My name is Ellen, I’m 18 and I’ve struggled with OCD for the past 10 years or so. Now, you may be thinking, “OCD, I know what that is. It’s those people who are germaphobes, neat freaks and clean all the time, like in Obsessive-Compulsive Cleaners, right?” Sorry to burst your bubble, but OCD extends way beyond this and should not be idolised as a convenient expansion pack to life. Society has warped OCD into a comical acronym, that is now casually thrown around in day-to-day conversation, as if it’s some quirky character trait. As a direct result, many people are not taken seriously when opening up about their issues, which can prevent them seeking professional help and feeling greatly misunderstood.
In clinical terms, OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by unwanted thoughts, feelings and sensations (obsessions), that are followed by the urge to then carry out repetitive behaviours (compulsions). So for me, this has expressed itself in many ways, such as having an acute fear that I was going to sleepwalk and stab my family in the night. As a result, I then faced two hours’ worth of compulsions before going to sleep. This involved repetitive counting and tapping in order to ‘stop’ the obsessive thoughts from coming true and to give myself that much needed relief from the crippling anxiety. That’s the thing about OCD, it’s like a vicious cycle that never seems to end.
I know that sounds very doom and gloom, but it is very much the reality of OCD. Whether you’re struggling from contamination OCD, harm/checking OCD, Pure O (in which the person struggles with purely internal obsessions and compulsions) or really any type of OCD, it does not discriminate. No type of OCD is ‘better’ to have and to be honest, if we had set categories for all the different types of OCD out there then the list would be infinite! However, it’s important to address the fact that it is very much possible to learn skills to tackle your OCD. If you were to tell 14-year-old me, a girl who was entirely consumed by the presence of OCD, that I would one day be living a life very much in control of my compulsions and having the skills to deal with any obsessions that may pop up, I would never have believed you.
The skill that has been the most helpful, for me, is being able to separate my OCD from myself. In therapy, we did this by creating the Little Green Man with the Red Boots. This was a visual representation of my OCD, which I could envisage each time I had an intrusive thought. This allowed me to see the thoughts as an outside influence and thus making it easier to challenge and deal with them. Additionally, having a family member, therapist or friend support me when completing exposures was extremely helpful too. Exposures are one of the key methods of tackling OCD, in which you try not to carry out the compulsion when the obsession is triggered, in order to break the cycle. This can be very daunting, so it’s great to have someone there supporting you (but make sure they’re not reassuring you!) Self-care is also vital when tackling OCD. Exposures can be very stressful, so it’s important to take some time to look after yourself too. I love to run as it acts as my stress relief when things get overwhelming.
If you’re reading this and you think that OCD is something that you might be struggling with, firstly, it’s going to be okay. I know how hard it can be, but there is help out there. If you can, talk to someone you trust, this could be a parent, a friend, a teacher etc. They may not quite understand OCD at first, my parents struggled to comprehend what I was going through in the beginning too, but guiding them to some information online can really help this. Professional support can feel like a huge step, but trust me it’s so, so worth it. Seeing your GP is often the first step in doing this, bringing someone with you may make this easier. Finally, I just want to say please don’t give up hope, your OCD does not define you. You. Can. Do. This!!