OCD Awareness Week: Things NOT to say to someone with OCD

*This post first appeared on MentalMutha.com

My name is Kate. I’m 31. I come from Brighton. I’m a Lesbian. My pronouns are she/her. I’m married. I’m a mother. A sister. A daughter. I’m allergic to Dioralyte (that my mum found out the hard way) and I despise Frogs and Moths.

I also have OCD.

Diagnosed in my teens, I was given a name for the crippling anxiety that often left me feeling nauseous, scared, or wanting to go home to check the oven or taps for the third time. Delving deeper into my OCD, I have 3 of the 5 main OCD compulsions; Checking, Symmetry & Order, and Contamination. I have been known to experience intrusive thoughts, but these are often on the back of something that’s just happened or is going to happen – like public speaking, for example.

Over time I’ve managed to overcome some my OCD and control my anxiety and deep-routed thoughts but it never really goes away – you’re just controlling your OCD as opposed to it controlling you. You learn to distract yourself.

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Mental Health Awareness Week: My OCD and Me

Ever since I started talking about my OCD the effect has been cathartic. I’ve felt less isolated and I started to feel like I was controlling my mental health as opposed to it controlling me. Equally, by not hiding my mental health or making excuses for things such as the regular hand washing and cleaning, or the reoccurring scars on my arms from constant picking, I’ve allowed myself to “come out” more than once to people who had no idea what real OCD was, let alone that I have it.

But, what comes with talking about it a lot more is the constant reminder that you have it. You would have thought that by talking about why I’m washing my hands again I would eventually teach myself to stop washing my hands as much – seeing as I was aware of it – but this is not the case.

I have OCD, and there is nothing I can do to stop it from being there. I am allowed good days where I haven’t felt the constant niggles, but it will always remain – no matter what I do. I’ve now learnt that fighting it just makes it ten times worse.

This is my OCD

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My Mental Health and Me

I’ve written before, albeit very briefly, about my mental health, but looking back I feel ashamed that I haven’t expanded on it further since or gone into greater detail. Especially as it’s such a huge part of my life. In fact, I’ve contemplated deleting all previous posts and starting again – but no matter how poor my previous posts are, they’re still a piece of my puzzle.

My biggest regret is not talking so openly about it with friends and family. I think not talking about Mental Health has a detrimental effect mentally and physically, and this needs to change. Not just for me, but within society.

Last week, my friend Natasha invited me to take park in her ‘Mental Mutha Meets…’ series and it gave me the kick up the backside that I’ve needed for so long. I need to, no, should talk about this: My Mental Health.

So let’s get started.

I have OCD

When I say OCD, it’s not the type of OCD that mean’s you’re especially clean or tidy, or simply like things in certain places (although I really do). It’s the OCD that means I can sometimes wash my hands raw because I don’t think they’re clean enough. It’s worse in the winter as the cold has already dried my hands out so that they’re already cracked and painful. When T is really sick (think D&V) my personal cleaning regime can sometimes double in time and effort. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to pass it on to others. I feel dirty.

I have the kind of OCD where I can spend a good 20 minutes of the morning, before leaving for nursery drop off, checking that all the plugs and oven knobs are switched off. If I’m already stressed about something, or particularly tired or hormonal, my OCD can worsen to a degree that I’ve driven back whilst on the way to work some days just to triple check everything is locked or turned off – even though I would have checked it several times before allowing myself to leave the house!

If I don’t do all these checks, I worry something bad will happen.

Knowing I do this means that when someone says “they’re a little bit OCD” I can’t help but scream and shout “you’re really not”. I would kill to not feel like this every day or not do these things. I feel like a freak.

On top of this, I also suffer from anxiety.

For me, the two go hand in hand, but if one kicks off first, the next is sure to follow. If you have anxiety, you don’t always have OCD, but I don’t know anyone who has OCD that doesn’t have anxiety as well. The two kinda work together to create this cocktail of hell.

I don’t really know what hurts the most. The anxiety or the OCD? I think the anxiety. As much as OCD exhausts me, my anxiety hits me in places and causes issues that I never knew existed. It causes self-doubt, a lack of confidence, and low energy. It’s caused headaches, eye twitching, and nausea on the worst days.

Of course, you can have all these things without suffering from anxiety, and a high majority of people already suffer from a form of anxiety, but there’s a difference between the anxiety that makes you worry or puts you in a fight of flight situation, and the anxiety that makes you pick at your own skin.

You heard me. I pick my own skin when I get overly anxious. I can show you the scars. It started when I was in my early twenties – maybe even earlier – and at first I would think it was a form of self harm, but when I read into it more and spoke to people about it I understood it was something else. It was a separate thing entirely. I didn’t want to cause harm, hurt, or punish myself, but the instant relief I would get from removing a blemish would sometimes be euphoric.

Ironically, I picked less, if at all, when I was pregnant, but since becoming a parent I’ve started doing it every now and again when I’m overly tired and/or stressed – although oddly, not as much as I used to. But on the bad days. Oh the bad days. It can be a struggle not to disappear by myself and have a little pick.

As I write this, I feel sick. I worry how people will react to me now that they know my secrets.

But then I realise I need to talk about this. That this isn’t my problem, it’s society’s. Why is there this stigma against mental health? Why are we not talking about it?

In a world where we can talk about sex and toilet humour so freely, why can we not still talk about our mental health?

With this in mind, I’ve decided that I’m going to write more about this topic every now and again. I need to. I want to be open about Mental Health. My Mental Health.

I want people to know that they’re not alone. That it comes in waves and that you can still be happy whilst maintaining crippling mental health. I want people to know that my smiles are always genuine in photos so that when I’m not smiling in some, people are invited to open that door of conversation.

OCD Awareness Week (17th – 23rd Feb 2014).

I don’t usually take part in “So-and-So” weeks as a lot of the time they don’t relate to me and I certainly wouldn’t want to try and understand something I have no comprehension about. However, following a few emails, tweets and blog posts about this particular subject, and because I’m a sufferer too, I thought I’d bring awareness to the subject as well. There are more of us than you think!

OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that can produce heavy anxiety, fear, apprehension or worry; brought on by thoughts or obsessions deep within the brain. It can be seen in many forms, from being excessively (in some people’s eyes) clean, to the way someone walks down the road, to how many times something is done to even just “feeling” right. For some, it controls their life; for others they control it to a degree, but it will always linger – especially on bad days. OCD isn’t a phobia of something, it is an anxiety disorder. An OCD sufferer is not afraid of dirt, they just can’t manage being in the same room as it – they may want to clean it.

As a sufferer, my OCD is “order” and cleanliness. By this, everything has it’s place and everything has to be specifically placed. My house has to be a certain limit of clean and there cannot be “stuff” like receipts or pieces of paper hanging around. It sounds silly, I can even recognise how it looks from the outside, but I can’t help it. I often try and joke about how similar I am to Monica from Friends, but even when I try to just dump something, such as my phone on the sofa, I simply can’t and I end up having to go back to my phone and neatly place it on the coffee table, in line with the edge of the table, or in my pocket. I’ve often had to go back downstairs as I know an empty glass was sitting on the side waiting to be washed up (all the washing up has to be done before bed). A friend of mine can’t walk on large cracks in the pavement and can only walk on 2/3 of those BT covers.

OCD Bad

Over the years, I have dealt with it and simply forced myself to ignore something that others would think was silly, such as the way I put food on my plate, and it’s worked – however there still things today that irk me and I cannot ignore. Things like, where things are placed in the fridge and cupboards, how the curtains have to crease a certain way when they’re opened, how my desk is organised,  the volume on a stereo  and how it has to be on an even number or multiple of 5 are but a few daemons, but I deal with them. Some things cannot be described, as I just “feel” out of place somewhere on my body.

OCD Good

When I was a child, I never knew that what I was doing in the supermarket, such as reorganising the cheese into size order or removing the one can from the empty box onto the shelf and disposing of the card was weird, but apparently it was and my mum just took it was little quirk. It never did anyone any harm but I would become obsessed. Thankfully since meeting S, she has helped me through issues and embraced it. She has never once told me to stop doing something but, in turn, she would reassure me that there was nothing I could do about a certain something, or someone would just mess it up again anyway – and this would help. She never complains that I may be late coming up stairs to bed or that I may have to re park the car a few times to get it perfect – she’s just there and waits for my brain to finish boiling over.

Over the years, I have met people with OCD – some worse sufferers than others. Thankfully, many sufferers have received help or are coping with their anxiety on their own, but others aren’t. So if you know someone who suffers, don’t joke around with it, as it’s likely to be causing them stress. Simply ignore what they’re doing; rather than bringing attention to it by telling them to “stop being silly” – as more often than not they don’t want to be doing what they’re doing. Better yet, ask them if they need any help or assistance.

There are tons of places you can visit if you’re a sufferer or need help in assisting others. If you’re not that confident, then there are places online. Both sites below offer a variety of tools for those suffering and those supporting.

OCD UK – http://www.ocduk.org/awareness

OCD Action – http://www.ocdaction.org.uk

There is also a Twitter conversation happening this week, you can join in by using the hashtag #OCDWOA.

K