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Comment: OCD – The Monster Under The Bed

OCD Awareness Week October 11-17

AS OCD Awareness Week draws to a close today [Saturday October 17], UK charities such as OCD-UK are rallying to highlight the disorder that affects around 2.3% of the world’s population.

Rated within the top ten of the world’s most debilitating illnesses by the World Health Organisation (WHO), startling statistics show that less than 10% of those affected are receiving appropriate treatment. Even more worrying are the persistent public perceptions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which minimalise its severity and alienate sufferers.

“I’m so OCD!” is a phrase we commonly hear from people who like to categorise their tinned foods in a certain way or insist on keeping a clean house, and television shows such as ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners’ depict a cringe-worthy distortion of the illness. The key difference between these examples and really dealing with OCD is that if you enjoy these compulsions, it certainly isn’t OCD.

While obsessive cleaning and organising is the seemingly ‘traditional’ form of the disorder, a huge number of the population experience what is known as Pure-Obsessional OCD, or ‘Pure-O’. This involves persistent and unwanted intrusive thoughts and fears that the sufferer has to escape from via their compulsions: rationalising, obsessive ruminations, repeated checking.

The most common themes of these obsessional fears are ones which society deems the most taboo. Fear of being a rapist, a murderer, a paedophile. Fear of being incestuous, fear of committing a crime and having forgotten or ‘blacked out’, false memories, fear of harming those you love…no subject is off limits for OCD. In the early 1900’s, OCD was usually mistaken for ‘demonic possession’.

Of course, these thoughts are always at odds with the person’s identity, hence why they are so feared. There has never been a recorded case of an OCD sufferer’s thoughts having any real validity, and research has even proved that they are the least likely among the population to act on the content of such thoughts due to their intense fear of the subject matter.

They are irrational, they are lies. Yet, terrifyingly, the afflicted person is often so inundated with these horrifying ‘What If?’ thoughts and images that they may begin to believe they are real or true. They will spend endless hours trying to mentally disprove them and reduce intense anxiety. Ironically, the more one attempts to neutralise such thoughts, the worse and more powerful they become.

Recently I read an article posted by The Daily Mail and UNILAD on Facebook which talked about a young woman’s experience with sexually intrusive OCD thoughts. The title read: “Woman reveals pornographic visions caused by a rare strand of OCD”.

I was shocked by the amount of comments making light of this girl’s problem, many saying she was simply “just thinking like a man” or that “every man in the world must have OCD then”. It was a dangerous misinterpretation of the disorder, implying that these visions were wanted in some way or were enjoyable.

Many professionals use the ‘polar bear’ analogy when describing the nature of these thoughts: try and not think of a polar bear, no matter what. Of course, what’s the first image that comes to mind? A polar bear. Intrusive thoughts work much the same way. This ‘strand’ of OCD is also far from rare, in fact I have met more people with Pure-O than I have with ‘traditional’ OCD.

As a sufferer of Pure-O from childhood, I have more experience with the disorder than I’d like to. It has lead to multiple hospitalisations, loss of jobs, quality of life, and has almost cost me my life more than once. It is not a matter of being paranoid, or of simply ‘getting over it’.

12064172_764718783640125_1573913169_nIt is walking down the street consumed with intense fear, believing you are an evil person who deserves to die the most horrible of deaths. It is waking up almost unable to breathe with anxiety as your mind bombards you with the most repulsive of thoughts. It is becoming dissociated with the word around you to the point where you lose your identity and become a walking corpse. It is being trapped in a nightmare, which plays on repeat every single day of your life. It is not something to be taken lightly.

Thankfully, there are ways of managing OCD. But the most important part of beginning to treat it is understanding the nature of the beast. Current waiting lists in the UK for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the primary treatment process for those who suffer from OCD, is anything from six months to two years.

In the meantime, suicide rates are rising alarmingly as people wait to be treated. This is why it is crucial to spread awareness on the issue so people know they are not alone. It is imperative that information reaches those who are affected so that they can learn coping mechanisms, begin talking more openly about their illness and build a support system.

The sad reality is that recovery rates of untreated OCD are close to zero, and the longer it is left the more difficult it is to treat. For anybody experiencing symptoms, the first point of contact should be your local GP, who can refer you to appropriate psychiatric services. OCD-UK has a wealth of information on this and all other aspects of the disorder, as well as providing support and advice to those who need it.

While I am aware that this may be something I will always personally struggle with, I can tell you that my quality of life has greatly improved since seeking help and educating myself on the subject. Make your treatment and recovery a full-time job. It will be the hardest thing you ever do, but it will be worth it ten times over.

I am now writing a book on Pure-Obsessional OCD, have taken a business course and am able to function relatively well. There will always be a risk of relapse but, like anything else, we deal with things if and when the time comes. The most important thing to remember is that there is hope even in the darkest of times. And, more than anything else, you are not your thoughts.

For more information on OCD awareness week, help and support, see or check out their Facebook page.

About Abby Williams (26 Articles)
Belfast based author/writer specialising in lifestyle, mental health and human interest.

1 Comment on Comment: OCD – The Monster Under The Bed

  1. A cogent article. I believe the reason OCD is so misunderstood is the result of the media inappropriately diagnosing celebrities with the condition, e.g. David Beckham is quoted thus: “I’ve got this obsessive compulsive disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs. I’ll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there’s one too many then I’ll put it in another cupboard somewhere.” I don’t wish to be flippant, but I don’t imagine that satisfies the clinical classification of OCD.

    A friend of mine, and fellow sufferer, said that at his lowest ebb he was banging his head repeatedly off the floor and begging the thoughts to leave him alone. It’s a truly horrendous condition and I read that 50% of sufferers have contemplated suicide, which surprised me as I would’ve guessed the figure was higher.

    The only upside to the condition’s trivialisation is that when I have felt the need to tell people, they consider the condition to be relatively benign, unlike with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. It’s seen more of an eccentricity than a debilitating illness.

    I feel desperately lonely at times though, as due to fact I have violent obsessions it’s hard to explain my fears to people without them interpreting them as dangerous. In fact a few months ago I had a conversation with somebody whose initial response was a horrified look and an appeal for me to get help, which increased my anxiety for several days as I wondered whether I was a psychopath all over again.

    I don’t want OCD to define who I am, but ultimately I can attribute so many negative things to it – failed relationships, problem drinking (which was how I became diagnosed) and a failed career in the armed forces (it lasted one day!), off the top of my head – that I would be lying if I was to deny its monumental impact upon my life.

    Good luck with your book.


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