This article was originally published on 18/10/2016 @ 09:33 by Anonymous, republished today for Mental Health Awareness Week 2017.
Crash. Bang. Creak. What was that? Is that someone downstairs? Has someone broken in? My heart starts to race. My palms start to sweat. What can I do?
Crash. There was the noise again. What can I even do to stop this? I am helpless – I am only a child, I can’t take on a burglar. I don’t want to die. All I can do is think to myself “I won’t get broken into.”
That feels better. “I won’t get broken into. I won’t get broken into.”
I tap my desk three times. That feels much better, I don’t know why. I know these actions make no sense, but they feel good, and you know what, at this stage, there isn’t much else I can do. I lie there for half an hour or so. “I won’t get broken into.’ Tap, tap, tap. The noises stop. My heart slows down and I gradually fall back asleep.
I wake up and everything is OK. I am still alive and in the end, no one broke in. I know rationally that those actions made no sense, count myself lucky and move on. A few nights later, it happens again. Crash. Bang. Creak. I panic. I reach out to my desk, tap three times and say to myself “I won’t get broken into.”
“Most people have at least some conception of what [depression and anxiety] are… there is, however, lots of misunderstanding around OCD”
This was how it started, as simple as a short-term calming measure for my childhood fears of a burglar, but it later developed into thinking my friend was cursed, that I was going to get cancer and being tormented by unwanted sexual images most days of my life. This thinking habit, which developed all those years ago as a child, is known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
It is perhaps one of the most poorly understood mental health conditions out there. While there is still much more work to be done to raise the awareness of similar issues such as depression or anxiety, most people have at least some conception of what they are. There is, however, lots of misunderstanding around OCD. So, when my friend asked me to write about it for OCD Awareness Week for TheSprout, I felt I should.
What is OCD?
OCD is not about wanting things in a particular order. OCD is not about being hygienic. OCD is not being superstitious. While a lot of compulsions can resemble such characteristics, the key difference is that someone with OCD does not want these things – they feel they have to or else something will happen to them or a loved one.
A person with OCD may be, in fact, a very messy person, but their OCD may tell them one day that if they don’t straighten up their chair, they will die. They know this to be ludicrous but the anxiety caused by this thought is so great that they straighten the chair up and almost instantly the anxiety goes away.
Guess what – they didn’t die. Their mind learns that the next time they have this thought, they must straighten the chair. It’s like a drug and it becomes an addiction. This person goes from someone who isn’t particularly tidy to being someone who can’t relax without straightening every chair in his house before he goes to bed.
“Your body then goes into its primordial fight or flight mode and the irrational part of your brain kicks in.”
OCD has two key components: obsession and compulsion. It always starts with what is known as an intrusive thought. Every person has intrusive thoughts. That thought you get when you stand on the edge of a railway, “What if I jumped?” That unwanted sexual thought that pops into your head at an inappropriate time. That panicked thought you get when you discover a lump on your body somewhere.
The difference is, most people have the thought, dwell on it for a second, and then realise it is irrational and move onto something else. Someone with OCD latches onto the thought. They give it meaning. This creates a ‘spike’ of anxiety. You obsess on the thought. Dwell on it. Your body then goes into its primordial fight or flight mode and the irrational part of your brain kicks in.
Your irrational mind thinks of an easy way to calm the anxiety, and because you need to get out of this situation, you take it. This is the compulsion. It can take many and varied forms. Touching things, moving things, saying things. Once you do this once, or twice, it becomes a habit and an automatic reflex. Whenever you get this intrusive thought in future, you repeat the same compulsion. Your brain starts reacting like this to many other intrusive thoughts and, thus, you develop various obsessions and compulsions.
However, compulsions don’t always take physical forms. My OCD has developed into something known as Pure O. I now rarely perform compulsive physical actions. My OCD is almost completely hidden and no one would know I had it. Pure O takes a variety of forms including:
- Harm OCD – “What if I stabbed that person?”
- Scrupulosity – “I am an awful person and I am going to hell.”
- Sexual OCD – Having unwanted sexual thoughts about someone.
- Relationship OCD – “What if I don’t really love my girlfriend?” or “What if I made a mistake marrying my wife?”
You can watch more videos of people with Pure O talk about their experiences here.
Compulsions in Pure O take the form of thoughts. For example, constantly searching your mind to see if you actually do want to stab that person (while you know you absolutely would not), or, if you have sexual thoughts, thinking of something completely different to try and cancel out those thoughts. This can go on in cycles and can be mentally anguishing.
“You can overcome OCD, just like you can overcome any addiction”
The good news is OCD is purely a bad mental habit that your brain has got itself into – and bad habits can be broken. You can overcome OCD, just like you can overcome any addiction. While antidepressants can help in the short-term, they are not necessary in most cases to overcome OCD.
The most effective treatment that I’ve come across is known as Exposure Response Therapy (ERP). That is, exposing yourself to these obsessive thoughts and dwelling in the anxiety. Letting the anxiety be there and not doing anything about it. Like someone who is scared of spiders walking into a room full of tarantulas and sitting there with them. It seems counter-intuitive, but it works. At first, your anxiety spikes. The next time you do it, it spikes again, but this time it is slightly lower. You keep doing it and eventually you have very little anxiety because you have taught your brain that it’s safe and not to go into fight or flight mode. You can do this with Pure O by accepting the intrusive thoughts.
For example, OCD says: “You are a murderer and you want to kill your friend,” but you say: “Perhaps I am a murderer, thank you OCD for bringing this thought to my attention.” Instantly, you have taken the power away from the OCD. The only power it has over you is fear and when you accept those thoughts (even though you know them not to be true), the fear goes and, therefore, the power over them goes. While, in practice, it is much more difficult and takes a lot of willpower and trust, OCD can be overcome.
If you think you have any of the above symptoms, or know anyone who may be suffering with OCD, I would strongly urge you to visit any of the sites at the bottom of this page and go to your GP to get help. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Sub-Editor’s note: We’ve put down some of the best helplines, websites and organisations for information and help here.
If you would like to talk to anyone about this or similar issues, please contact Meic, the national information, advice and advocacy helpline for 0-25s in Wales. You can contact Meic by phone (080880 23456), text (84001), instant message (www.meic.cymru) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) between 8am and midnight.
Related Articles & Info:
We’ve put down some of the best helplines, websites and organisations for information and help:
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