OCD, Or How I Never Learned to Stop Worrying
I’m seven years old, and I’m standing in front of an unopened packet of new toothbrushes: four, one for each member of my family. And I know I have a big choice in front of me, because the colour of the one I choose will dictate the safety of all of them. Red? No, too close to blood, which is murder, which is death. Green? A shorthand for sickness, which is death. Blue? Water, which could be drowning, which is death. I settle for yellow, even though it could represent the sun swelling to destroy the whole planet, but that seems like the least likely potential death scenario so, reluctantly, I brush my teeth with that one. I know, somewhere inside me, that this is a lot of worry to be applying to a toothbrush, but I’m not risking disaster for some foolish green-toothbrushed hubris.
So, seventeen years later, about a month ago, I sat opposite an occupational therapist who told me that I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder that most of you have probably heard of at one time or another. It’s a relatively common mental illness that generally hinges on repeated intrusive thoughts about terrible, often irrational, things, that run alongside compulsions that the sufferer carries out in order to address the feelings of anxiety those thoughts bring up.
And it’s very, very weird for me to be typing these words and to know that they now describe me – well, not just now, but that they pretty much always have. For my entire life, I’ve dealt with a really viscous internal monologue that just refuses to stop throwing disturbing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks, and as a response to that, I’ve carried out compulsions that make me feel vaguely in control of those things. For a long time, pretty much as long as I can remember, the inside of my head has been a barely-contained quarantine zone of abject terror and attempts to assuage that abject terror with completely irrational and insensible rituals. Even now, knowing that these feelings and actions are symptoms of a disorder, I’m still irrationally nervous at the thought of actually explaining what a lot of them are.
I guess it really never crossed my mind that a lot of the strange habits I carried out as just part of my daily life weren’t average. Other people didn’t, I discovered, touch every wall but one in their house before they left to go places, because as long as there was something still to be finished up that meant they would be able to come and thusly wouldn’t die on their excursion. Who knew, right? How do you all get through the day? You’re just out here…leaving your house, without touching your walls? Wild.
I think most of us assume that the way our brain works is, for the most part, normal, and it’s been a big shock finding out that the way mine works isn’t. I have a lifetime of practice doing a lot of this stuff, of just living my life as a careful balancing act between seething anxiety and what I do to keep it in check, and looking back on that and realizing that it was part of this disorder I’ve had as long as I can remember is profoundly strange.
I’ve known that there was something wrong for a long time, but it wasn’t until last year that things got really rough and I knew there was Something Wrong that needed addressing. 2018 was a big, big year for lots of different reasons – lots of change, lots of stress (some of it good – hey, did you see that my book is available for pre-order as of last week?) – and all the compulsions that I had managed to keep vaguely in check were suddenly affecting my day-to-day functioning and my relationships with other people. I couldn’t hide from it anymore, and now I have a diagnosis, I have decided I don’t have an excuse to keep living my live in this state of permanent unrest and disquiet. More importantly, I don’t want an excuse anymore. I’m not looking for one.
Well, that’s what comes next for me. I’ve got the NHS to thank for an awesome professional support system in place at the moment, and my treatment plan for the forseeable future is something I’m both nervous and excited about getting started on.
And writing about my issues has always been a really helpful thing for me (if you didn’t already guess), so I’ve decided to start blogging about my experiences living with OCD, my opinions on the depiction of OCD in the media, and how I’m dealing with treatment and what I find useful within that. I’m calling these the OCDiaries, and you’ll be able to find them right here on the blog under the tag at the bottom of this article. If you’re living with OCD, or interested in learning how you can support people with OCD in your own life, I would really recommend taking a look at the Mind page on the disorder for some great starting information.
Thanks for indulging some more of my oversharing. If you have experience with OCD or know of resources you think might be useful in dealing with it, please feel free to drop them in the comments below!