Growing up with obsessive compulsive disorder
What can I say about growing up with obsessive compulsive disorder? Looking back on it now I feel the overriding emotions were fear, confusion and frustration.
You see, the thing about OCD that really got to me was the fact that it makes no sense. What do I mean by that? Well, let me explain a little bit about it. OCD is a mental health condition that has obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity associated with it. For me, I would constantly have these thoughts and images popping into my head of ‘bad things’ happening to people I cared about. ‘Bad things’ is a pretty broad way to term what I was thinking about but it is an accurate one as it encompassed anything and everything.
Sometimes it would be triggered by what was going on around me, what I was watching on TV or reading about and sometimes it was completely at random. For example, if a story about something bad came on the news (and let’s face it, a lot of the stories are) my mind would instantly race down this tunnel placing people I cared about in this exact situation.
This was anxiety inducing as you can imagine and the only way to alleviate this anxiety and bring my mind back to rational thought was acting out certain rituals numerous times. The kind of rituals were time consuming, embarrassing, endless and would constantly evolve and change throughout my life.
I had rituals about touching the ground in a certain way, about turning on and off lights, endless checking, not stepping on cracks in the pavement, avoiding the number 3 (even typing that number as I write now has triggered my OCD behaviours) and so on.
This brings me back to my point about feeling confused. As an adult who still experiences this and has completed countless sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and is daily medicated, I have found a way to live with it. Both the CBT and the medication have given me tools to make the thoughts and images in my head bearable and my knowledge of the condition allows me to understand it now. But as child, I had none of these coping mechanisms or treatments.
Try to picture that for a second: being a child and running around having fun and then, bang, into your head pops this image of something terrible happening to a loved one. Then picture the fact that the only way to get back to a normal state of mind and get this image out of your head is to carry out these ridiculous rituals.
This would happen hundreds, maybe even thousands of times a day. The real kicker of the situation being that rationally, even as a child, I knew that all this has no impact on what will happen to people. Hence, the confusion. Add on top of that many people’s reaction was to laugh and tease you, and you can start to imagine what it was like.
The condition only seemed to worsen with the onset of my teenage years, making me feel even more alone and freakish. Having something in my life at that time that I could go to for support would have been huge.
When I read about the Mental Health Foundation’s Minds Matter campaign it was with a sense of relief. I think screening, supporting, and educating children at school level is such a fantastic move for numerous reasons.
I never breathed a word about my OCD to anyone until I was 23 years old. I was so ashamed of it. One of the main reasons was that I thought this was just me; that I was a freak. That no one could or would understand it. As a child, having knowledge about what it is and people to go to about it would have been a welcome comfort at that extremely tricky and stressful time.
Later in life I found writing to be a form of therapy that worked for me and I have used it ever since to process some of my experiences. Some of these writings went on to form my debut novel Default Setting: A Nervous Breakdown, the story of Edward Staten who finds himself at rock bottom and his search for escapism and ultimately a way out. Hearing from fans that they identify with Edward means so much to me as his experiences reflect mine and it makes me feel that I’m not isolated and freakish.
Writing was a tool suggested to me by a therapist and one I would probably not have found without such advice. Having this knowledge earlier in life would definitely have helped me and I would strongly advise anyone suffering with such issues to find some sort of creative outlet. It is my hope that #MindsMatter will be a vehicle that is able to impart information about such coping strategies to people.
Let’s face it. Even in 2016 mental health has a stigma attached to it. I have experienced this first hand and, as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s unpleasant to say the least. The moment you realise that someone sees your mental health condition before they see you is a horrible one. I don’t blame people for thinking like this but I do think education is the way forward and the Mind Matters campaign is something that is sorely needed.
OCD is just one condition. There are countless other conditions that people experience. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. This means that, the chances are, some people you know are living with a mental health problem. With suicide being such a huge killer (it’s the biggest cause of death in men under 35 years of age) the consequences of unchecked mental health conditions are literally life threatening which is why organisations and campaigns like #MindMatters need our backing to help imbed understanding and support networks for such issues into our society.