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Living with OCD - by ABLE2UK reader Sean Gerrie

Living with OCD - by ABLE2UK reader Sean Gerrie
Image credit: sean gerrie


I have been kindly asked by Able2UK to do a guest article on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or to quote its capitals, OCD!

Now where to to start, as I look for inspiration on the QWERTY keyboard before me which is so orderly and familiar, yet so disorderly in the same sense as it's not alphabetical. In a way OCD is like having the CAPS LOCK key jammed in your brain.

I'm 28 years old, and I've had various forms of OCD pretty much all my adult life. It may even stem from my methodical way of playing with Lego as a child!? Anyway in order to not fixate on the past, OCD is very much about the here and now, and the disproportionate view of clear and present dangers and fears. What I have noticed is that in the past few years, my OCD has manifested itself more into my daily routine. Most of the time I just accept my little habits and rituals, perhaps even forgetting about them as though they were a short-circuit blip – and a quick shake of the head gets the reception clear again.

As OCD has become more popular recently, this can bring both yin and yang (I think it should be ying-yang, that's more balanced with 4 letters each). The good is that OCD is now less taboo, and it ultimately led to me thinking its quite common, often “normal”, and seeking help – which I'll get onto shortly. The somewhat bad that comes from the overuse of the term OCD is the “status-like-badge” many people quickly pin on themselves or others, such as teens quipping “OMG, you're so OCD over your pencil case” or “I'm so OCD about my room”. Quick mis-guided definitions are often meant harmlessly and not loaded with spite – but it can dilute the seriously disabling impact OCD can have in it's extreme cases.

So to get a bit more order to all this disorder, I want to impart a bit more about what I've learned recently in getting help. Many people are finicky and like things done a certain way, in it's mild form, this is fine and not classified as OCD. The term “intrusive thoughts” is used to lead onto OCD a lot, an example of an intrusive thought would be an impulse to physically or verbally attack someone – it might be hard to admit, but many of us have at least thought this – and as such it's an intrusive thought. A study from Rachman and De Silva (1978) has a long list of obsessions reported by a non-clinical sample – i.e. those not diagnosed with OCD, and the list is fairly eye opening often alarming.

Of course the vast majority of us would not act on these impulses, many forget about them quickly, and everyone has their own thought patterns.

What makes intrusive thoughts reach an OCD level, is when undue emphasis and weight is given to the original alarming thought, in the form of anxiety and worry. A key thing to remember is the obsession is the thought, the compulsion is the action. So for example, a fear that if I don't check the lights or taps are off the house will burn or flood (obsessions) can trigger a real feeling of anxiety and almost panic, so actions (compulsions) are carried out to neutralise this “risks”, by often checking the lights are off multiple times and counting to make sure the taps are off for example.

Now to specifically give a first-hand account of how OCD impacts me, I shall start with my hands. For a while I would overly wash my hands under near-boiling water, and use alcohol gel far too often, for the fear of getting germs. It reached such a level that every room would have alcohol gel, and I'd have to apply it in certain strict ways to ensure I neutralised the threat of contamination Thankfully this one is getting better, especially as I also have eczema and you can't get second-hand replacement hands.

Another example of mine is having an over protective protocol around my dog – intrusive thoughts would invade my mind such as “what if I didn't get my dog out the car carefully he would run across the road and die and it would be all my fault!” - this would result in attaching a Wii remote control strap to my dog lead which I fix to my hand just as an extra precaution if I were to drop the lead. Often it would mean analysing situations repeatedly in my head, even drawing diagrams of worst case scenarios of where cars were in proximity to my dog, and the risks involved – and not resting until I'd dealt with this – often to the point of exhaustion.

Now this over-bearing protective nature is often common with offspring and pets, and as much as I know I'm too careful, I do let him off the lead and run wild away from Roads – I haven't wrapped him in cotton wool yet, probably for fear of it being a choking hazard or himself being more of an actual fire hazard – now I joke.

Talking of joking, I think it's helpful to make light of it at times, I laugh at my own little quirks along with my friends and family, even with my Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) I've recently started seeing through the NHS. A recent example is I attach a keyword to my double checking of locking the front door, so should I fear I didn't secure my property properly, if I recall that occasion's keyword then I know I did lock it and can rest – so if I was going shopping, it might be “SHOP ~ PING”, so as I say out loud the SYLL ~ ABLES (IN ~ CAPS ~ LOCK), I literally check the handle on each syllable. Now this can get silly, I even know so myself, a recent one actually was “C ~ B ~ T” – guess where I was off to on that occasion/triple-check!?

So I'm quite early on in my OCD treatment – I'm open minded and now not afraid or ashamed to get help, or even joke about it. I think it's important to ensure that people are aware that it can be disabling – with severe cases meaning people can't leave the house or even move or sleep, with some needing admitting to intensive rehabilitation centres as highlighted recently on Channel 4's show about OCD by Jon Richardson.

So as I come to the end of this article, I'm confident there is an end to my vicious cycles in the near future – as that's just what OCD is, a vicious cycle! The quirks and actions may seem an instant relief to the intrusive thought-induced anxiety, but it just reinforces the original thought and so the cycle continues and can often spiral out of control in the false belief you are in control.

A final thing I have learnt, is that it's often nice people that have OCD, I get told I'm too nice too often, so although OCD can make you feel guilt and anxiety as though the mere bad thought is just as wrong as the bad deed itself, so if I think my dog could die from an everyday walk, I often behave as though he had a near-miss or I killed him and can get in a bad mental state, even though he was realistically fine and far from any danger. So on that note, I'm going to go open all my windows, turn all lights and taps on, and fall asleep on the dirty grass with my dog and not have a care in the world – a dog's life they say!

In all seriousness, I want to end with the advice that if this strand of anxiety and panic is effecting you for more than 1 hour per day, this could be made up of lots of two-minute double-checks, then you should seek help for OCD via your GP, or the OCD Action

This article was written by Sean Gerrie, who runs the amazing Newcastle Gift Shop, follow them on Twitter @61side