I see the words, I feel them and my heart races. These thoughts are horrible. It's like they consume "Kim" and replace her with some other evil little girl. Now we all experience intrusive thoughts at points, but imagine this every day at some point. When you're in a meeting trying to concentrate, when you have someone you love trying to talk to you about something important or when you're sitting in a lecture surrounded by a 100 people. Then it's not so comfortable and easy to just get on with.

I have this obsession with balance as well. For example - if I don't get out of the shower a certain way, something bad will happen unless I do that bad thing to balance it out. Or if I say something positive about myself, I have to balance it out with something negative (and worse). Hence why recovery, for me, is difficult. Challenging negative thoughts means I have to do something to 'teach myself a lesson' as my brain likes to put it. Frustrating.

When I got my diagnosis, I mentioned before that part of me was relieved and I am slowly but surely coming to terms with it. Thanks to a wonderful doctor and the support of loved ones, I've been trying to learn more about my OCD and trying to understand the way it can control me. I'm not saying this in itself lessens the OCD but it certainly makes me feel less alone to know that there are so many other people out there just like me.

Which brings me on to my final point. So many people I know do not know of my diagnosis. I can hide it by hiding myself if necessary. Sometimes I am ashamed of it. Sometimes I am happy to share my story and talk about it and I hope in time as a society the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding OCD is corrected. I am still me, I am still Kim, I just have an extra 'bit' that some other people don't. So I ask that this week, you don't think of my rituals as 'weird', don't think me odd for liking things done a certain way and remember that my intrusive thoughts are not me. OCD affects individuals in all different ways but we should not be afraid to open up and talk to someone about the struggles we are having with it. That's OCD - we have to live with it and therefore so do you.

I urge you to find out more about OCD and make an effort to help OCD-UK work towards supporting those affected by OCD. They've even created a super duper website easily broken down t teach you about OCD and to understand the reality of this illness. Visit for more information.

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