Confronting a Systemic Issue: OCD as a Sophisticated Mental Health Illness
© OCD Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Debunking the belief that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is only a mental health illness concerned with hyper-active cleaning habits.
"Share Your Story" submitted by Charlie Sandles, 22 years old from the United Kingdom
Obsessive behaviours are something to behold; I am rational - I know that nothing treacherous will occur if I do not succumb to performing my ritual(s) or compulsions - yet I still walk through the doorway four, five, six times until it is just right.
I thought that writing about my mental health condition would be an easy ride. After all, I have come to be very comfortable with the realities of my disorder and, therefore, do not feel afraid of being truthful. The persisting reason for my interest in sharing my experience has always been to ensure that my story can contribute to the wider recognition of the truth behind OCD and the many different forms it can manifest itself in. It quickly became apparent, however, that I had become obsessed with the notion of making it seem more interesting- not romanticising it, but rather making it something worth reading about. Whether people want to believe it or not, there is still a stigma around those who have mental health problems and may find it uncomfortable to confront or acknowledge; so, my instinct to make this article engaging and interesting is not unwarranted. Regardless, it is a result of this stigma that I feel compelled to be blunt and transparent about my struggle with the part of my brain that disguises as an officer of control- manipulating and controlling my decisions and perceptions.
Let’s clear something up: my OCD is not in any way concerned with contamination. It is the common misconception that OCD only concerns obsessive hygiene routines that make the subject so difficult to breach. As ‘classification’ goes, I sit amongst the category of ‘doubters’; I expect something terrible to happen if I do not perform a particular task in a way that sits well in my head. As a result, tasks I perform can take several minutes in comparison to someone completing the same task who does not suffer from OCD- the difference is that they can proceed without a burdening voice constantly reminding them that their mother will die if they do not start over. There are other categories too, including those who are ‘washers’, ‘checkers’, ‘counters and arrangers’ and ‘hoarders’, according to a help guide on OCD behaviours. Individuals experiencing OCD who fall into any of these other categories will have very different compulsions to me, and therefore my story merely reflects my own individual journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which began in 2017.
It started in my final year of A-Level- properly at least. I wouldn’t want other students using my stationary, and this was on account of my fear of falling sick during the exam period. I have always been obsessed with grades and being a high attainer and so falling ill around my A-Levels was a major concern of mine. It became a manifestation of thoughts, what began as reluctance to people spreading germs, quickly transformed into my association with ill grades and underachievement- anyone who used my stationary may ‘plague’ me with bad grades. The easiest way to explain my thought processes is to describe it in terms of consequence: if I let a friend use my pen, then I would do badly in my exam and therefore not meet the grade requirements for the university. It isn’t hard to imagine how my disorder matured when I opened my grades on results day and had excelled past my wildest dreams, successfully getting into University College London to study BA Hons History, and therefore validating my obsessive compulsions surrounding the use of my stationary.
To be honest, it settled after the exam period, and I relaxed back into normal routines without any intrusive thoughts. I was in a happy relationship, and I felt calm- as if there was no need to overthink and worry over small inconveniences. I noticed the compulsions had started to creep up on me again. However, around the time of my driving test, and then again when I started my college diploma- it was the familiar sense of ‘do this or, this will happen, and it was tiring and debilitating.
I think the hardest thing throughout these worsening stages of my disorder was sharing how difficult everything had become and how upset it would make me. A simple task such as getting into bed had become an onslaught of individual steps that I had to carry out in precise order, or I would have to start over again as a result of the fear that had consumed me. I refrained from talking about my issues with my friends and loved ones because I did not know what I wanted to hear them say- I spent several nights laying in my bed crying because I felt that I had been ripped off my independence and confidence, all because my brain had convinced me that I was dependent on these rituals.
Since starting university in 2019, my OCD and I have become very familiar with one another. Consequently, I am very in tune with the acts that I know will incite an excruciatingly, repetitive routine. Some weeks will be great, and whilst it doesn’t disappear, my OCD will chill out and let me get away with not repeating certain tasks as many times as I would have to endure during a bad week. This concept of ‘good and bad days’ is nothing new to fellow mental health sufferers. Still, I try hard not to compartmentalise my life in such a way because I know my life will not cease to include the obsessive compulsions my disorder encourages.
As of now, I have finally accepted that I want to see how professionals can help me with my disorder. I’ve always been- and always will be- adamant that I do not want medication. With the 'road to recovery' with OCD, there are many different measures that can be instigated to attempt to improve the individual’s functionality with their compulsions. CBT- cognitive behavioural therapy- (to name one type) involves a willingness to understand your disorder and what makes you act in the way you do. My route into controlling my disorder is to have counselling sessions- a way for me to talk to professionals and help them to understand how my life is affected by OCD and how we can work together to manage my anxieties and compulsions.
I think it is really important for me to raise how OCD has affected aspects of my life that I believe several individuals could never imagine it having any control over. Whilst it is a battle within your own mind, you’re constantly battling the expectations of others, trying to persist with daily life; sustain healthy relationships with your friends, family, loved ones… it very quickly becomes a circus act, juggling four to five different things at once. To make anyone going through this feel better- I did a very bad job at managing my relationships, and when I look back, I get frustrated at how blind I was to the way I was acting around those I cared about most. I didn’t make it known to them that I was really struggling- whether it was through the fear of them not understanding or me being ignorant and believing I could get through it by myself- they couldn’t help because, for all they knew, nothing was going on.
I’m not an expert by any means, and I know that there are so many aspects of having an obsessive compulsive disorder that I’ve not recognised here, but I believe that this monologue of thoughts has exposed a new perspective of OCD and therefore inspired more people to recognise how this disorder is much more complex than many people originally perceive it to be. If any message is taken from this, it is to be patient and respect that those with OCD have a constant battle with themselves that can’t be seen or understood by onlookers.
Several charities and organisations are available to access information and advice at all times; reach out if you are struggling, do not suffer in silence.