In my first ever blog post I opened up about my emetophobia and how my safety and avoidance behaviour manifested into contamination OCD. This is only mild, but unfortunately for other people, OCD can take over lives and isn’t always just around being clean and tidy.
Did you know?
- OCD is considered to be the fourth most common mental illness in many western countries that will affect men, women and children.
- In the UK, estimates suggest that 1.2% of the population will have OCD, which equates to 12 out of every 1000 people, and based on the current estimates for the UK population, these statistics mean that potentially around 741, 504 people are living with OCD at any one time.
- 50% of these cases will fall into the severe category, with less than only a quarter being classed as mild cases.
My lovely friend Andy has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his OCD – how it manifested and how a combination of medication and CBT has helped him take some huge steps in his recovery journey.
OCD differs from person to person, how did yours manifest?
My OCD first manifested itself through smells when I was about 14/15 years old, meaning I felt contaminated by the smell of urine when going for a wee. We had a dog and I remember accidentally walking in his wee with my socks on and feeling contaminated as a result. I can also remember in my mid teens being in a car with the windows down and driving past a pig farm which stunk of pig’s muck. I can remember getting home and feeling like somebody had just poured a gunge tank full of pig poo all over me. I also felt dirty going to the toilet, and it got that bad at points that I showered every time after I’d been. This all seemingly just happened – I was always a nervy kid so perhaps this was the reason?
My worst spell was when I accidentally sat in a seat that had vomit on it at my GP’s surgery. I didn’t realise what had happened until the day afterwards and so unbeknownst to me, I had spread the smell of sick all over my clothes and all over my mum’s house and I couldn’t get rid of it. This made me completely withdraw from life because I was so scared of this ‘sitting in sick’ incident ever happening again.
This is what I continue to fight to this day, but I am a lot better than I was. I just wouldn’t go anywhere because of my fear of seeing, smelling or sitting in sick again.
Therapists have said in the past that I have an unusual form of contamination OCD because I have never thought that myself or others are going to die or catch germs from being contaminated, which a lot of people who have contamination OCD do. It was always about needing to feel pure and uncontaminated I guess, getting equilibrium so I can feel perfect and have peace of mind and so I can function and not be distressed with contamination thoughts and ruminations.
What’s the most useful help you’ve received in dealing with your disorder?
The most useful help I’ve received is getting a second opinion from the NHS about 18 months ago, and seeing a new mental health team. They were so much more understanding than the ones prior to this. I see a brilliant psychiatrist who deals with my OCD and anxiety medication.
When I first started taking medication, I saw a new psychologist where I had about 20 sessions of CBT. I struck up an immediate rapport with her, and so she motivated me to do the CBT like I’ve never been brave enough to do before. The meds have really helped calm me down, thus enabling me to feel less scared about doing the CBT/exposure exercises.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about OCD?
How controlling and debilitating its impact can be on a sufferer’s life. Unless you have suffered with it or have a close loved one who has, it’s near impossible to grasp the devastating impact it can have on a life.
You also can’t be ‘a little OCD’, nobody is ‘a little bit OCD’ – that description is so infuriating. OCD is a bully, all-encompassing and it can take over your life. People don’t choose to suffer from it and it’s not always about being extra neat and tidy.
You blog about your struggles with OCD, were you ever afraid about people reading it and making judgements?
At first, I was really unsure if I should blog about my OCD. For years, I found my OCD suffering and behaviour very embarrassing to talk about. I was worried about the reactions my blogs might have and what people might think about me. What if people at work read my old blogs? What if girls I fancy read my blogs? They’d run a mile wouldn’t they? I guess I was scared of being somewhat mocked by people on social media.
I asked a psychologist about whether I should blog about my struggles or not and she encouraged me to do so. For about the first 12 – 18 months of blogging about OCD, I was still uncertain and embarrassed just as I was about to publish my posts. Then I found with the more time I blogged, the easier they were to write and the less embarrassed I got. In fact, I started to love blogging about my OCD, especially during periods when I was struggling – blogging became a cathartic experience. As time wore on, I now feel at ease talking public about my OCD. I don’t care about people making negative judgements because that says more about them than it does of me. All the feedback to my blogs has been positive, people congratulating me and wishing me all the best with my recovery.
What did you want to achieve by writing your blog?
I wanted to stand up to the stigma of mental health that existed, particularly back then. I also wanted to show other men that it’s OK to talk openly about your feelings and mental health. Too many men suffer in silence because a man being open about his feelings is not supposed to be the done thing in society. I wanted to challenge stereotypes i.e. it’s OK to be a man and be sensitive and talk openly about your mental health – it doesn’t make you any less of a man. All that macho bravado stuff is cobblers in my opinion.
What’s the best bit of advice you can give to someone living with OCD?
My best bit of advice is to seek help if you haven’t already. It won’t go away, get better or lessen on its own. Intervention is key so you can start recovering.
You recently had a massive breakthrough with your OCD and managed to visit a friend for the first time in almost 8 years. Do you think OCD is something you can completely recover from?
I asked this question to my psychiatrist a while ago and he said if you’ve not had OCD for that long then he thought complete recovery was possible, but to have it so severely like I have for the past 25+ years, then I should look for improvements rather than complete recovery.
Who am I to disagree with this expert. It’s all about living with it to an acceptable level I guess. When I was at university, my OCD didn’t stop me doing stuff, but this vomit phobia got out of control and stopped me living the life that I wanted to lead. If I can improve enough to enable me to do ‘normal’ things (working, socialising, being in a relationship etc) again, then that will do for me.
How effective do you think Twitter (and other social media sites) are as a method of improving awareness around OCD and other mental health issues?
Social media, especially Twitter, have been huge for me. Especially the chats #MHChatHour (run by Angela) and #TalkMH (run by Hannah). Talking to other people with similar issues has been a huge learning experience for me. It’s also been lovely to speak to people in the same boat. I wish they didn’t have these struggles too, but I no longer feel as isolated or alienated with my OCD and anxiety issues as I once did. The support you get from people on Twitter is amazing. The chats were huge factors in making me feel less embarrassed and ashamed about openly blogging and discussing my OCD.
How did CBT therapy help you with your OCD?
CBT has been huge for me. You have to face your fears…gradually, because there is no easy way or other way of overcoming them. For example, I’ve sat on buses, trains, trams and in restaurants. It’s been terrifying and still is. I can go shopping in supermarkets now, which 12 months ago I couldn’t do.
Before starting medication, I was too scared of CBT, so I really think they’ve played a huge role in my ongoing CBT work.
Motivation is key though too – I want my life back. Well, rather than back, maybe I should say that I want a life again before it’s too late and before I’m too old to get the things out of life that I want – marriage, maybe kids, a career, travel etc.
What coping mechanisms help you with your OCD and anxiety?
Blogging is a great cathartic thing and so is writing in general. It’s great mind occupation because I have to push the intrusive thoughts away whilst I concentrating on my writing.
Music is another great distraction. I’m buzzing from going to the gym at the moment too. Every time I’ve been I’ve come back absolutely full of beans and feeling completely revitalised – must be the endorphins kicking in!
My mum is a great support to me, a great sounding board at times. Sometimes I seek too much reassurance from her, which is back for my OCD so I’m currently learning and trying to reassure myself a lot more than I have done in the past.
I give myself tough love at times too. For example, it’s like there’s Mr Irrational on one shoulder and Mr Rational on the other and it’s like a constant battle between the two in my head. Mr Irrational is a bully and I hate him, but Mr Rational is getting stronger and standing up to him more. I give myself a good talking to at times.
Social media is a great mind occupation and I’m massively into sports too.
Talking to friends, a great support network is key.