I felt it was important to explain what OCD is for anyone reading this who is looking to learn about this illness.
This is my understanding of OCD from the research I have done and information I have been given from my counsellor including from resources such as the NHS. I encourage you to research as well to gain a full understanding from resources you find useful.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is made up of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts and feelings and compulsions are behaviours the person carries out to try and stop or suppress the thoughts, or to prevent the thoughts from coming true.
For example, when my OCD became debilitating the first thought I had was a harm thought. So my obsession was the intrusive thought of harm coming to my friend then thinking, ‘well I am the only one in the room with the capacity to cause harm so in that scenario it would be me harming her.’ The compulsions I carried out to try to get rid of that thought was to try and think of ‘good thoughts’, to avoid any social situations and to hide knifes, scissors, pens, anything I felt were triggering bad thoughts.
There are several different types of OCD or themes such as Sexual/violent OCD (this is what form my OCD manifests in), Relationship OCD, Ordering/counting OCD, Hoarding, Pure OCD (which I will discuss in the next paragraph) or overlapping OCD (which I have and will discuss in a future blog).
Pure OCD is where the compulsions occur internally. The person’s compulsions can include praying, ruminating, needing to replace the ‘bad’ thought with a ‘good’ thought, which are all done internally whereas other types of OCD have compulsions that can be seen such as someone repetitively checking and rechecking the stove is off.
An important message I want to really stress is that OCD is an anxiety based disorder. It should not be feared. I have really struggled with the worry of being judged, or misunderstood or sharing my story then people being afraid of me or thinking I’m a threat. This is not the case. Everyone has intrusive thoughts, and by everyone I mean everyone, including people who have no mental health conditions. The difference is that with OCD, the thoughts get stuck and we give the thoughts meaning. So instead of having an intrusive thought and thinking ‘Oh that was odd, never mind, on with my day’ like someone without OCD would, with OCD we think, ‘Where did that come from? Why am I thinking that? That’s awful. I must be an awful person. What if that comes true because I’m thinking about that?’ and then because we attribute that meaning to the thought it becomes more and more bothersome and the compulsions feed the OCD by giving the thoughts even more attention. OCD happens despite us. It will not change someone’s will. Just having these unwanted thoughts petrify us enough to the point we need to carry out compulsions and rituals to try to stop them. These compulsions destroyed my life, leaving me at my lowest, wishing I had cancer instead so at least then if I died I could die feeling like a good person because I also contemplated suicide but knew if I did that I would die with OCD making me think I was a bad person. Either way I was thinking of death. I would rather die then be a threat to anyone. All this because of thoughts. That’s how severe OCD can become.
OCD is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes messages to misfire and false messages get sent that cause us to react in a state of anxiety. We have an intrusive thought, then feel like there’s a threat and our bodies go into fight or flight releasing cortisol and adrenaline causing anxiety and panic. Panic can range from very visible states of panic to silent panic where a person can experience panic attacks but to someone else they may look completely calm.
OCD is treatable. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Exposure Response Therapy is considered the most effective treatment. There are also several medications available for treating this illness, along with mindfulness techniques and more basic lifestyle changes, like being more active, eating and sleeping better if this is something, like me, is a struggle. This can all be discussed with your GP.
While I know the theme of thoughts can be absolutely terrifying, the content of the thought is actually not important. Believe me this is something I still have to actively say to myself. It is the process and the reaction behind the thoughts that needs to be focused on.
Understanding what OCD is so important. Learning to accept that OCD is happening because of a misfire in your brain, not because of you, is a difficult process when you have the OCD monster telling you otherwise. This is where the very important mantra that I use comes in. I remind myself whenever I begin getting intrusive thoughts or panic that ‘It’s not me, It’s OCD’.
I would like to finish this by saying YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I really want you to take that in. This illness will leave you feeling like you are going mad, like you are a monster, like you are the only one going through this and it will make you doubt everything. Everything you try to rationalise it will tell you otherwise. It will make you doubt who you are and everything you stand for. It can feel like the loneliest, scariest place in the world. You are not alone. There are others, many, many others going through this to. I will speak out about my experiences and really hope by sharing my story you will speak out about yours, if you haven’t already.
If anything in this blog sounds familiar to what you are feeling like or experiencing please seek help from the right health care professionals. Speak to your doctor. If you can’t say it out loud then write it down and let the doctor read it, or tell a close trusted family member or friend and ask them to tell the doctor with you there. I know that opening up can be such a difficult thing to do. Please don’t suffer in silence when there is help available. You deserve a life in recovery from this.