Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental condition which consists of obsessive thoughts and compulsive activity. The sufferer will have unwanted thoughts, images or urges that repeatedly enter their mind, and will compulsively act on this in an attempt to get rid of said things. The severity ranges from the compulsive activity taking up 1 or 2 hours of a person’s life, or completely controlling their every minute.
I’ve been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for almost 3 years now, but have suffered with obsessive tendencies since I was small (well, since I was a kid, I’ve always been small). When I was about 5 it became apparent when I’d shout and scream if someone moved my teddies out of place, and as I got to know about germs and the importance of hand cleaning in primary school I began to take things a little too seriously. But it never showed enough for it to be a danger.
It was always that “little Nicole quirk,” when I’d wash up the whole kitchen and disinfect everything. But now I know that this is where my obsessive thinking started to manifest. I was always anxious about friends and what people thought of me, but when I started to have several panic attacks a day with the fear of being a bad person, we realised that things perhaps weren’t ok. Counselling helped for a bit, but you see I was too scared of judgement to tell them how I handled the fear; how I’d scrub and scrub at my skin or cut in neat lines to try and clean the filthy human off of me. I was scared because I’d never been educated on what I was experiencing, I thought I’d gone mad – I genuinely believed I didn’t deserve to live.
That I think is the main problem with this disorder: there is not enough education on the matter. So kids growing up obsessing over numbers, or if the world will end when they flush the toilet, genuinely believe that they are insane and unworthy of love. How is a child of 5 -or even 15- meant to know that what they’re feeling and thinking is ok if they’ve never been told so? Being uneducated on mental illness is a serious and dangerous matter for adolescence and can lead to harmful thinking and actions. For me, when my OCD really became apparent and my personal symptoms started to “settle in,” I felt so alone and so frightened of what I was becoming that I became self destructive.
I became so obsessed with perfection and being the very best daughter/friend/sister/girlfriend I could be that if I did anything “wrong,” I felt dirty and not worthy of life. I would scrub at my skin to try and get the “bad person,” off of me and it was not only mentally exhausting but it had started to become physically dangerous. My skin was constantly raw and thin, and as much as I tried to hide it those closest to me soon caught a glimpse. “Oh it’s just an allergic reaction!” I would say, embarrassed and angry at myself for making them worried; which, you guessed it, lead to more obsessive scrubbing.
Without education on the matter, I completely isolated the problem within myself because I was so terrified of anyone finding out. This only made the fear or hurting people and losing people worse, and my obsessive symptoms started to manifest. I started to become obsessed with checking up on my boyfriend, making sure he was alright and that I’d done nothing wrong. I had this horrible fear of him getting run over. I rang him every 30 minutes and would have to hold his hand everywhere; it was draining for both involved, and our relationship inevitably turned sour. I know that if I had had the necessary education on mental illness back then, I would have been able to deal with my situation so much better. I didn’t know that was I was doing was actually part of my OCD, I thought I had gone mad. At one point I honestly believed the devil had taken over my body. I wanted to die.
No one should feel so ashamed of their mind that they think the only way out is death.
I know it seems like I’m telling you my entire life story here, but I want you to realise how much a mental illness can manifest if not properly treated. It is exactly like a physical or medical illness; if you leave an infection with no treatment, it will multiply and grow and eventually spread across your body. It is the same with mental illness.
So, I’d broken up with someone very important to me and was constantly blaming myself. My self harming had become worse, and to top things off my granddad -whom I’d been extremely close with- just died. To anyone that would be like “woah, world can you give me a break?” but to me at that time in my life I just couldn’t handle it. I had all this het up emotion; anger, sadness, despair; but I felt like it was a burden on people if I told them so I hid it away. Not knowing how this would effect my mental illness, I kept doing this and putting on a smile for the next 2 years of my life.
Which brings us to now.
Over those two years, I started to receive some CBT and learn about my illness but only the parts of which I was suffering with. My checking symptoms started to “heal,” and I thought I was doing ok! But all that emotion I’d stuffed at the back of my brain was slowly boiling away and concocting the next round of obsessive destruction. Intrusive thoughts. I started to have violent images of hurting my loved ones; of hitting them until they bled and of pushing them down the stairs. Can you imagine seeing yourself hurt someone who you love so deeply and unconditionally? It tore me apart. I thought I was this horrific human who didn’t deserve to live. I thought I was wired wrong in the head and I despised those thoughts more than anything in the world. I’d sit for hours at a time crying and clawing at my own skin, not understanding what was happening. I become obsessive again, thinking myself awful and creating compulsive rituals which I believed would stop the thoughts coming true.
But now I know. Now I know that intrusive thoughts are part of my mental illness, of my OCD, and that I am not a violent person and that no matter how many thoughts I have they will not come true. And not because of my rituals, because of me being a non-violent person! You see, a violent person would enjoy these thoughts, where as I am disgusted by them. My thoughts are a manifestation of that het-up emotion that I’d hidden away for so long, it had turned in to these violent images. Perhaps I was once angry at my mum for nagging me about something, but not wanting to burden her I put in on the pile of all the other times I’d been angry… This anger, I was unaware of, was slowly coming together and turning in to intrusive thoughts.
The reason I am saying all this, the reason I am telling you my experience with OCD, is because it took a major downfall and a stay in an inpatient unit for me to be fully educated on my illness and realise that what I was thinking was ok. This should not be the case, but unfortunately is for so many young people. We are not educated enough in school or at home about the effects and symptoms of mental illness and this NEEDS to change. I want us to fight to educate ourselves and others. If you know things about these illnesses; speak out, you might just save a life.
And please, please remember that what you are feeling -whilst distressing- is ok. Seek help, you are not a monster.