For me...it's obsessive cleanliness. Images of Monica from Friends spring to mind, people who clean everything all the time...
You hear people say things like "Oh I'm a little OCD about germs..." or "Oh seeing things mixed up like that sets my OCD off..."...and as with many kinds of mental health problems these days, I feel that the term has become very commonplace and that it's often used to describe minor personality traits and quirks rather than the true and complex nature of the conditions themselves.
I'd never really thought of myself as having OCD before...not properly anyway. I knew that I had some OCD-type behaviours, but I considered them to be nothing more than little quirks...sometimes I'd get an urge to flick a light switch a certain number of times, I often wouldn't be able to drink from glass if I thought it had an unusual smell until I'd scrubbed and scrubbed it...but because I've never been someone who is overly bothered by extreme cleaning or germs, I didn't think I fell under the OCD umbrella.
So when I was diagnosed with OCD last year, after several months of weekly therapy sessions, it came as a bit of a surprise.
Having said that, germs have always been an issue for me on some level and when I stop to think about it, there have been some telltale signs of OCD for a while......from the fact that I can't bring myself to ever eat anything in anybody elses home (dinner parties are out for me, on the few occasions I've forced myself to them I have suffered huge panic attacks!), I struggle to share a pizza with a friend or even Jon incase they touch a slice that I inadvertently end up eating.....And infact as a child I would only ever eat from one particular fork in our house, which I would leave in boiling water for an hour before I could eat my dinner with it, and I would have a complete meltdown if anybody else ever used that fork....But my family always laughed these things off as my bizarre quirks, and that's all I thought they were too....
Until my diagnosis, and it's only since then that I've realised that what was "normal" to me was actually not....
I don't really know when it started...I know that I've always had superstitious thoughts...I've always felt the need to perform certain tasks in certain ways.
These are called rituals and they're a common complaint of OCD sufferers - they can vary in severity, they could be anything from having to run back and check you locked your house every time you leave to having to perform intricate hour long routines every time you wake up in the morning.
I fall somewhere between the two I guess.
My rituals revolve around numbers.
For as long as I can remember, I've had to take a certain number of sips of my drink every night before I go to sleep...
It sounds really silly, doesn't it?
It is, I suppose.
I must look pretty ridiculous doing it...counting out the number of sips I take, having to start all over again if I lose count...
Jon is completely aware of it...we call it my "drink thing" and every night before bed he hands me my glass of water, for me to do my "drink thing" and he waits patiently while I do it...he knows not to speak to me or look at me or get into bed until I've done it.
Because if I get distracted in any way I'll have to start all over again, incase the distraction made me count wrong.
It probably sounds pretty funny, doesn't it?
But I'll tell you what's not funny...
What's not funny is the thoughts that go through my mind while I'm carrying out this ritual...
Thoughts telling me that if I don't get this absolutely right then my kids will die horrible deaths. These disturbing thoughts are often accompanied by horrifying images to go with them. And the thoughts remain until my mind is satisfied that I've performed the ritual properly.
Sometimes I only need to do it once...other times when I lay down to sleep all I can think is that I did it wrong, I miscounted, I messed it up somehow and I MUST do it again...I try to argue with my own mind that I absolutely know I didn't do it wrong, and that I don't need to do it all over again...but I never win.
My OCD mind always wins...because the hold it has over me is too strong...it's ace card is always the same....
"Well fine," My OCD mind tells me " you don't have to do it...but if something awful happens to the kids tomorrow, it'll be all your fault. Is it really worth the risk? Why don't you just do it...just incase. Better safe than sorry".
I can't fight against that thought. It's hold over me is too strong...it plays on my worst fear too much, and I can't take the risk...even though my rational mind knows this is all crazy, that in reality there IS no risk...it doesn't matter. It still has the hold over me. I still have to do it...just incase.
And there have been many nights, particularly when I'm going through a period of stress or anxiety, that I have spent over an hour getting in and out of bed, repeating that ritual over and over and over again until I was satisfied I had done it right...
The counting ritual doesn't only trouble me at night...it comes into play throughout every single day.
It's not as bad as it could be, there are plenty of things I do throughout the day when my OCD doesn't affect me...
But often it does...and it looks like little insignificant things....
Today, for example, when I went to blow my nose...I tried to just take one tissue, because I only needed one tissue, but I had to take 3.
When I accidentally hit my elbow on the kitchen door earlier...I had to go back and do it twice more.
Lately everything has to be done 3 times and thats not an accidental random number.
It's because I have 3 children.
So in my OCD mind, if I did something just twice...one of the children would be left "unprotected" and at risk. If I did it just once, two of the children would be "at risk".
Do you know, as I'm typing this out and realising how crazy this all sounds I'm not even sure if I'm going to be able to press publish on this post...it sounds even crazier when it's written down than I thought.
But the thing is, this is life with OCD...this is how it can get in your head and mess with your mind...
This is why it's so much more than just a cute little quirk or a desire to always have a clean toilet....if you don't think about how clean that toilet is over and over again throughout the day, if thoughts of what might happen if that toilet isn't perfectly clean don't plague your mind, if you don't find yourself waking up at night with the urge to go and check how clean that toilet is just to be sure...then it's not the same thing. And saying that you're "OCD about your toilet" kind of trivialises the disorder.
My OCD presents itself in other ways too, it's not all about the rituals.
I've always been very obsessive over lists and schedules...people call it being organised, and I nod along but deep down I know it's more than that...I know that I go to different extremes than most people.
People joke when I spend a month planning out every single day of a planned family holiday, they say "Wouldn't you rather just relax and go with the flow?"...Yeah maybe I would...but the thing is, I can't.
Travelling really brings out my anxieties, and when I feel anxious...I feel the need to keep as much control as possible. Planning and scheduling feels like control.
And then there's the biggest problem that comes with my OCD...the intrusive thoughts.
Intrusive thoughts are something that, my therapist assures me, every single person on this earth experiences....you'll be bobbing along minding your own business when suddenly a totally random and unwanted thought will pop into your head...it might be a funny thought, it might be a disturbing thought...but it pops in there and is usually completely unrelated to anything you were thinking about before.
With OCD, I started to experience maternal intrusive thoughts...these started in the weeks after Sailor was born.
I'd be sitting there holding him, thinking all of the usual things that a new Mum thinks..."Isn't he gorgeous"..."I wonder what he's thinking about..."...when suddenly, out of nowhere, a dark unwanted terrible thought would pop into my mind..
Something like "What if you grabbed hold of that hot kettle and poured it on him?"
You can imagine the absolute shock that goes through you when a thought like that presents itself in your mind.
You don't want that thought...you didn't intentionally think that thought...but you thought it. It's CRAZY that you thought it, isn't it?! You must be seriously going mad. You must be losing your mind. But oh my god, what if you act on it?! What if your body somehow acts out these things that you're thinking?!
So you start to become afraid. You're scared of the thoughts, you're scared of when they might pop into your mind, and even though you're confident that you would NEVER do these things.,,because they're your worst fears, the most unimaginable things...you're still afraid, in case somehow you do them without realising or meaning to.
And so you start to become afraid of being around your baby...you start to doubt yourself...
And all of the anxiety and upset from these thoughts builds up and up...you can't possibly tell anybody about these thoughts, because they would think they you're completely insane and that your baby is in danger...they'd take him away, they'd cart you off to the loony bin and throw away the key.
So you suffer in silence.
Except I didn't...in the end, I decided to tell my health visitor how I was feeling...and she referred me to my therapist.
And both of them told me the same thing...that this is not uncommon.
That maternal intrusive thoughts and OCD can affect up to 70% of new mothers, possibly even more than that as so many cases go unreported.
But because nobody wants to talk about them, sufferers feel as though it must only be happening to them...that they must be losing their minds.
The maternal intrusive thoughts relating to Sailor eased off at around 8 weeks postpartum, but I still suffer with other intrusive thoughts most days - they're usually dark thoughts relating to death in some way - and they're incredibly difficult to live with.
But I'm hopeful that, with the help of my therapist, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
I've already seen improvement since my therapy sessions began.
An OCD-free life would be wonderful but I'm aware that I'll probably never achieve that...but finding a way to make living with it a little easier would be fantastic.
If you suffer or have suffered with OCD or maternal intrusive thoughts, please know that you are not alone and this is not as crazy as you think it is...it is actually very common. Don't be afraid to reach out to your health visitor or GP, you don't have to suffer in silence.
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