I see and hear it all the time:
“My bedroom has to be so tidy otherwise it sets off my OCD”, or: “I just washed my hands twice in a row; I’m so OCD lol.”
I hate to break it to you, Brenda- but you’re not. And you’re perpetuating a dangerous misconception every time you say so.
It felt like it started gradually at first. I found myself developing a few small habits during my late teens, but they didn’t seem weird or abnormal to me- they were fairly easy to manage and I’m pretty sure the consequences of not performing them didn’t seem quite so dire. But soon these habits started to grow, develop and mutate. They became more extravagant and invasive to my day-to-day life. Showers took over 30 minutes, texts messages involved mmmmmuuullllltttiiiiipppllllleee letters adhering to a specific formula I’d devised in my head (that, thankfully I’ve forgotten exactly how it worked!) and I’d developed emotional (I think?) attachments to certain items of clothing or accessories.
It was confusing, It was overwhelming and it began to take over my entire life.
I wish I had a wonderful analogy to describe how my OCD feels. It would be funny, touching and informative. But I don’t- which is extremely unfortunate when you’re writing a blog post.
I want to say it’s like a force that I can personify, or identify visually, but in reality it’s just me. It’s an eternal battle in my own head about who to listen to; me, or OCD me (both of whom are me and don’t feel differentiated at all times- see, I told you it was confusing.)
I’m gonna hit you with some facts about how my OCD manifests itself, so that you can not only realise and understand common misconceptions, but also get an idea of how diverse it can actually be from person to person.
One of the ways it manifests itself is with ritualised or heavily policed movements and gestures; compulsions. I must perform these movements in an extremely specific way, as many times as it takes to get it right for fear any of my obsessions will become a reality (although i’m getting better at calming the thoughts and quitting when i’ve done it too often. Yay progress!)
Some of the movements I do regularly- others I will simply conjure on the spot (no bookings for my magic act just yet, but we’re working on it.)
I think the best way I could sum up my relationship with OCD is that i’m a walking dichotomy. I constantly battle against myself in my own head (and not in a fun “Iron Man vs Captain America” kind of way). In a way that has in the past left me paralysed, completely frozen, unable to move for fear of making “a mistake” (i.e.- doing something that doesn’t adhere to the rituals or specifications i’ve set for myself. Which are constantly adapting, as if it wasn’t difficult enough!)
It’s only through talking about it with close friends and family that i’ve realised how damn good I’ve become at hiding my compulsive movements; call it my superpower (eat that Captain America.)
My incredible and irreplaceable partner first allowed me the space to talk about what was going on in my head and, as I (drunkenly, whoops) attempted to put the words into how it felt she seemed shocked. She said she’d never noticed once- I’ve been very open about my mental health in our relationship, so she knew that it was going on, but i’d never tried to describe it before.
I don’t want people to see me doing it, because i’m embarrassed that I have to. So I hide it.
It wasn’t until I picked up a book in London Luton airport pre-“TAKE ME AWAY FROM MY PROBLEMS AND LET ME GO ON HOLIBOBS!” that I really started to feel that I wasn’t on my own. I read Bryony Gordon’s: “Mad Girl”- a beautifully candid read, where the author openly talks about her relationship with her mental health and, specifically (for me) her OCD.
Bryony talks in the book of -what my mental health GP now calls: “classic intrusive thoughts.”
The brain can randomly conjure images or thoughts in your mind- you might think of someone in an inappropriate way, or think: “what if I jumped, spun the wheel, pushed that guy who’s taking too long in the queue.”- with most people dismissing them immediately, knowing that they are simply random.
But for me, as someone who suffers with OCD, I obsess over the thought and refuse to let it go. For a period of time, I will convince myself that I am selfish, evil, not adhering to proper queue etiquette.
So, it doesn’t necessarily present itself physically at all times, but it is a constant battle inside of my own head to keep myself xen. (I’ve found running helps- you quite literally run away from your problems.)
Through reading about Bryony’s experiences I felt understood, warm. It almost felt safe (analyse that as you will). I wasn’t alone.
It was this that made me go and talk to my GP about what was going on. I’d been medicated for anxiety & depression, but i’d never found the words to comprehend what was happening in my head. Now I was much better equipped.
I spoke openly about my struggles and my GP suggested a change of medication. Since the swap I’ve been dealing a lot better with the ol’ civil war up there. It’s still a battle every day, but i’m feeling a lot stronger in dealing with it.
I’m in a very good place in my life and I’m taking the steps to not be defined by my mental illness.
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