Everyone will know the feeling of dread which hits them when they suddenly wonder if they have locked the front door or switched off the gas. Usually this feeling passes as you realise that you have as you always do. In my case I could not shake off these niggling thoughts and they would eat away at me until I went and checked. Often this would mean that I would be almost at my office door and would have to turn around and walk the fifteen minutes back to check and find the door was locked tightly, in fact this could happen two or three times. I suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and this was my life.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder which can affect anyone, there is no typical sufferer. You get caught in a cycle of obsessions causing thoughts or images which can trigger panic or distress. For me my obsessions involved checking, ‘is the door locked’, ‘is the gas off’. I imagined that my house may well be on fire or someone would be walking in and stealing everything. Other people who suffer with OCD have other obsessions which can include cleaning or even fear of harming others. These obsessions lead to compulsions, things you do to try to get rid of your obsessions. Again I would have to check, and then check again, and again.
Your mind gets stuck like a record, the needle skipping back again and again. I my case I knew I had checked the door, but I had to go back. If I tried to ignore it my mind would create powerful images which would mean that I had to return. In the end it was becoming a real issue and I knew that something had to be done.
If you have never encountered the struggle with OCD you will not understand the pressure your own mind puts you under. It is a ridiculous condition, you are a grown adult who knows that you have locked your own front door. You do it every day and it is an automatic action, but OCD is a demon which sits on your shoulder telling you that you must check again. I could not sleep without checking the gas hob many times before going to bed and was regularly late for work. No matter how you really know that the compulsion is foolish you cannot ignore it, your mind will just not let you. The feeling is paralyzing and terrifying.
Therefore, I knew I had to find a way to get over my OCD. Before I start, I have to tell you that I am not a medical doctor and I would recommend that you get professional advice. In my case, I was (stupidly) too scared or maybe proud to admit even to my doctor that I may have mental illness. So I went on a path to cure myself, this was how I went about it:
Step 1 – Realise you have an issue and recognise it.
For me the first thing was to recognise that I was suffering from OCD. I started to make a conscious effort to note to myself when I was carrying out compulsive behaviour I was aware before that I my behaviour was not normal. The difference was now that I was physically noticing each action and classifying it as compulsive behaviour brought on my OCD. I would actually tell myself out loud ‘this is an OCD action.’
It was a first step to recovery as up to this point I had tolerated my behaviours. Now I was starting to challenge them. Initially this did not stop me carrying out repeated actions, but I recognised that this was what was happening to me. It was no longer just my behaviour, I recognised I had a problem, that had a name and it was OCD.
Step 2 – Analyse your OCD
Once I started to recognise specific behaviours I started to analyse what the triggers were. For me it was all around checking and the number three (I found that I had to check things three times).
I realised that the most difficult things for me were locking things (the front door and my car) and switching things off (the gas hob and the iron were the main things). Understanding this meant that I could start to plan how I would conquer my checking.
Step 3 – Change your behaviour
I now knew my main compulsions, so I had to do something about them, of course it will seem simple. You believe that you have left the front door unlocked so you check but you still find yourself having to check again.
I looked for ways to mitigate the actions and to reinforce the fact that I had checked. Initially I started tying a knot in my handkerchief, this helped but was not enough so I created a simple checklist. Gas off, yes, Iron off, yes, front door locked, yes. I would tick my notebook each day and could know that it had been done. Again, my compulsive behaviours did not immediately stop and I ended up initially having to tick the list three times.
In time I could wean myself down, I had a list which I signed and dated so I only needed to check twice. The first few times I cut down my routine was hell and I ended up going home at lunchtime. However, soon I was able to accept that the list was valid. I was changing my behaviour recognising that the sort of check lists I used for my job were equally as valid for my OCD.
I could eventually check the list when I wanted to know that the checks had been completed.
Step 4 – It will take time…
You need to understand that you cannot change your behaviour overnight, even with written lists I had to check and check again. But I knew I had to persevere if I was to change my life, I knew that I could not carry on the way I had been.
I supported my change with relaxation techniques, carrying out simple breathing techniques and meditation. This was particularly useful when I was panicking that I had not checked something three times. I would take myself away for a moment and calm myself down.
Part of it was visualising what was actually the worst that could happen? If I left the door open it was as likely that nobody would walk in, if I did leave the gas on the likely worst thing that would happen would be that I would have a big gas bill!
I also approached my friends and my partner, telling them for the first time that I had OCD. Of course they had recognised the signs in my behaviour for a long time. They were happy to help me, supporting me and reassuring me when I worried about something.
The support of others can make this journey much easier. I found that this would be almost impossible to do by myself. On reflection I wish I had gone to my doctor much sooner.
Step 5 – Recognise when you lapse
I wish I could say that I am completely cured of my OCD, I don’t know if that will ever happen, however I have become very adept at managing the condition. I find, particularly when I am going through a very stressful time, that I will start carrying out OCD type behaviours. Sometimes ridiculous things like finding that you have to step on a certain type of manhole cover (there is no rhyme or reason to my condition!) My action now is to recognise that I am doing this and to recognise it. I physically tell myself that I am carrying out an OCD action and force myself to stop, again this often not instant but I find that, with a greater awareness, I am able to control it.
If was to condense this down to three pieces of advice for people who may be suffering from OCD it would be these:
- You are not alone – You are one of 1 in 100 adults (and 1 in 200 children)✝ who suffer from OCD in some form. This is something that makes you unique, and you can overcome it.
- Get help – If I could do anything differently it would have been to get professional help and tell my close friends much sooner. Please don’t leave it to the point that your life is being adversely affected before you get support.
- Persevere – this will not happen overnight, but you can start on a journey which will change your life for the better!
Wilf Voss – is an author from the UK. He has published two novels and a number of books and articles on subjects as diverse as addiction and mental health to IT and technology – wilfswords.online
✝ National Institute of Mental Health