Mental Health Awareness Week: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: What You Don’t See
TW: Mental Health, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder,
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we have a blog post submitted to Women of Keele Educate, the writer wished to remain anonymous.
‘That’s a little OCD’ she says, as, out of boredom, I arrange my spare change in size order of coin.
‘Not really’ I think, whilst laughing and saying: ‘Perhaps.’
Given that the topic of the month is Mental Health Awareness, I felt my story was one that needed sharing.
In recent years, media discourse surrounding mental health conditions has taken drastic leaps forwards, though there are still areas of misunderstanding.
OCD is a disorder often misunderstood, and frequently used as a colloquialism for ‘a little fussy.’
For those of you unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the condition, what I am about to reveal may blow your mind:
I am both ‘a little fussy,’ and have OCD.
The fussiness is not a part of my condition.
The fussiness is a part of my personality, and something I would never want to get rid of.
The condition is extremely frustrating, anxiety-inducing, and something I would get rid of in a heartbeat given the choice.
The difference? Momentary satisfaction, vs momentary anxiety reduction.
Putting the money in my purse in size order, or re-ordering a pack of cards, is something satisfying to do when I’m extremely bored and waiting for my food to arrive in the pub.
I may enjoy creating the order, but if just leave it be, I’ll think no more about it and be able to enjoy my chips just the same.
Extensive lock and switch-checking however, is another matter entirely.
I have lost count of the amount of times my family have shouted at me in frustration to ‘just go to bed’ after I’ve left my room and gone downstairs to check that all the switches are off and doors are locked yet again.
The amount of times I’ve been exhausted and just wanted to crawl into bed and fall asleep.
But when I get in bed, all I can think is: ‘did I leave that charger on a heat-proof mat? Should I have done? Or will it be alright?’
Nine times out of ten, I decide that it’ll definitely be alright…but that I should probably go and put it on a heat-proof mat, just to be on the safe side.
I have been told I have what is referred to as ‘harm-focused OCD.’
This means that, when I get told ‘just stay in your room and go to sleep,’ I am incredibly unlikely to actually fall asleep until my brain is satisfied that nobody is going to come into the house and kill my family whilst we sleep, and that the house is also not going to blow up whilst we sleep.
My brain sees it as protection.
Others see it as selfish, unnecessary midnight noise-making.
It is because of my OCD that, as much as I might like to, I have not been able to agree to sharing a house with my friends whilst at university.
Living on campus, I have the comfort of knowing I can check the door is locked as much as my brain likes before going to bed, without frustrating anyone but myself.
Girls at school would talk about how much fun they had at their sleepover at the weekend; the sleepover I avoided due to extreme anxiety.
Eventually, they stopped inviting me.
Germs are also an issue.
I guess they too fall under the bracket of ‘potentially harmful.’
Nobody likes to accidentally touch chewing gum underneath the table, but, in my experience, most people pull some kind of weird face, say ‘eww,’ and then get on with their day.
The people sitting next to me when that happens however, suddenly notice it smelling like a dental surgery, as I attempt to discreetly sanitize my hands under the table (I’ve tried the whole ‘pull a face then get on with your day’ thing: I could focus on nothing but the crawling feeling on my hands until the bell signaled the end of class and I could go and wash them).
The severe fear of being sick makes me avoid family and friends when they have any illness more severe than a minor cold, making me seem, again, selfish and uncaring.
Safe to say, I will not, at any stage of my life, be having children.
Having people rely on you puts on a whole new level of pressure with this type of OCD: a mental condition which constantly makes images of danger flash through your mind, and makes you wonder whether something you do or don’t do may possibly cause death or long-lasting injury to the person in your care forever.
‘She could babysit!’ a family member says to a friend, as I quickly have to come up with 101 trivial reasons as to why this wouldn’t work out.
‘You wouldn’t like my cooking,’ I tell her 11 year old. In fairness, I probably wasn’t wrong. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having had at least one major argument about whether or not food is properly cooked in my lifetime.
I work with the mantra of: ‘If it’s completely dry and devoid of all taste, at least I know it’s cooked properly.’
There have been occasions where I’ve decided to experiment with leaving food in only slightly beyond its normal time frame, and then panicked about whether or not I was going to get food poisoning.
By this point I think you’re probably getting the idea, so I’m not going to go on for much longer.
Though, as with any illness, everyone’s experiences with OCD will be different, it is important to remember that in all cases, it is not just a matter of being ‘a little bit fussy.’
We are not trying to make ourselves stand out and get attention for our ‘quirky behaviours.’
A lot of the time, you probably won’t even notice there’s anything wrong.
A person who walks into university visibly exhausted may not have been up all night partying, or writing an essay they should probably have finished three weeks ago.
They may have tried to go to bed at a reasonable hour and ended up staying up for far longer than that trying to reduce a risk of death that the rational half of their brain knew did not exist.
If a friend is avoiding staying over, try not to assume that they simply don’t want to spend time with you: it’s possible that what they want more than anything is to be able to say yes.
If any of the above seems familiar to you, I want you to remember that it’s okay, that you’re not alone, and that it’s not going to be as bad as it seems right now forever.
Some doctors and mental health professionals are more understanding than others, but with the right treatment: which can comprise of a variety of talking treatments and/or medication, things can start to look up.
Generally, my pre-bed checking doesn’t seem to last as long as it used to.
As with anything, things tend to escalate in times of stress, but it’s not your fault, and you’re not selfish, even if you think your compulsions have a tendency to irritate others.
I strongly encourage anybody with whom my story resonated to consider seeking help: it may be uncomfortable in the moment, but will be likely be invaluable to your life in the long run.
I can’t say I’m completely cured, but, the majority of the time, I’m streets ahead of where I was, and one day, I’m certain that you will be too.
And to everybody else: next time you find yourself using the phrase ‘a little bit OCD,’ please take a moment to remember what it is that the condition can actually mean.
If this blog post has impacted you and you need to talk to someone please get in touch with any of the below charities:
Info about OCD: click here
Contact Details for Help:
You should also be able to get help by talking to your GP.
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