In this week’s blog we have an anonymous OCD story:
OCD – where to begin? My body and mind shudders every time I see or hear that combination of letters. My skin crawls. Who knew an acronym could be so painful? Especially when referenced humoursly by close friends and TV celebrities.
I have suffered from OCD for the best part of two decades, often in different guises, sometimes without even knowing. I don’t think I’ve experienced a single “OCD-free” day in over 10 years; it always finds something and let’s you know, the crafty monkey on your back that just won’t leave you alone.
It has become a distinct part of me, like the rapidly greying hair on my head and brown freckles dotted along my arm. It is me; yet it isn’t. Sometimes I want rid of it; sometimes I don’t – we co-exist in harmony and self-destruction, sometimes simultaneously. Even today, I am not really sure how to define this ‘thing’ or neatly describe its modus operandi to friends – because language fails; it cannot capture the unrelenting, ferocious blasts of primal fear and inner torment.
The challenge to articulate OCD only exacerbates the symptoms and proffers it an undeserving cloak of mystique and invincibility. We have the sanitised and prescriptive scientific wording which is useful but doesn’t do it justice, and never will. It is the hyper-specific, shape-shifting and labyrinthine nature of this illness which has led some of the greatest scientific minds to dedicate their lives to understanding it, trying to crack this monster’s code. Alas, even the late, great Alan Turing would struggle with this one.
Like most dictators, OCD doesn’t play by the rules – rather, it makes them and you frequently oblige. Last night I found myself gawping at a nail hanging precariously on my bedroom wall; I just couldn’t stop staring at it! The most banal of objects had my full and fierce attention but I have no reason why. None. It didn’t look right and it didn’t feel right. It annoyed me. So I started touching it while counting in a bid to get more clarity and neutralise the distress, to get that “just right” OCD euphoria – bad idea, I couldn’t stop touching it, I was hooked. Goodbye early night! Looking away and carrying on with my bedtime routine was not an option, no way. This bizarre obsession mutated into a monotonous physical compulsion which resulted in anxiety buzzing through my veins just when I wanted to down tools and fold into bed. On a micro level this seems like an inoffensive intrusion and, it is, superficially – but multiply that incident x60 in a day and, Houston, you have a problem.
Which leads me to another gripe – just how tedious it is. I am not transfixed on string theory, space travel or life’s deepest quandaries. Instead, my mental bandwidth is consumed with obscure, repetitive and inane worries that I know are fantastical but nonetheless appear immediately real and horribly dangerous. Any creative flourish, artistic impulse or original thought I might have nourished over the years has been drowned in a tsunami of obsession and compulsion – and it is Just.So.Boring. Instead of reading books (an often treacherous recreation) I listen to podcasts; instead of playing football or tennis, I watch sport on TV; instead of doing my best to have fun, I do my best to get by. OCD takes so much but offers zero return. It is a flagrant Ponzi scheme in which investors lose much more than just their shirt. Some of life’s great moments, like my graduation or best friends’ weddings, have been summarily hijacked by this dastardly disease. Rather than pulling wild shapes on the dance floor, I can only recall being stuck ruminating in a toilet cubicle. The rich tapestry of life is reduced to a bland canvass and you, the artist, are bereft of your tools.
While the picture I paint is undoubtedly sad, I want to emphasise the silver lining amidst the dark clouds. There is always one. Living with OCD has, I believe, imbued me with mental fortitude, steely resilience and strong empathy for the suffering of others. I am now slower to judge and quicker to help. I also appreciate the mechanics and power of the mind on a much deeper level which helps me harness the kaleidoscope of emotions we all experience in the chaos of modernity. OCD has made me a better and kinder person, keyed in to the world around me and empowered to make a difference, however small. My experience of OCD has shaped me profoundly but it does not define me, and I hope never will.
To those struggling to fight this dictator, please remember that you are not alone, professional help and support structures are available, and a brighter future is yours. As the pandemic eases and normalcy trickles back into our lives, I am reminded once again that the darkest hour is just before the dawn.