The walking wounded

Posted on: May 26th, 2020

Mark is like many people with OCD – kind, caring and intelligent.  Growing up he was a sensitive child and displayed some signs of anxiety.   However, over the years he seemed to grow out of this and achieved outstanding GCSE results.

Sadly, in his final year of A levels, that all changed.  Almost overnight and like a bolt out of the blue, Mark experienced severe anxiety due to recurrent, intrusive thoughts and images of harm coming to his loved ones.  At first, and what probably made the anxiety even worse, Mark thought he must be going mad and even called the Samaritans to ask if he was becoming psychotic.

With the support of his loving family, friends and deputy head of Sixth Form, Mark somehow made it to the end of his A-levels with A grades.  Despite this, the thought of university with such a tempest in his head going on was unthinkable.  He finally opened up to his family and friends about the recurrent, intrusive thoughts he was having of harm coming to them.  “Mark, we’re all fine and safe – you don’t need to worry” was the typical response.  Thankfully, Mark had come across Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in his A-level psychology studies.  After spending hours reading all about OCD on the internet, Mark came across an analogy to help his friends and family understand how bad the anxiety was and that he couldn’t just snap out of it!  It read as follows ‘Your mum, dad and sister have gone shopping in Westfield, Notting Hill, super mall.
An announcement comes on the radio that there has been a terrorist attack at Notting Hill Westfield, with 50 people having been shot dead. ‘  Having OCD is like the level of anxiety the person would experience hearing this on the radio and asking them to not call anyone or take any other sort of action to find out if their loved ones were among the dead, is the same as telling someone with OCD not to worry about their intrusive thoughts/images/fears.

The next five years, what Mark likes to call his war years, were spent trying to access treatment.  It was a long road with many hurdles.  Firstly, there were the misdiagnoses and subsequent inappropriate talking therapies.  Then, there were the funding appeals to see an OCD specialist psychiatrist and get Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  During this time, Mark remained often depressed by what his life had become and made two suicide attempts and had resulting inpatient stays at the local mental health unit.

Nevertheless, and in spite of what has been said so far, Mark is one of the lucky ones and in the summer of 2007 made a more or less fully recovery. So why does Mark think he is one of the fortunate ones?  Firstly, he was able to access (eventually!) both a specialist psychiatrist who was an expert in pharmacotherapy for OCD but also a specialist psychologist who was an expert in CBT for OCD.  Secondly, he is one of the lucky ones for whom an effective combination of drugs at the right dose and in the right combination was found, which helped lift the depression, manage the anxiety and thereby engage in the CBT.  In short, getting better from OCD is too much like pot-luck in the present day.  Even if you can access the existing recommended treatments, they don’t work for everyone and we don’t know why.  In the end, this means recovery of any sort (whether full or partial) is a distant dream for some people with OCD.  Hence, tragically, many spend life as ‘the walking wounded’ and we at ORCHARD do not believe this is how it should be.  We strongly believe more research into OCD will lead to new and better treatments of OCD.

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