Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Isn’t Always What You Think

Source: Chemistry World

This article is part of a series for Mental Health Awareness Week.

By Bethany Dawson

I watched the show Pure recently. It’s good. Well, the episodes I watched were good. My attention span is pretty short in lockdown. 

The show is about a woman who gets diagnosed with OCD after spending years plagued with thoughts about sex. Not fun, steamy thoughts. Horrible, intrusive, uncomfortable thoughts that you don’t want to think. It was as though the protagonist had a little bug on her shoulder, whispering horrible thoughts in her head. Thoughts that get stuck in the folds of your brain like cheap chewing gum. Ignoring the thoughts wasn’t an option. 

That’s OCD. I have OCD.

Luckily, I don’t have intrusive thoughts around sex. I’ll caveat this piece here by saying I have a mild form of OCD, and as with all articles about mental illness, I only represent one experience.

I started getting intrusive thoughts when I was about 10. When it was bad and I was young, it was on being burgled. I believed someone would break into my dad’s house when we were sleeping. It’s funny, I slept through a burglary at my mum’s house once and we were all fine. That logic didn’t seem to soothe me. 

When I got the thought in my head that there was going to be an intruder, I had to check under all the beds and in all the wardrobes. Sometimes twice. Then I could get into bed, but I couldn’t sleep. The thoughts wouldn’t leave my head, and checking only provided some temporary respite.

As I got older it changed slightly. Not shutting the front door has been an obsession that I’ve had for years and years, I can’t seem to shake it. If I tell myself “I remember I shut the door” – with the image of the door closing burnt into my frontal lobe and the sound of the lock clicking ringing in my ears – I don’t believe it. 

I either keep going, get hot, sweaty, and panicky, and don’t check, or I turn around and check the front door. Checking means pulling it close firmly three times. I normally take a picture of the closed door so I can check that it is indeed shut. 

A lot of the time, I turn around and restart a lot of walks to check. It made me late for most of my Sixth Form classes.

The intrusive thoughts don’t really go. They get stuck. They don’t make sense. I know I shut the door. I know my family won’t die in some horrible accident even if I didn’t shut the door. But I have to check I shut the door, just in case. 

OCD, for me, is a bit like not having a bullshit filter. Everyone’s brain tells them ridiculous things, like they should do something silly, reckless, or dangerous when the opportunity presents itself. You can recognise the thought, go “ha, that’s silly”, and move on. You can’t always do that with a brain with OCD. 

You think about it. You think about it. You think about it. You sometimes convince yourself you’ve done something when you haven’t, and you have to repeatedly check if you did it or not. The sense and the logic is there, but the bullshit is louder.

OCD isn’t just wanting your pens in a straight line. It’s not getting annoyed when someone touches your stuff. It’s not frustration with untidiness. It’s an uncomfortable mental itch that you have to scratch by performing a task that you know is unhelpful, that you know is an inconvenience. It’s living with a really aggravating, whiny, chatty bug on your shoulder. 

My bug doesn’t chat to me all day everyday. It’s not taken over my life and I can still hear over it;  I’m aware that my experience is very different to those with more severe cases. 

Please, don’t say “you’re so OCD” when you’re upset you can’t use the mug you want to. It’s not like that.

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