At age 14 it was decided by the doctor that I had OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and since then I have been afraid to really identify with the diagnosis. To most people you say OCD and they think you must have everything straight and orderly, now I’m organised, but that is not because of my OCD. No, my strain of this eternally annoying mental health issue lies with germs and saliva. I have a huge phobia of being sick, it is my room 101, so I think the OCD stepped in to prevent my fears coming true.
I obsessively clean my hands and avoid illness wherever I can. I used to be a lot worse, now I have managed to control my cleaning, but I do still crack the skin on my hands open through too much washing. When I was younger the rule was ‘don’t touch things you don’t need to touch’, now as an adult that is almost a mantra. If I touch something I think of as dirty, then I can almost feel the germs on my skin and I have to use hand sanitiser or find a bathroom. Similarly if I am near someone when they sneeze, I blow the air out of my mouth incase any germs landed on me. I know that these things aren’t actually proper preventatives, but I’m trying to give you an idea as to what my brain does to try and cope.
A lot of the time when I do choose to tell people about my OCD, they say they are just the same with germs etc. This is why I try not to mention it, people try and belittle the feeling of the obsession part. Some people are clean, some people notice germs more, but my brain takes it as an obsession. My sister was throwing up for over 24 hours on Christmas Day last year, and I had to remove myself from the house and go to my dad’s because every time I left my room I had a panic attack and I wouldn’t let anyone near me. It got bad enough that I think my family were quite surprised by my reaction, but for me that was probably one of the worst situations I could have been in.
When I was a teen my OCD really became me for a while, or so it felt. Not only did I have my obsession to clean and avoid germs, but I also had an inane need to count. If there were four glasses on the table, I would count to four, four times in my head. It drove me insane, but I couldn’t not do it, I convinced myself that if I stopped then perhaps one of my family would die. It’s awful that I let my brain have that power over me, and sometimes those thoughts do come back. I don’t know how I managed to stop this feeling in my teen years, I tried numerous different therapy types – talking, hypnosis, counselling. There isn’t one that stands out as having made me feel better, but I think as I got older and more mature, my brain changed too.
My fear of germs has certainly not gone away and I think it is still just as bad as it always has been, but I can try and hide it now. I won’t share drinks with people and sometimes that earns me funny looks, I wash my hands quite a lot in my work day, I use my sleeves to help me open doors. It’s hard to pretend there isn’t something not quite right with the way I think about things, but my OCD has become part of me now. I don’t get ill often and I do credit that to my cleanliness, but there are always people telling me that I shouldn’t clean my hands so often, I could build up an immunity etc. Because OCD is such a throw-about term, people think they’re an expert and their words can completely change the way my brain works. Sometimes I have to just grin and bear it when people tell me what I’m doing is wrong, because they have no idea how this is processed in my brain.
I think it is good that there is more awareness of mental health now, but I think that also means there’s more power for people to think they know how you feel when really they don’t. My OCD can make me feel incredibly anxious, especially with sickness and when I feel sick myself. A slight stomach ache can turn me into a shaking mess hunched by the toilet, but I’ll never actually be ill. My brain tricks me and it frustrates me to no end, I don’t really think it’s something you can understand unless you’ve experienced it.
I hope this has offered some kind of insight into how my brain processes my OCD, I know everyone has a different experience with it, this is just my own. I’d be interested to hear about your own experiences of OCD, whether they’re first or second hand.