Living With: OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by uncontrollable intrusive thoughts and repetitive ritualised behaviours the sufferer feels compelled to perform.

Again there is a lot of misconception surrounding OCD; a lot of people claim to have ‘OCD’ when worrying about a light switch being turned off or the fridge being closed but the truth of it is that can be a debilitating illness if left untreated. One film that shows quite well the effects of a bad case of OCD is the 2004 film The Aviator in which aviation pioneer Howard Hughes becomes obsessed with germs and cleanliness.

Joe, a reader of this blog, very kindly volunteered to answer some questions about his experiences with OCD. I found his answers really insightful! I hope you do to!

“-What are the symptoms that you suffer?

The main symptoms were intrusive thoughts.

Images and thoughts that everyone has but are able to brush aside as nothing more than a random thought. This leads to generally increased anxiety which in leads to depression and thoughts of not wanting to be alive any more. The more you think about these ‘thoughts’ the worse the they get. You know you would never act on these thoughts/images but that is exactly why you find them so stressful in the first place.

It is termed “Pure OCD” because the repetitive actions, the compulsive checking,is almost completely in your mind. I spent hours checking these thoughts and images over and over again in my mind to see if I liked them or if they were a part of me. I’d always come to the same conclusion that they were horrible. But it doesn’t stop you restarting the cycle.

Pure OCD doesn’t generally involve the kind of things people often think of when you say OCD such as checking you’ve locked all the door 10 times. But when suffering with Pure OCD it can bring out things like repetitive hand washing because you believe something bad will happen if you don’t do it. You reach a point where it’s all you can think about 24/7. Breaking the cycle is the hardest thing.

-At what age did the symptoms begin? Do you know why you developed the symptoms?

The first time I thought about it was aged 15. I’d been watching a American Cop drama and afterwards I was unable to get the image of someones hand being chopped off out of my head. For reasons unknown to me I then became scared that I would do that. A big part of OCD is the “what if” scenario. What if I became that person. What if I did that…

That went away but at about age 20 I began having symptoms again. More intrusive thoughts about lots of issues. Usually though OCD tends to focus on a specific thing. Something that to you seems morally horrendous, but that’s exactly why you struggle with it. And exactly why your OCD feeds off it because you can’t possibly see a way out of how you are feeling.

I began googling intently. Hours a day spent looking for people who were feeling the same to make myself feel better. Largely though it only provided short term relief. It never fixed the problem. I read an article from an OCD sufferer in the Guardian. I cried when I read in pure relief. Finally I’d found something that made sense. But it did not fix the problem just as the person suggested in the article. Only the correct guidance can really help you. Googling is just a form of checking.

– What medications are available to treat the symptoms? Do you take any? Have you found they help?

I currently take Citalopram. It is an SSRI commonly prescribed to help people over come depression. It doesn’t fix anything for you but as my doctor described it, it’s like giving you the tool box to allow you to do the DIY but it doesn’t do the DIY for you.

They didn’t help for the first 2 months, they made everything a lot worse. I was very lucky I had a very supportive family and Girlfriend, but once your body has adjusted to them they do reduce the affect of OCD and give you a stable base in order to go about helping yourself and getting help. I also found propranolol (a beta blocker) useful to treat anxiety in the short term to prevent panic attacks

-Outside of medication, what can people themselves do to calm the symptoms?

Get help from professionals. There is no way around it. I was extremely lucky and had 16 hours of CBT therapy on the NHS. It changed my life both for the everyday and the bigger picture. I am a completely different person to the person a year ago who wanted to end it all and was scared of himself. I am back to being me and actually I am more confident as a person now than ever before. It is hard. The CBT therapy is not easy it is a combination of Cognitive behaviour therapy and also emersion therapy. The latter is particularly difficult but extremely necessary.

OCD ACTION is an outstanding charity. They have forums with people who really understand. A lot of my comfort to begin with came from reading stories of other people who were feeling like me on there and that’s what encouraged me to get help. I was also lucky to have a brilliant therapist and also a fantastic GP who didn’t treat me like I was mad. He gave me the support I needed, told me I could always go to him if I was feeling bad whilst I was waiting for therapy and that at the end of the day it would get better.

-What would you say to someone who has a loved one suffering with OCD? What can they do to help?

In the short term, reassure them they are not a monster. Encourage them to seek help from professionals. CBT therapy proved extremely successful for me. In the long term you have to learn to not give into their reassurance seeking and learn to be supportive whilst not telling them everything is going to be okay all the time.

When you feel that low family are everything. They’re the reason that I wanted to get better. They supported me through everything and never once gave up on me. That’s so important when someone is feeling that low. Without a supportive family everything would have been so much harder.

Finally I’d say it can and will get better with the right help. I would have told you you were lying if you’d said that a year ago. It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t get better over night but it really will. You’ll often find many people with OCD are the most kind caring and thoughtful individuals you will ever meet. That’s exactly why they suffer, because everything going on in their brain is so far removed from their moral values.”

As with all these posts, finding the right help for the condition is hugely important. So if you find you are getting similar intrusive thoughts to Joe and they are having an effect on your day to day life then please do consult a doctor.

Thanks for reading

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