Amy, 25, West Midlands, UK

Just in case …

Amy picture“Just in case”. This is a word I use multiple times each day, and is usually how I explain my compulsions. It’s a simple phrase but, when I use it, I’m hiding a multitude of experiences that have contributed to my development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The first time I can remember having obsessions and compulsions, I was a young teenager. I was being badly bullied, and was desperate to find any way of lessening this. Some close friends and I had been reading up on Paganism, and I found comfort in this religion. I felt protected by blessings and prayer. I began to use these every night in the hopes that my next day at school would be a better one. I wanted to do this “properly” and decided I must do the blessings three times at midnight every night. I also kept certain objects in my pockets that I felt were “lucky charms”.

Every school day I would make sure each “charm” was in the correct pocket. I started to check more and more also, even during the school day. If I had a particularly bad day, I believed it was because I hadn’t done the blessings properly, or I hadn’t checked the “lucky charms” enough times. This carried right on through to 6th form. The bullying had lessened by then, and so had my compulsions. I managed to stop carrying the charms with me, but I still made sure I said the blessings every night.

I also remember my constant worries about embarrassing myself. I had some bladder infections during school, and I used to get terrified of the possibility of losing control of my bladder whilst on the bus to school. When I became physically ill with Fibromyalgia and Hypermobility syndrome, I developed an overactive bladder. This contributed to me developing a fear of losing control of my bladder on any form of transport, or in any situation where I would be unable to get to a toilet quickly. I would go to the toilet at any chance I got; whether I needed it or not. Any slight twinge would convince me that I was about to wet myself. I started to wear sanitary towels most days “just in case”. It gave me a small amount of reassurance, but I still feared that I would lose control, and that people would somehow find out. This is something that still plays on my mind pretty much constantly even now. As the years went on, I started developing strict rituals in order to make sure I’d been to the toilet “enough” and at “the right time” (e.g. just before going out of the house, travelling, being in a group etc). I find this ritual quite embarrassing to describe, but I will explain it:

I have to be the last person to go to the toilet before leaving the house. I will “go” at least 4 times. Each time, I have to wipe 10 times. I count this out loud (but quietly!) so I can be sure I’ve done this properly. If I am distracted by noises outside the toilet, conversation etc, I have to “go” at least another time; wiping 10 times again. This gets much worse, the more stressed out or anxious I am. Sometimes I can be stuck in the bathroom for over half an hour. If I’m not left enough time to carry out these compulsions, I get very irritable. Even after I’ve completed the compulsions and left the house, I am constantly checking for any sign that I may still need the toilet. I try to reassure myself that I have been enough times, but this doesn’t lessen my anxiety much.

I do have other checking behaviours (e.g. constantly checking my skin for blemishes, and picking, checking messages to make sure I’ve worded things correctly, especially if I think I’ve annoyed someone) that can take hours out of my day. I also hoard things; such as paperwork, emails, and messages. Another “just in case” thing.

As well as this intense fear of embarrassment, I get extremely worried about being wrong, saying the wrong thing, being a bad person. It manifested into intrusive thoughts and recurring dreams about someone finding out I was a terrible person, and suddenly turning against me. If I have a violent thought, I convince myself that people around me can tell, and that I might carry out that thought. I constantly seek reassurance from friends to make sure they don’t hate me.

I only had a name to put to all of these thoughts and behaviours, about 6 months ago. I also have Anxiety and Depression; for which I’d been through 3 rounds of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My last therapist helped me to realise I also had OCD; although the limited amount of sessions weren’t enough to really tackle the thoughts and behaviours. My psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant which also helps a little with my anxieties. This makes me less likely to be “stuck” repeating a routine, as I do not feel as wound up (most of the time!).

A lot of media attention around OCD tends to focus on cleaning and organising rituals, and I think this is why it took a while for me to even begin to realise I might have it. OCD is so much more complicated than that, and I believe educating the public further is vital.

Categories: The Wall

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