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How I learnt to live with OCD

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Getting the diagnosis

In the waiting room, I tried to think of the words to explain how I was feeling. I could barely make sense of what was going on inside my head – how could somebody else even begin to understand? More than anything, I was embarrassed. This felt like my most shameful secret – was I really about to share it with a total stranger?
Once I started talking to the doctor, I realised how much I had to say and how good it felt to share it with someone.

Understanding OCD

I used to think that OCD is just about being obsessed with germs and cleaning, but I soon learnt that people with OCD have repeating thoughts, feelings or images that cause them distress – that’s the obsession part. And they have certain behaviours or rituals that make them feel better – that’s the compulsion part. It can come in any form, obsessions about germs and hygiene are one of the more common and recognisable forms.

Making sense of my OCD

When I was about seven years old, I became obsessed with numbers. Certain numbers felt right and certain numbers felt wrong. If I didn’t do things the “right” number of times, I was convinced something bad would happen to my family. The obsessions were thoughts and images of my family getting hurt and the compulsions were the things I did to make the anxiety about these thoughts go away.

What is stopping me from leaving the house

It was the fear of not having access to a toilet and having an accident in public. This is the obsession part - of me having an accident and everyone laughing, and the funny twinge in my bladder that I was constantly scanning for.
The compulsion part was all the preventive measures – going to the loo whenever I had the opportunity, always making sure I knew where the loos were, even stopping eating and drinking altogether while I was out.

Feeling shameful

I was certain that if I ever told a friend or partner the cause of my anxiety, they would be disgusted by me and run a mile. So I didn’t, and as a result I found it nearly impossible to get close to anyone – however much time we spent together, if they didn’t know my secret, I felt like they didn’t know me. I developed bad social anxiety and depression. I felt empty.

Overcoming shame

One day I decided enough was enough. I wrote a long post on social media going into excruciating detail, and I posted it for everyone to see. I expected to be laughed at, but I was inundated with messages of support – some even from total strangers after friends shared my post. The most shocking thing of all was the amount of people who got in touch to say they’d been through something similar. I couldn’t believe it – it wasn’t just me!

What I've learnt

I’ve learnt so much since then. I still have wobbles, and at times things have felt impossible, but I’ve learnt that what feels possible isn’t set in stone – it changes every day.
So, when times are tough, know that whatever you are going through right now, it isn’t permanent. You have reserves of strength you don’t even know about – you just have to get through the bad days, and the good days will follow.

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