My battle with obsessions and compulsions.
What is OCD to you? By Wikipedia definition, it’s “a mental disorder in which a person has certain thoughts repeatedly (called “obsessions”) or feels the need to perform certain routines repeatedly (called “compulsions”) to an extent that generates distress or impairs general functioning”. According to mentalhealth.org.uk, around 1.1% of the population in the UK has it, 2.3% of people will have it at some point in their lives while rates during any given year are about 1.2%. It is generally unusual for symptoms to begin after the age of 35 and half of people develop problems before 20, male and females are affected equally and OCD occurs worldwide.
That’s the textbook definitions and statistical data behind Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but the media stereotypes are much more broad. You’ve all heard people say “I’m a bit OCD about this”. People associate OCD with fear of germs and excessively washing hands and repeatedly checking the door is locked. It’s used in an informal manner unrelated to the real condition to describe someone who is excessively meticulous, a perfectionist, absorbed or otherwise fixated. These are the stereotypes, layman’s talk about OCD. Talk that I fear does injustice and actually stigmatises the reality of living with OCD. I’ve never had a fear of contamination, for example, but I do suffer from OCD and have done for about the last 8 years.
I was first diagnosed with OCD at the age of 16. The year was 2013 - I was diagnosed at Nottingham’s CAMHS team by a Dr.Muller. I had just come back from a school history trip. I was a typical young lad - tall, lanky, unsure about himself - unsure about how to interact with girls in particular. In fact, I had never really got the chance to spend time and interact with girls in such close proximity until this History trip. The trip changed everything. There was this girl I fancied rotten. We had a pretty friendly relationship, as I did with several others in her friendship group. This trip was the first time I felt like I had feelings for girls.
I began to obsess over it. Not in a pervy way. I wasn’t obsessing over her, I was more worried that she was obsessing over me which she wasn’t. I was worried she thought I was a creep and a pervert. I was worried she thought I was a stalker and that she didn’t like me. I started obsessing. I wouldn’t walk under lamp posts or house signs as I was worried it was bad luck and that if I did that, it would mean she wouldn’t like me. When my mum asked me to hang out the washing, I would obsess about colour coding the clothes pegs. The blue pegs had to be together, the pink pegs had to be together and so on and so on.
The gym gave me an inferiority complex. I compared myself with the ripped guys at the gym - the guys with 16 inch biceps and 44 inch chests. I felt weak and puny compared to them and it rocked my self-confidence. Eventually I couldn’t take it and stopped going to the gym. My obsession with weight training didn’t stop though. I still pumped iron every morning before I went to college - obsessively, determined to do 20 reps each day along with 20 push-ups and 20 sit-ups. I was determined to get huge.
The #MeToo movement caused me great anxiety. I remember an attendant at an OCD Support Group meeting telling a packed room that “the obsessions of OCD manifest themselves as the biggest fears of the time”. In the 1980s, it was Communism. In the 2000s, it was terrorism. In the 2010s, it was sexual harassment - at least it certainly was for me.
I became obsessed with the idea that I was going to be accused of sexual harassment. That women were watching my every move. I was worried I was ogling people. I was worried I was being lecherous or pervy even though I knew I wasn’t. I felt petrified and paralysed when I met or saw someone I found attractive. On the bus, I would worry when I brushed shoulders with a woman accidentally. I was terrified I was going to get arrested for sexual harassment or something horrific like that.
Which brings me to my latest obsession. I have an obsession with what I do for a living - writing. I feel that, if I don’t perform tasks at even numbered times, my writing will be affected. I have fears that I’ll rush my writing, that I won’t be able to be a brilliant film critic and journalist like Mark Kermode, Jason Solomons or Jeremy Clarkson. That if I don’t wash my hands or dry myself thoroughly enough after a shower, my writing will go to s**t basically. It’s ironic that even Mindfulness, the practice taught to me by my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) of breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth to calm myself, has become a compulsion in itself. I can’t write without having done 10 mins of very unmindful mindful breathing every morning. It’s not good and you know what the worst thing is? If I don’t do my compulsions, I feel like s**t and feel like I can’t write. But, if I do my compulsions, I also feel like s**t because I feel like I’m giving in to my OCD and, as a result, feel like I won’t be able to write. It’s a no-win, lose-lose situation.
So what am I doing to make myself feel better? I’m attending OCD Support Groups run by OCD-UK (although all those are on Zoom now rather than in person for Covid reasons). I’ve started a new therapy entitled Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which I was previously unaware of. It’s basically about accepting your obsessive, intrusive thoughts and learning to live with them. That therapy hasn’t been going very well, though, as my CPN has been off sick. I have to say my treatment with the adult mental health team has been pretty poor - my nurses have often been off sick or on holiday, often when I’ve needed them most, and they’ve regularly mucked up my appointments.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
Roshan's Top 5 Films of the Week
1. The Last Duel
2. Everybody's Talking About Jamie (on Amazon Prime)
3. Help (on All4)
4. The Green Knight (on Amazon Prime)
5. The Alpinist
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