I was born with OCD. I didn’t want it. I hated it. It destroyed half of my life.
It’s made me who I am. I have skills, capabilities and qualities that others don’t have. I’ve accepted my situation and can see the benefits. I leverage my difference every day. My ‘mental difference’ completes me.
My first attack, or symptom as I now know, was when I was 10 years old. It was the day the Sun newspaper broke the story about a new disease spreading the world, AIDS. It showed a picture of a man with a bloated head with a long explanation about this new disease and its effects, which normally led to death at the time.
From that point on, my illness took charge. I was constantly pushing my skull and temple in at various points, checking to see if I was bloating to confirm if I, a ten year old, had contracted AIDS and was going to die.
It went on from there and gathered intensity. I struggled in science at secondary school because of chemicals. I washed my hands all the time and opened doors with my elbows, trying not to touch my jumper in case chemicals were on the elbow area.
I had meltdowns every evening when I worked the tills at the local Tesco because when I beeped someone’s bleach, or cleaning products, followed later by the bananas or something immediately edible, I panicked that something could transfer to the food, they would ingest it and die and it would all trace back to me and I would go to prison for manslaughter. I would then try to use as little of my hands as possible until I could get a break and wash them.
At college I dropped biology because I just couldn’t sit at the tables or open my folder that had been on the table, while opening doors with elbows and washing intensely. I simply gave in and didn’t want anyone to see me like that.
When I started getting sexually aware and active, I must have, in my head, contracted every sexually transmitted infection known from the most minor contact with my partners. No matter how safely I conducted myself, in my mind every partner got pregnant for a small period of time, even if the only contact we had was minor foreplay.
This soon progressed to me believing I was potentially a psychopath. Because of all the thoughts and rituals I was performing, I thought I was mad and as a consequence may snap and attack someone. If I saw a knife I would panic about being able to use it to kill family, friends, partners and members of the general public.
At railway and tube stations, and standing next to busy roads, I would play over in my head actually pushing someone until I got the sensation of disgust that confirmed I wasn’t capable.
In later life it switched to HIV, Hepatitis and cancer. Every scratch, exposure to any red substance, spot, lump or blemish and minor health symptom meant to my brain that I was dying. The rituals and compulsions I engaged in are too embarrassing to admit, but needless to say I wasted a tremendous amount of health professionals’ time, including getting banned from specialist online forums for asking too many personal and irrelevant questions and not seeking the mental medical advice everyone suggested I sought.
I now know that all of the rituals and compulsions I engaged in reinforced in my mind there was a potential problem to deal with, when in fact my dis-functioning brain was seizing on thoughts everyone has but they don’t even register. In my case however, they triggered the fight or flight function that exists in all of us, thus convincing me I was in a perilous situation that needed to be sorted. And sort it I had to do otherwise I was going to prison for the rest of my life or someone was going to die.
My diagnosis and treatment history for OCD
I was misdiagnosed at 12 with General Anxiety Disorder and given a few sessions of relaxation techniques and counselling. I’ve forgotten what was involved to be honest, so that speaks volumes for the impact.
As a consequence I thought there was nothing that could be done for me so just endured the symptoms and rolled with the obsessions, compulsions and rituals, year after year. I lived a disrupted life and suppose I accepted it was going to be a very troubled and unhappy one.
I invested in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy but this didn’t make a dent in my OCD. My brain controlled my reaction to every intrusive thought and no matter what I was told to do by the professionals, the urge to do what my brain wanted me to do was just too strong.
I was prescribed Seroxat which made me impotent after taking it for a couple of weeks. It also made me feel like I was living outside my body. So mentally ill, unable to ejaculate and living my life as the third person looking in. Not a great place to be.
But then, I got fit, ate better, drank less, stopped social smoking, rested more and practiced relaxation techniques. There wasn’t an immediate effect but I now know this all created the ideal conditions for my future sortie on my OCD.
Finding strength to fight back
I had suffered for 22+ years and lost about half of my life to panic, which involved hiding in rooms, toilet cubicles and pretty much anywhere I could go to ruminate over and over. Aged 34, I was at the bottom of my bed crying uncontrollably. I said to myself, “No more! I am going to wage war on OCD.” I was going to do the things the countless therapists, books and websites had told me to do, which I ultimately paid lip service to and did not apply because my brain was too strong and my illness was in control.
The next time a panic hit me that same day I said to myself; “No, this isn’t real, it’s my brain tricking me to panic about something. It’s not me, it’s my OCD.” I took the first step to resisting the decision my brain was incorrectly making for me and started the process of training it not to react.
I then forced myself to do something else while my body and brain was in a state of terrifying panic. It hurt, I was experiencing the strongest and most unbelievable possible urges to panic, ruminate and take corrective action due to the thing I was panicking about. My brain was telling me to panic the same as it told me to breathe in and out.
I began digging the garden. My demons were attacking me from each side, but I resisted and immersed myself in the gardening, but above all I forced myself to ignore the panic, ignore the urges, suffer the pain, sweating and terrifying sense of doom that was engulfing me. Easier said than done, but I was motivated to give it a go. I had found the strength somewhere and had nothing else to lose!
After about 30 minutes my body started to calm down. My brain started to calm down too. The demons were weakened and slowly disappeared and the thing I was panicking about didn’t seem very concerning after a couple of hours. I could think about it and it didn’t feel as real any more, I felt normal again.
I had contradicted my brain. I had proved it had been tricked by my illness, forcing it to trigger the mechanism for me to panic, react and take remedial action. I had an alternative – albeit a very painful and unbelievably challenging – approach to panicking and it felt better after I had ridden the storm. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in 22+ years.
From that point onward, the severity of each subsequent episode was reduced and as I applied the same approach, which became easier throughout the day and the symptoms continued to weaken.
I couldn’t believe that by taking the fight to my demons in one afternoon and evening made me feel whole again. Years of terrifying episodes kicked into touch in a day. I started to doubt this could be true, but I genuinely stopped having major episodes. I am 44 now and since that day, every episode I have had (I do still have them because OCD isn’t something you cure, it’s something you control), has been controlled and car parked quickly because I have done it before. A bit like running the four minute mile.
Living with coping mechanisms
I now run 10K or ride seven miles a day, three to five days a week. I control my food and alcohol intake. I battle the demons when they knock on the door. I really believe that being in the right physical state gives me the strength to control my mental state. I have regained control of my life
It’s funny when you get to where I am now, because I recognise that anything I do panic about is not real and the opposite is more likely to be true. It’s sometimes hard because my demons can catch me unawares at the worst possible times because they are sneaky. However, I draw on all of my strength and unleash everything on them. I am in control most of the time and when they try to seize and shift the power, I seize it back.
I am not suggesting this is a solution for others, but it worked for me and pretty much follows the professional advice given to me by many. It is my practical interpretation and execution of everything I learned in my battle and journey with this powerful and destructive illness.