**Trigger warning – mentions of sexual abuse (not graphic)**
It really bothers me when people joke about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. It’s NOT funny to real sufferers like me. It is generally not that Instagram picture of things set out perfectly organised on an Ikea shelf accompanied by #OCD. IT’S NOT A CHOICE! I hear or read people say flippantly, ‘I’m so OCD’ because for example, they keep a clean house; but I want to make it very clear that ‘OCD is not an adjective’ and is not synonymous for neat and clean. It’s an acronym not to be used lightly – It destroys lives.
Living with OCD is like being trapped in a world full of demands being made on you that you can’t say no to, or compulsions. It steals your time and takes over your life. It can create thoughts that repeat over and over, that often leave you feeling guilty and like a bad person. The more anxious you become, the worse it gets. It feeds on anxiety.
Intrusive Thoughts are unwanted thoughts or images that you find distressing and/or disturbing. These unwanted thoughts are known as obsessions. Intrusive thoughts can also result in compulsions, which are the things you do to help you cope with the unwanted thoughts.
Everyone has fleeting disturbing thoughts – The difference between an everyday ‘intrusive thought’ and an OCD ‘intrusive thought’ is how you respond to it i.e holding on to that thought, or needing to perform compulsions or rituals to try to rid yourself of the thought. Intrusive thoughts are often accompanied by urges too (even if you would never respond to the urge) Subject areas for these thoughts include:
- Thoughts about Children
- Aggressive thoughts
- Religious thoughts
- Thoughts regarding your sexuality
- Thoughts about death
- Thoughts regarding family members
So, an example could be; If I found myself on a train platform and I had a thought and perhaps an urge to push the guy in front of me off the platform and into the path of an oncoming train. Then I might take action such as leaving the station or engaging in a compulsion such as counting or repeating certain words over and over to try to cancel out the thought and the fear of carrying out the behaviour. Examples such as this could and often do lead to the sufferer avoiding going to the trigger place at all.
‘Compulsions or compulsive acts can be defined as repetitious, purposeful physical or mental actions that the individual feels compelled to engage in according to their own strict rules or in a stereotyped manner’
So, personally my experiences with intrusive thoughts started when I was a child. I watched a programme on television about Michael Jackson. It was discussing how those who’ve been abused can go on to abuse . I don’t know if this was the trigger or the reinforcer for my thoughts. As you may have read in my first blog entry, I suffered sexual abuse as a child at the hands of an uncle. At about age 11, I started being afraid that I was going to sexually abuse other children; that it was an urge out of my control and one day I would just do it however much it disgusted me. I started avoiding being around children as much as possible – especially small children, and when it couldn’t be avoided I would sit on my hands, engage in counting rituals or sing songs in my head to try to diffuse the thoughts. I would leave the room if there was a baby having a nappy change for example. I was sure that I didn’t have control over whether I responded to my thoughts or not. It was a very difficult time – It made me so miserable and I dare not share it with anyone in case they thought I was a paedophile.
Unfortunately, I still suffer with intrusive thoughts all these years later. They are based around thoughts about death, illness and the ‘hurting others’ thoughts are still prevalent too. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to not think that I must be a bad person with the content of my thoughts. It’s a hard one. I try to remind myself of a really important point that:
‘Thoughts are just that, thoughts. They are not actions’
Moving away from intrusive thoughts. More generally, my daily struggle with OCD often centres around counting rituals. I count how many times I stir my tea, spark my lighter, sip my tea, scratch my itches, footsteps, touch certain things and much more. I add numbers on digital clocks or anything that lists numbers like telephone numbers. The number system I use is based around good numbers and bad numbers (as I discussed in my first blog entry). 1 is male, 2 is female but I can’t have 1 and 2 (or male and female) together so 3 or multiples of 3 are not allowed. All even numbers that aren’t multiples of 3 are good. No odd numbers as they leave a number 1 or a male left over. (It’s all as a result of sexual abuse). My number system is only based on numbers from 1-60 like the number of seconds in a minute or minutes in an hour. If I don’t engage in these compulsions then I feel someone I care about will die and it will be my fault. That’s the ‘magical thinking’ part of all this.
I can’t put things inside other things or it feels sexual i.e a tea bag in a yoghurt pot in the bin. As you can tell, my OCD is deeply entwined with my childhood sexual abuse. When I’m highly stressed I also engage in a common OCD ritual of washing my hands too often until they get sore and becoming obsessive about everything in my environment being just so or there will be bad repercussions.
This post is mainly how OCD affects me. Other individuals can have very different experiences. I was somewhat reluctant to be so honest, but I’m just hoping that others can relate and that they may find some kinship in my words. Ending back where I was at the beginning of this post, OCD is not something to laugh about or trivialise. It really does destroy lives.