OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In today’s blog, I wanted to discuss the mental health disorder OCD, as it is often widely misunderstood and misinterpreted in today’s society.

OCD, which stands for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety-based illness where the sufferer feels the compulsive need to carry out certain rituals or routines (often to restore ‘balance’ or feel ‘just right’).

OCD usually consists of both the interlocking ‘obsessions’ and ‘compulsions’ which cause a negative cycle that traps the sufferer in their thinking patterns. However, some people can have a sub type of the disorder ‘Pure OCD’, which is essentially the obsessive thoughts without any external compulsions. Usually with Pure OCD, the rituals will mainly be within the mind; for example silently counting or repeating a certain phrase or mantra over and over.

With general OCD, the sufferer will often have rituals that they carry out externally, such as tapping things, turning light switches on and off or having to touch things a certain amount of times. Compulsions can be anything though, and are personal to each individual.

The sufferer is often bombarded with intrusive thoughts which their brain gets ‘stuck’ on and they then feel the compulsive need to put the thought ‘right’. Whereas people without the illness would be able to easily dismiss the odd thought and carry on with their day, OCD sufferers become obsessed with the thought, what it means and why it’s there, it can then develop into a full blown obsession and cause the thoughts to come more frequently, further distressing the person.

OCD can be a result of long-standing anxiety, brought on by other existing mental health issues or can appear for seemingly no reason at all at any time in someone’s life. Often though, it isn’t known what actually causes OCD. You can be more prone to developing it if you already have obsessive tendencies or after a major life event such as a bereavement, being ill, having a baby or even moving house. Sometimes OCD seems to be genetic and run in some families.

The treatment for OCD is usually a course of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), medication if needed and ‘Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy’, however due to the extreme nature of ‘Exposure Therapy’ and not being able to find the properly qualified therapist who specialises in treating OCD, a lot of patients aren’t able to get the help they need.

‘Exposure Therapy’ involves the patient being directly ‘exposed’ to their fear or whatever their obsessions are focused around, they then have to hold off performing their rituals for as long as they possibly can and sit with the anxiety this provokes until their brain realises that not doing their ritual hasn’t caused any disastrous problems (this part is the response prevention). As the intrusive thoughts and obsessions feel very real to the person with OCD, it should always be carried out with a qualified therapist who knows about OCD in depth, ‘Exposure Therapy’ has a high success rate but also a high drop out rate as this kind of therapy is often extremely distressing for the individual.

Because OCD is so misunderstood, I wanted to speak to people I personally knew who have to deal with it on a daily basis, to show that the disorder is very real and isn’t just about washing your hands a lot or being tidy. I interviewed my friend and my dad and thought that their answers showed how personal each sufferer’s OCD experiences can be.

Sam

What is your own personal definition of OCD?

I would define is as an obsessive need, or an obsessive want to have things done your way.

With my rituals and stuff….I have to do them the same way. I’m clean anyway but I wouldn’t say I’m obsessively clean unless I’m having a really bad day. OCD though is essentially just wanting stuff done your way. If someone gets in the way of the thing that I’m trying to do, it can mess me up, because you’re obsessed with it being done that certain way.

How does OCD affect your daily life?

It affects my everyday life mostly because I have children. Things don’t go to plan, things often don’t go in the order I want them to go in. When you have kids, everyone tends to have a clean house, but if I’m having a bad day, I won’t be spending time with my children, I’ll be cleaning, so it affects my relationship with them. My middle child is now stating to pick up how I am with cleaning, routine and checking things. Intrusive thoughts are hard as well, I have them every single day and if I don’t follow up and ‘check’ it drives me crazy.

Do you have any triggers that make it worse?

Stress makes it a lot worse. I do find that around the time of my period, because of the hormones I guess, that makes me a lot worse, also because that time of the month makes you feel a little dirty anyway, if that makes sense. But mostly stress, I’d say.

Also, for example, at the minute, I have a rash all over my belly, which probably wouldn’t affect anyone else without OCD too badly, but I can’t shower enough at the minute, I feel disgusting. I just feel gross. I wash my hair several times a day and shower as much as I can.

What things do you find yourself doing as a result of the OCD?

The intrusive thoughts are a massive part of it, which I didn’t actually know. I thought they were down to my other mental health problems, but I’ve found out that it is a part of OCD. The routine and rituals are something you can pick up, some of them aren’t things I’ve always done. I can do it once and if I liked the way it happened, or it made me feel calmer for a little bit, I will obsessively try to get that same feeling again and again.

I check things, but that’s usually only when I’m really stressed. I clean a lot, I bleach my house as I’m worried about germs, especially with the whole pandemic at the moment, that doesn’t help matters.

What do you find helps?

Distraction helps in some ways. I can be distracted from some things, my kids help as I can get away from what I’ve been doing.

But then there will be times when distraction really doesn’t help, for example, if I’m cleaning the kitchen and one of my children will come in and distract me, it will make me angry because my ritual gets disturbed and I haven’t done part of it.

If someone tries to take over doing washing up or something, people stepping in doesn’t help.

My kids are my distraction away from things though. With the intrusive thoughts, all you can do is try to distract yourself. Or else all you’ll do is dwell.

Not that I want to say that smoking is great for everyone, but personally if I step out for a cigarette, that helps. Not saying that smoking is a good thing to start up but for me, just taking some time outside helps a lot.

Dad

What is your own personal definition of OCD?

For me personally, my OCD is symptomatic. That basically means its a reaction to my other mental illnesses..

For instance, my schizophrenia tends to mean I don’t look after myself properly, for me that makes my OCD kicks in because obviously if you start getting dirty and stuff like that, that’s what affects that.

As for a definition, I wouldn’t know how to phrase it. It’s personal to each person’s lifestyle, if you go and read what a definition of OCD is on a mental health site, most of the time, I don’t think it really rings true for most people. People I’ve spoken to with OCD, the general definition is too broad.

It’s very different. They say for example ‘skin pinching’ is included as a frequently reported symptom, but I think that’s an element of self harming, not an OCD trait as such. Yeah, there might be a lot of people with OCD doing that, but then you have to look into why they’re doing that, is it because it’s something compulsive or is it something that because they’re looking for a release through self harming. And that’s a whole different category.

How does OCD affect your daily life?

It affects it badly, it takes me longer to do things. There’s a process I have to go through. When I wake up in the morning, I have to count to ten. If someone interrupts me, I have to count to ten again. So, living with a big family, it’s very difficult, the first thing my wife wants to do when we wake up is talk and I’m trying to count to ten.

Then there’s certain things I have to do when I leave a room, depending on what stage i’m at in my mental health, there’s a noticeable increase or decrease depending on my overall wellness.

Sometimes it can be tapping my fingers three times or other times it can be counting. Counting is a big one for me though, I do a lot of it, it’s a good way of ‘levelling out’. But it is irrational, you don’t need to do it. So, it slows your day down, it gets in the way of your day.

But, then it again depends, what kind of level i’m on mentally, if i’m really bad, then i’m constantly counting and tapping.

Do you have any triggers that make it worse?

Getting dirty makes it worse, if people are coughing and spluttering near me then that makes it worse too. If I’m stressed then that sends it through the roof. If I get into an argument that affects it too. Stress is the biggest trigger though.

What things do you find yourself doing as a result of the OCD?

Counting is the biggest thing and also tapping. Checking things are on and off, if I turn something off I’ll end up going back several times just to check.

What do you find helps?

Environment helps. If I have a routine in place, it makes life much much easier. But other than that, it’s something you have to deal with because its compulsive, there’s no on and off switch.

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